Volume 34, Number 3 - Winter 1995

The George E. Hall Photo Collection
by Linda Myers-Phinney and Lynn Morrow

In September 1993 the authors met Mrs. Lillian Hall Tyre, the only child of George and Value Hall, at her home in Lebanon, Mo. We enjoyed a few hours talking about her father’s experiences in Stone County during the early twentieth century. In 1906 George’s parents

-- George David and Elizabeth Collis Hall -- had come from Illinois to Stone County, hoping to mine some ore, as they speculated in four forty-acre tracts around Compton Ridge, Turkey Creek, Fall Creek and Mutton Hollow. It was in Mutton Hollow that they settled in the rugged hills and took up residence in a log house, raising stock on the great open range in the Ozarks. It was a dramatic change, indeed, for Mr. Hall had spent previous years mining coal in Illinois.

The Halls arrived at a season of change. During the first twenty years of this century, Missouri’s White River country lay in the throes of cultural transition. From a pre-modern area characterized by relative isolation and a cash-poor economy, the upper White River Valley became the "Playground of the Middle West," an area visited by tourists from Michigan to California, geared to the economic intricacies of investment, and intertwined economically and culturally with an embryonic, but growing tourist industry. During this time photographer George Edward Hall created perhaps the single most important body of historic images documenting the beginnings of southwest Missouri s commercial tourism. George Hall remained in the region until the early 1920s, roving southwest Missouri and recorded with his camera sights, events both mundane and monumental.

The subsistence economy, into which the Halls moved, had begun to change in 1900 when construction began on the White River Division of the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railway. The line traversed Stone and Taney Counties on its way from Carthage, Missouri, where it connected with a Kansas City-to-Fort Scott rail line, to Diaz, Arkansas, joining a St. Louis-to-Memphis line. With the railway came construction crews in need of fresh foodstuffs, a market for locally-produced railroad crossties, new villages and settlements, and an avenue to the world beyond for goods shipped in and out. Completed in 1905, the line soon brought a new wave of visitors, readers of Harold Bell Wright’s novel "The Shepherd of the Hills" and the curious public, generally seeking the rural picturesque and pastoral.

Published in 1907, "The Shepherd of the Hills" depicted the Mutton Hollow area straddling the Taney/Stone County line. The novel romanticized and idealized the country life of characters based on real-life local inhabitants. It proved to be an immediate bestseller, and because it was set in a definable area and patterned upon local personalities, this Ozarks region became a marketed destination. Wright’s novel became so closely identified with the area that a section bounded by the White River on the south, the James River on the west, and the railroad on the north and east, became known as "The Shepherd of the Hills Country."

In 1911 work began near Forsyth, Taney County, on the Ozark Beach Dam across the White River. Built as a generating facility for the Ozark Power and Water Company headquartered in Joplin, Mo., this was the largest dam west of the Mississippi River and created Lake Taneycomo, the Midwest’s largest impoundment developed for recreation.

The creation of Lake Taneycomo in early 1913 triggered immediate development along its shores. Towns were platted and built; resorts, exclusive club


houses, float-fishing guide services, and excursion boats mushroomed; and tourism immediately became part of the fabric of life in the upper White River Valley--George Hall visited them all. Money and outsiders poured in, and an area which had remained out of the American mainstream suddenly found itself within an anti-urban "back to nature" movement.

Having learned photography in Illinois, Hall first began photographing White River scenery on horseback while herding stock for his father on the open range. His photographs were printed into souvenir postcards which his mother sold from their home, the "Jim Lane cabin" in Mutton Hollow, named for the fictional Jim Lane, a character in "The Shepherd of the Hills." But tourists, who signed Mrs. Hall’s guest register kept on the mantelpiece, wanted souvenirs from the Lane farm. Elizabeth Hall began going to the fireplace to remove a small stone to give to the travelers. The strangers left satisfied and as needed, Elizabeth replenished her supply of stones from the field. In 1908 George, age twenty-four and the oldest of five children, left his parents’ farm and set off to earn his living by photography alone.

In his horseback roamings Hall became acquainted with the Sharp family of Reeds Spring, a clan who came to Stone County in the 188 Os and developed interests which ranged widely from platting subdivisions to building roads for the county to trapping wolves for the government. In 1910 Hall married Vallie Sharp, daughter of Will, and took a three-week honeymoon trip on the famous Galena-to-Branson float. Afterwards, the newlyweds resided with Hall’s parents in Mutton Hollow until they purchased a farm adjoining Levi "Uncle Ike" Morrill (another "Shepherd of the Hills" character) at Notch.

In 1915 the Hall’s only child, Lillian, was born. The following year the family sold the property at Notch and moved to Galena, the Stone County seat. (Hall’s parents had by this time returned to Illinois, leaving a set of twin daughters buried near Inspiration Point at Evergreen Historical Cemetery.) In Galena, George Hall continued to produce and sell his picture postcards and also drove a tourist jitney for hire, the equivalent of a modem taxi cab. The taxi business thrived for a year or more, but an unfortunate car wreck changed George’s mind about continuing.

In 1921 or 1922 Hall moved his family back to Illinois, where he went into the insurance business and abandoned professional photography. The next several years were spent in a futile search for a climate which would improve his wife’s failing health, leading the family to Colorado, Springfield, Missouri, and finally Lebanon, Missouri in 1927. There Vallie died in 1938, daughter Lillian grew to adulthood, married, and remained, and George E. Hall lived out the remainder of his life when not travelling.

In the few short years between 1906 and 192 1-22 George Hall, a man in his twenties and early thirties, took literally hundreds of pictures of the Shepherd of the Hills country, nearby towns, and landscapes in northwest Arkansas creating a vivid, unsurpassed documentary history of Missouri’s White River Country. Hall photographed events from the two-year construction of Ozark Beach Dam (later called Powersite Dam), to everyday scenes such as hunters returning from a kill, "bird’s eye" views of the area’s small towns, family portraits, and vistas along the White and James Rivers. Hall’s photos served to illustrate the ambience of the pre-modern isolation as it was rapidly being supplanted in Missouri’s White River country.

After World War II, as the past receded before ever-present change, Hall postcards began appearing in regional magazines and promotional literature. By the 1980s the dispersed collection of work could be commonly viewed in a number of historical and journalistic writings. With the continuing boom in White River tourism, images of the past, captured on the old postcards, fascinate anyone interested in Ozarks history. They speak to us from a time when life was more communal and self-reliant than our own. They give us the illusion of arrested time.

While George Hall lived, he moved his picture collection with him in a large trunk. Unfortunately, rain damaged the collection while it was stored in a garage, ruining the great majority of his originals. What was saved, however, is a significant portion of photographs taken primarily in Stone County. Today, daughter Lillian Hall Tyre has preserved these images and is preparing to sell them someday, perhaps to Silver Dollar City.

Photos beginning on page 14.


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