Volume 6, Number 10 - Winter 1979

Downing Street to National Register
by Viola Hartman

On Saturday, March 31, 2 p.m., the WRVHS will host a ceremony to present plaques to the owners of the unique row of Elizabeth buildings on Downing Street, Hollister, Mo. designating them as Historical Sites that have been placed on the National Register of Historical Places.

This is the first federally recognized landmark in the Ozarks and while single Historic Sites are not rare throughout the country, when a whole district is so designated, the fact becomes noteworthy.

The small town of some 1500 inhabitants is located on Business Rt. 65, some 40 miles south of Springfield, Mo. It began as a typical Ozark village and grew to a rip-roaring cattle town as the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad pushed up from Arkansas at the turn of the century. It was incorporated as a town in 1910 with the distinguished Prof. J. W. Blankinship as its first major.

It was the setting for violent stock wars erupting between the cattlemen accustomed


to a free range society and men of vision who saw a future for a well-designed tourist attraction that could be promoted by the great Mo-Pac Railroad which had just absorbed the line.

As the turmoil grew, tempers flared and all manner of mayhem took place. The future of the little town seemed doomed. But the perseverance of the town fathers and their choice of a seventeen year old mountaineer as the town marshal turned the tide. Their bold, decisive actions insured that law and order was maintained and the town survived.

Under the development of Wm. Johnson and Roland Kite the town grew into a resort center, designed specifically for tourists in a most interesting and intriguing way. By statute every building had to be of Old English design and by common consent all were built of stone taken from the bed of Turkey Creek, the stream that meanders through the heart of the town. It was perhaps the only business district in the country built for the purpose of gaining the co-operation of the railroad to promote it. The railroad was the sole connecting link with the outside world.

In its heyday Hollister hosted the great and near great. It was THE place to go and when tourists and vacationers paid for fares to the area, the tickets were marked Hollister. They arrived in special excursion cars supplied by the railroad, often two a day and entered a floral paradise for the grounds around the depot were maintained by a horticultural expert hired by the Mo-Pac who made the town his headquarters. They were met by the nine taxi companies that serviced the town and taken to lodgings at the elegant English Inn, the Log Cabin Hotel or one of the many tourist camps on the perimeter of the town. They were entertained by the great Chautauquas that came from New York to the 160 acre Presbyterian Assembly Grounds based on the hill overlooking the town, enjoyed the boating and fishing in Lake Taneycomo’s beautiful waters, rode horseback on the bridle paths or hiked along the nature paths, relaxing in the fresh air and panoramic scenery of the surrounding hills and valleys. Although much of the Ozarks has changed since then, the street with its Old World grace and charm has remained virtually unchanged in well over half a century.

Hollister kept pace with the newest of modern conveniences and innovations, being the first in Taney County to have electric lights, a paved main street with concrete sidewalks, a modern, steamheated and fireproof hotel, movie house, a steel bridge, an Artesian Well, a Ford Agency and a Registered Pharmacist. It had its own publicity director, a former Barnum & Bailey showman who, with his wife, an original Floradora Girl, advertised the place from coast to coast with colorful imagination that produced highly successful results. It was, in short, the railroad’s Favorite Child.

Because of the resulting influx of millions of visitors to the area each year, Hollister is credited with being the town that brought tourism (now a multi-million dollar industry) to the Missouri Ozarks. The combination of its unique architecture, its location and the fact that it made an impact on the Nation as a whole qualified the Business Section of Downing Street for recognition as a National Historic Landmark.

The WRVHS is proud to have sponsored and brought to a successful conclusion its nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Article II, Section 3 of our constitution specifies in part that: The Society shall disseminate historical information and arouse interest in the past by marking historic buildings and, by using the media of radio and television to awaken public interest. And, as members you are cordially invited to see the results of what your society has accomplished. The time is 2:00 P.M. The date, March 31, 1979, and the place, Downing Street, Hollister, Mo. Please try to attend this First for the Ozarks and First for our society.


According to the Bylaws of our society -Article V - Section 2 - "the Board of Directors shall attend to the business of the society between meetings;" By an unanimous vote of this Board (by mail) sponsorship and participation in the program of presenting the plaques to Downing Street of Hollister was passed.

How it all Happened or how a Dream Became a Reality - as told to me.

In 1975, Viola Hartman (a charter member of the society) began an investigation to have Downing Street of Hollister placed on the National Register of Historic Sites. She first checked with Mr. and Mrs. James Johnson, Mr. Johnson being the son of the man who plotted the town and brother of W.W. Johnson who continued the establishment of The English Village. Mrs. Johnson referred her to Mrs. Lucille Basler, who had succeeded in having the town of St. Genevieve so declared. With her guidance and encouragement, Mrs. Hartman began what she thought would be a matter of a little correspondence concerning the validity of the claim that Hollister was indeed a historic town, unique in its structure, design and situation.

Packets of information containing maps, brochures, pictures and recommendations were prepared and sent to The Missouri Historical Society, National Park Service--Department of Interior, Congressman Taylor, and Senators Symington and Eagleton. About this same time Mrs. Hartman received a small book published in the 1920’s by the Mo-Pac Railroad, White River Division, from the great granddaughter of Creel Hopper (an early pioneer of Hollister).

The book was part of the railroad’s publicity and detailed this particular section of the country, its history -- social, commercial, financial structure and offered proof positive that the railroad had, indeed, opened the hill country, permitting the exchange of commodities and creating jobs, thus establishing the importance of Hollister. Its main thoroughfare, designed and built as a unique compliment to the railroad was responsible for bringing tourism to the Missouri Ozarks.

It has been a long and involved project for everything had to be done according to very exacting rules and procedures. Digging up the history of each building, its designer, contractors, owners and tenants was time consuming and often frustrating. Photographs - several dozen, measurements, legal descriptions and other findings were obtained. Because of the many floods, poor record keeping and mainly the passage of time, material was hard to find. William Hartman, owner of three buildings allowed the use of his abstract, and Mayor Hromek and City Clerk Owen permitted Mrs. Hartman to search the City Council records. Since the town was incorporated in 1910, there was nothing covering the depot or the first business building, No. 25, a bank. The first permit was for construction of the English Inn in 1912 with the addition going on in 1927. Edith McCall, who had done much research for her book on Hollister, was most helpful, as was Jessalee Blankinship Nash, daughter of Hollister’s first mayor and herself, postmaster of Hollister for over thirty years. It was Mrs. Nash who vividly recalled so many happenings and had the greatest amount of material which was generously shared.

Originally, this project was sponsored by the Hollister Civic Club, which has disbanded. Later, Mrs. Hartman asked the WRVHS to help carry this project to completion. Plans are in the making for a special ceremony for the presentation of plaques to be held on Downing Street in Hollister on March 31, 1979, at 2 P.M. (See invitation elsewhere in this quarterly). Congressman Gene Taylor has graciously accepted an invitation to make this presentation and among others appearing on the program will be Mayor Hromek, WRVHS President Lucille A. Brown; Dr. John Mizell, Professor of Music at The School of the Ozarks who will sing the Hollister Ballad; Mrs. Fred Hartman; originator and researcher of project; and, Dr. M. Graham Clark, past president and WRVHS charter member, who will act as Master of Ceremonies.

- Ionamae Rebenstorf


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