Our History

An Old English Inn

By Barbara Gibbs Ostmann

Old English Inn What do you do when you're overshadowed by a star-studded neighbor across the river? Hang on to your heritage and strut your stuff, that's what.

At first glance, Hollister-population 4,500-might seem to lie in the shadow of nearby Branson, but in reality, the two towns complement each other. Truth be told, Hollister was a tourist destination before Branson.

Back in 1906, Hollister was literally the end of the line. The railroad tracks stopped in Hollister, and visitors descended there to enjoy the Ozarks hills and waters. Today the tracks continue into Arkansas and beyond, and the legacy of the railroad lives on.

It was the railroad that spurred much of Hollister's progress. Before the train came to town, Hollister was primarily an agricultural community. The area's first settler was Malinda Fortner, a sixty-seven-year-old widow who in 1867 claimed 120 acres of the White River Valley for herself and forty adjoining acres for her son, Jacob, under the Homestead Act. It was the beginning of a small settlement.

By 1900, rumors of a coming railroad swirled through the area. Reuben Kirkham opened a general store at what is now the south end of Downing Street, and in 1904, he applied to open a post office in his store. He suggested the name Hollister after Hollister, California.

Before long, a ferry began operating near the mouth of Turkey Creek, transporting people, wagons, horses, and railroad ties cut from Ozarks trees across the White River. Soon the railroad officials chose Hollister as a depot stop for the St. Louis Iron Mountain and Southern Railway.

Springfield realtor William H. Johnson jumped on the railroad bandwagon, buying property along the proposed route. It was his idea to create an Old English village as the theme for a resort town. He planned for English-style half-timber buildings on Front Street (later renamed Downing Street) to be visible from the depot.

The railroad officials supported Johnson's vision of an English-style resort town and began building a half-timber- style depot. The first train arrived in 1906, and the depot opened in 1910. The railroad's horticultural engineer, J.W. Butterfield, developed the floral gardens around the depot, leading it to be called "the most beautiful station on the White River line."

Also in 1910, Hollister was incorporated as a town, and the first of Johnson's English-style buildings, the Bank of Hollister, was built on Front Street. (Today the bank building houses a nail and hair salon.)

In order to speed things up, existing buildings facing what is today Birdcage Walk and Business Highway 65 were extended to the rear and covered with a half-timber facade, turning their backsides into their fronts. The Old English village was created. In 1912, Johnson's Ye English Inn opened for business.

By 1913, tourism was in full bloom, and the town enacted a statute requiring all buildings within the Front Street business district to be of Old English style. Also in 1913, Powersite Dam, the first dam west of the Mississippi River, was completed nearby, forming Lake Taneycomo.

Excursion trains brought visitors by the thousands. In addition to Ye English Inn, the Log Cabin Hotel to the west of the depot and the Taneycomo Club to the north of the depot offered rooms as did the American House, a boarding house south of the depot. Built in 1904, the American House is the oldest still-standing building in town.

In 1918, Will Johnson bought Ye English Inn from his father, enlarging it to three stories with a dining room in 1927. Diners lined up for blocks for the white-tablecloth Sunday dinners.

This boom in tourism didn't last forever. With the rise of personal cars, the decline in train travel, frequent flooding by Turkey Creek and the White River, the Great Depression, and the bypassing of the business district by Highway 65, visitors stopped coming to Hollister.

The bank closed in 1934. The worst flood in the town's history came in 1945 when water reached eight feet, eight inches in the lobby of Ye English Inn, which closed in 1951. Passenger train service stopped in 1961. Tourism fizzled out, leaving the town without its main source of income.

But all was not lost. The construction of nearby Table Rock Dam in 1959 meant the end of frequent flooding. The post office and grocery remained open downtown, and gradually a citizen movement led to efforts to restore and revitalize the town.

Hollister's revival commenced in earnest in 1967 when Elijah C. Kirtley, a structural engineer, visited the town and was impressed by the solid construction of the stone buildings along Front Street. He formed a corporation to begin restoration of the downtown, including widening and paving Front Street and renaming it Downing Street.

The White River Valley Historical Society became involved, and by 1978, Hollister's Old English business district was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Soon Branson's meteoric explosion took off, and Hollister enjoyed the spin-off from its neighbor.

The biggest boost recently to Hollister tourism came in 2010 when Janet Dailey and her partners bought the then-closed Ye English Inn and began its renovation. Janet, a best-selling author, renamed it Ye Olde English Inn, which opened on April 1, 2011. The restored twenty-one-room inn has preserved one of the major historical structures in the Branson area and has fueled the resurgence of Downing Street.

"It is just beautiful," Janet says. "We don't have anything else like this in Hollister or Branson. We had to save it."

Janet appreciates the craftsmanship of the rock work, the hanging balcony, and other architectural details, especially the art pieces built into the rock walls, including a fish, a ship, and a crest. She incorporated the crest into the hotel's new logo.

During renovation, she didn't discover any old guest books or records, but according to local lore, Harry S. Truman stayed at the inn as did Cary Grant, Bing Crosby, and Clark Gable. Many celebrities came to the area for fishing vacations. Only two historical items were found: the old fishing reel in the inn's Riverstone Restaurant and the Austin Moore ferry poster that now hangs in the inn's Black Horse Pub.

Janet says the inn is believed to be haunted by the ghost of William Johnson, the original owner. A man in a hat and long coat is said to be seen in the lobby or on the staircase.

In addition to the inn, restaurant, and pub, Janet owns Ye Olde Antique and Flea Market in the building next door. She still writes books, the most recent being A Cowboy Under My Christmas Tree.

Christmas in Hollister is something special for visitors. With its half-timbered buildings along Downing Street, Hollister is the perfect setting for a Dickensian Christmas.

The depot and other buildings are decked out in holiday trim, setting the stage for Santa's Train, a Hollister tradition.

The train arrives on Sunday afternoon in mid-December with Santa and his elves waving out the window. Children board the train and talk to Santa. Families enjoy the festivities in the depot, munching on cookies and popcorn, filling coloring books, playing with clowns, and getting faces painted.

Hollister has another special Christmas secret. During the Christmas season, Hollister becomes the North Pole on the Polar Express train rides presented by Branson Scenic Railway.

Passengers board the train at the Branson depot, ride to Hollister where Santa boards the train, then continue the voyage past the Branson Trail of Lights before returning to the Branson depot.

Rick Ziegenfuss, city administrator, loves to talk about the tradition of Hollister, both past and present.

"Did you know Babe Ruth played on the ball field in Hollister during spring training for the New York Yankees?" he asks with a grin.

He is proud of the town's many firsts. Hollister was the first town in Taney County to have a registered pharmacist in 1909, a steel bridge in 1912, a moving-picture house in 1918, electric lights and a concrete-paved sidewalk in 1920, and a modern service station in 1925.

Rick believes Hollister was the first planned community in Missouri. "We have the 1913 plat of the city," he says.

At city hall, northwest of the depot, Rick shows off the town's collection of original paintings by local artist Thelma Adkins. The paintings depict the history of the area. In the park alongside city hall, he points out the replica of the 1912 bridge, which is made with steel from the original bridge.

On top of Presbyterian Hill rests the foundation of the once-great Grandview Hotel, circa 1922, which burned to the ground. The stone building that was once the town's public school is now a private academy.

The historic 1936 Cedar Steps, which led from the junction of Cedar Street and St. James Street at the foot of the hill up to the school parking lot, are still there, all 230 of them. Today the restored stairway with green handrails is a reminder of days gone by, when kids walked to school uphill.

And although the town of Hollister celebrated its centennial in 2010, this year brought other centennials. Ye Olde English Inn and the Kite House B&B in Hollister both celebrated centennials, and the town's nearest neighbor, Branson, turned one hundred.

But you don't need a centennial to visit Hollister-anytime is a good time to come to this little hamlet steeped in history where everything old is new again.

This story originally ran in the December/January 2013 issue of Missouri Life. For more stories like this, subscribe to Missouri Life.