Ozarks Life: Historic Downing Street

This block in Hollister dates back to 1913.
Published: May. 5, 2023 at 10:00 AM CDT
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HOLLISTER, Mo. (KY3) - The summer travel season is almost here and you don’t have to go too far to enjoy Northern European architecture.

At first glance, it looks like we’re on the set of a movie about a mad, medieval king or a world of wizards. But no, this is historic Hollister.

“If you’re Hollister and you’re between Branson and Big Cedar Lodge,” city administrator for Hollister Rick Ziegenfuss said, “if you don’t make too many mistakes, you should be alright.”

So why does Taney County have this block of half-timbered or Tudor buildings? The answer is thanks to what’s sitting across the street.

“William Johnson from Springfield saw the value in this the railroad came starting in 1906,” Ziegenfuss said.

This was the end of the line for the St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway. Johnson bought up all of the property near where the new depot was going in.

“It was a tourist attraction type of a thing because of the beauty because of its setting on the banks of the White River,” Ziegenfuss added.

Part of Williams’ plan was to create an English-styled village. But there was one problem. The existing buildings along these tracks didn’t face the depot. The backs of the stores looked upon the tracks so goods could be brought inside from a service road.

So these buildings had a quick transformation. Their backs became their fronts and their old fronts are now their backs.

“If you go today down the alley, Birdcage Walk, you’ll see the fronts of all the stores on the back of what’s now Downing Street,” Ziegenfuss said.

And in 1913 as this English Village was taking shape, it had something other towns in the area didn’t.

“We had electricity from the very beginning Power Site Dam was completed in ‘13,” Ziegenfuss said. “The Old English Inn was completed in ‘13 and a visionary like Mr. Johnson ran electricity.”

As for the charm, locals used what they could find to complete the buildings. Other than the timber taken from nearby hillsides, the stores are lined with stone.

“They’re all rounded stone, so they’re not from a quarry,” Ziegenfuss said. “They came from Turkey Creek, that’s what rounded the edges of the stone. It doubled with flood control. You took 1000s of cubic yards of building material out of the creek and that kept the creek in check.”

Hollister would have the area’s first pharmacy, steel bridge, moving-picture house, concrete sidewalks, and modern service station.

“Hollister was a progressive place,” Ziegenfuss said, “and was well thought of in the area and was the tourist destination; pre-Branson.”

The good times wouldn’t last long. Cars would replace trains and highways didn’t run down Downing.

But flood waters did.

In 1943, Downing Street (then known as Front Street) had its third major flood over twenty years. The owner of the Old English Inn (now Ye Olde English Inn) had to use a canoe in his lobby. It was a metaphor for what happened next; no business here stayed afloat after that flood.

But... remember those river stones? They helped keep most of the structural integrity of the buildings.

Today, you can see the water line in the Ye Olde English Inn lobby which is thriving now.

“A success story in a small community,” Ziegenfuss said. “And so it’s it takes everybody to do this. And it’s been very rewarding to watch this move forward.”

In the late ‘70s, a local historian got Downing Street on the National Register of Historic Places.

“That was a start, that kind of set the table,” Ziegenfuss said.

Piece by piece the block was rebuilding. The city zoned what signage and fonts could be used. Power lines were buried, light posts were installed, and the merchants came back.

“Now, every storefront is owned and vibrant,” Ziegenfuss said. “We have different events that appeal to different people. That’s what puts together a culture that can support a small community.”

Downing Street is now the backdrop for homecoming parades, art walks, and the Grape and Fall Festival.

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