A large piece of Tarkio’s history and heart is now gone with the demolition of the Walnut Inn at 3rd and Main streets. The building’s owners did not keep up the maintenance and it sat in ruin for many years until recently, when they hired a demolition crew to tear down the building that had been condemned.
The Red Rock demo crew was able to salvage many pieces inside the building and graciously and carefully pulled down pieces of the outer shell to be saved and given to individuals and businesses throughout the county. Some local individuals were also able to save some of Edna O’Dell’s murals, as well as dishware. The Red Rock crew saved many of the original walnut beams, which will be sold, cut down, and used as flooring. The crew was also able to save the marble column and many ornate bricks and a cornerstone.
It’s a sad state of affairs to watch a building of such stature be neglected for so long. The building had not been used or maintained in years and water damage caused a partial, vehicle-sized roof collapse, which in turn caused extensive water damage to the floor and woodwork inside. The building was in a state of collapse.
During the few weeks of demolition, Main Street was blocked off to allow the crew full access to tear down the building and a small crowd of onlookers appeared daily to watch. The basement will be filled in and the land will sit empty.
Some of the Walnut Inn’s history was graciously provided by Delores Harrington:
July 14, 1911
C.N. VanPelt of the Fairfax Forum was awarded $10 in gold for the winning suggestion of the name “Walnut Inn.” Several other suggestions contained the name Walnut, but in no other was it associated with Inn. The interior finish of the office, writing room, dining room and stairway is native black walnut, and moreover, the name Tarkio is derived from an Indian word meaning Walnut.
October 27, 1911
Walnut Inn, the new hotel which is nearing completion, has been leased by Rankin & Marshall to J. H. Torley, the former proprietor of the Commercial and Clifton hotels. Mr. Torley has had years of experience in catering to the traveling public and without doubt will have a good business in the splendid new building.
December 15, 1911
Beautiful Walnut Inn, the new hostelry of Tarkio, was opened to the public Tuesday evening with great brilliance. About six hundred persons availed themselves of this generous invitation to go through the various apartments of the new hotel. During the entire evening Welty’s orchestra of St. Joseph played popular and classic selections. It has been several months since work was first commenced on the building and no expense has been spared to make it high class in every respect. The native black walnut used for the interior finish was cut on the Rankin & Marshall ranch and was kiln dried and finished in Tarkio. In the lobby, writing rooms, and dining room, the wainscoting is entirely of black walnut, seven feet in height, and the ceilings are crossed with heavy walnut beams. The stairway, entrance, writing table, coat room, hat racks, and sideboard are all of this beautiful dark wood, which is given a wax finish. The lobby is decorated in brown tones with a wide frieze of an English coaching scene in brown and yellow. In the office is a telephone switchboard with connections to every room in the building. The dining room is large and well lighted on the entire west side. The decorations are in gray with pink tones and the frieze is a delightful woodland scene with streams and waterfalls. The floor is of polished beech and there are four large velvet rugs in brown tones and one smaller rug. There are twelve dining tables of native walnut and the walnut sideboard is built in on the north side of the room. There are twenty guest chambers including seven that have private bathrooms. Every room has lavatories with hot and cold water, heated with steam heat and with telephone connections with the office. The kitchen equipment includes a large double oven hotel range, large hotel refrigerator with a special apartment for meat. Messrs. Rankin & Marshall deserve great credit for giving the town such a splendidly equipped hotel, and The Avalanche hopes it will be as profitable as it is as beautiful.
August 23, 1912
Walnut Inn, which has obtained such a great reputation all over this part of the country for its beautiful interior woodwork and finish, is now to have an improvement that will give it some exterior beauty. In the past week, workmen have been building two splendid reinforced concrete porticos, one on the south coming around the entrance and the other at the northwest part of the building. The porticos are supported by twelve, 12×12 inch square concrete pillars. The roof of 2 1/2 inch reinforced concrete and the ceiling and cornice will be stucco plaster on wire lath. Around the top will be a light iron railing supported by 12 reinforced concrete posts of an attractive design.
April 14, 1919
The Misses Goldstein have disposed of their lease of the Walnut Inn to Mr. and Mrs. S.A. Lawrence of Kansas City. They are experienced hotel people and will no doubt uphold the popularity of this excellent hostelry.
July 1, 1920
J.W. Thurman of San Antonio and Houston, Texas, and his sister, Mrs. Jessie Lewis, have purchased Walnut Inn from the present owners, Mrs. O’Rourke and Mrs. O’Connell.
April 8, 1932
The Walnut Inn, widely known Tarkio hostelry, passed into the charge of Dr. and Mrs. J. B. Leekinzy the first of this week. Mr. and Mrs. A. O. Vaughn, lessees of the hotel for the past two years, have returned to their former home in Kansas City. Extensive improvements are now underway throughout the hotel. Of particular importance is the installation of a lounge-reading room between the lobby and dining room, which will be an added convenience to lady patrons of the institution.
September 21, 1934
Mr. and Mrs. Orville Schoonover have leased the Walnut Inn. It will continue largely along present lines of operation with some additions. In addition to the regular dining room service, the new management will operate a coffee shop, open at all times. A part of the present dining room is being walled off and the space will be used for the Schoonover Beauty Shoppe, which is moved from its former location on west Main Street.
In reviewing the history of the hotel and its building, Mr. W.F. Marshall has given us the following facts.
The original building was built by John P. and R.M. Stevenson, J.C. Culbertson and W.F. Rankin, and was known as the Central Block. It was originally used as a hardware store and post office. In 1911, the interests of the Stevensons and Mr. Culbertson were purchased by Rankin & Marshall, a partnership. The purpose of the partnership was to convert the building into a modern hotel. The walnut lumber used in finishing the interior of the structure was native grown, taken from a tract purchased by Messrs. Rankin and Marshall from J.M. Trulock of Northboro. Since 1911, the hotel has been operated constantly, with no major changes except refurnishing and being kept up to date in every respect. The walnut interior still carries its original beauty as it may be expected to do for many years to come.
provided by a brochure
The guest rooms were remodeled in the 1950s. Remodeling was also done in the kitchen and on the main floor. In 1962, the Walnut Inn was no longer a hotel as the rooms on the second floor were converted into apartments. In 1972, the murals on the walls of the Towne Room were painted by local artist, Edna O’Dell.
The Walnut Inn was purchased by Tarkio College in 1985. Following the burning of the David Rankin Mule Barn in February of 1989, the college theatre department converted the original dining room into a 76 seat theatre. College theatre productions were held there in anticipation of the construction of the new Mule Barn Theatre in Brown Field House on the campus of Tarkio College. A press conference held on November 16, 1990, announced the campaign to renovate the Brown Field House as performing arts space. Estimated cost of the project: $1 million. When the college was forced to close, the hopes for the new Mule Barn Theatre were brought to a close as well. The Mule Barn Theatre Guild began to revive the cultural arts program in Tarkio. With funds already raised, members of the Guild were in danger of losing this money unless they used it for another project, perhaps the purchase of a historic building. In December of 1993, the Guild purchased the Walnut Inn and continued to offer a cultural program to the citizens of Atchison County. They also offered the building to persons and/or groups for various activities, such as reunions, parties, receptions, and the like for a nominal fee. With a budget of $47,000, the Guild remodeled the kitchen by installing a new floor and painting the previously dark green walls. Kitchen equipment was purchased at various auctions for under $5,000. A $15,000 grant for windows from the Pella Corporation in Shenandoah, Iowa, was received and windows on the entire second level were replaced in the spring of 1995 with volunteer help from the community. The outside of the building was completely refurbished in preparation for the new windows. Unfortunately, the small theatre inside the Walnut Inn was “not holding its own” and the theatre seats were removed in July of 1994 and the coffee shop/dining room was reestablished.
Eventually, the Mule Barn Theatre Guild sold the building to Wildcat Enterprises, Inc. Though the corporation dissolved in 2006, members of the corporation still owned the building until the present day of hiring the demolition crew, Red Rock.
Walnut Inn memories
Roseann Nemyer – “I took tap/ballet/baton lessons in the basement of the Walnut Inn about 55 years ago.”
Heather Gresham – “I saw Cinderella on stage there when I was very young.”
Jordan Burke Masonbrink – “When I was little, we used to go visit Santa Claus there every year.”
Charlene Didlo – “Tom and I lived there in 1970. When Tony was born, that was his first home, a special place for us Didlos. We also had many family gatherings there and had some really good food so the Didlos, Lees, and Rileys have good memories.”
Megan McAdams – “My family held many reunions there and many of our pictures include family portraits taken while standing on the beautiful wood staircase or in front of Edna’s majestic murals.”
Phyllis Carney – “I attended the 50th anniversary party of my aunt and uncle, June and Melvin Brooks, there.”
Joan Stevens – “I remember attending Kymm and Shane Bredensteiner’s wedding there. It was a special treat eating there with Jim and Marnie Shaum…Pizza in the basement…Bob McCoy.”
Amy Hurst – “We used to have CAT dinners there before prom. I worked at the Mama Rooster’s BBQ restaurant there around 2004.”
Becky Campbell Curran – “Steve and I lived there when we were first married in the front west apartment. We would put chairs on the awning roof and watch traffic on the weekends.”
Bryceton England – “My first job was doing dishes in the kitchen of Mama Rooster’s. In my down time, I would sneak into the dining room and check out the paintings on the wall as if they were my personal art gallery.”
Jo Lynn Whittington – “The theatre guild used to do their plays there. Keith was in one in 1993. I can’t remember the name of the play, but it was in the time of the floods and one of the lines was ‘damn water’. It cracked up the audience.”
Linda (Brunk) Smith – “Bob McCoy has been my best friend since kindergarten. We dated all through high school and college so I hung out there a lot while he worked for Don Hurst. I remember his fondness for Ethel Matlock, but not being very fond of cleaning that grill! I wasn’t there much when he owned it, but there were many parties there during our dating years. Our family hosted a wonderful 25th wedding anniversary there for my mother and John. I remember one of John’s plumbing salesman, Cookie, always staying there. What a shame!”
Susan Smith – “My grandmother, Edna Smith, had her first beauty shop there. I remember going to ‘grandma’s shop’ and listening to the ladies talk, gossip, and laugh. The smell of a perm can send me right back to those days. Later, I worked at the Walnut Inn when it became a dinner theatre.”
Jeanie Jobes – “My mom, Rosanna McAdams, worked as a cook for Bob McCoy. She loved to cook and got even more joy when someone would have a slice of her famous pies. Everyone in town would stop by just to have coffee and pie. It didn’t matter what time of day. It was a perfect place to meet and visit. I believe everyone seemed to have their own reserved seats. We celebrated her retirement dinner after working as a cook at Tarkio High School for a total of 33 years in the dining area where the beautiful murals were displayed with such pride. Many, many alumni classes of THS would have reunions there. We would gather on the beautiful inside stairs for pictures. Priceless memories!”
Casey McIntosh – “I set off a fire extinguisher in the hallway of the Walnut Inn during a play. This was sometime after the Mule Barn burned down. Mom made me clean it up.”
Paula Heck – “I went to line dance classes in the basement. Bob and Nadine Champlin went also. I also remember having prom suppers there and Greg washing dishes for it.”
Renea Prather – “I had a beautiful wedding rehearsal dinner there for Jayson and Dallas. Reese had his graduation reception there also. Wonderful memories!”
Blu Dow – “Cousin Bobby McCoy managed the hotel and my mom worked for him. Aunt Edna’s murals were a highlight. It was the first home of my parents after they married and they brought Dallas home from the hospital to that same apartment. Dallas and Jayson had their rehearsal dinner there and my mom and dad, Aunt Jane and Uncle Paul, as well as Shane and Kymm, all held their wedding receptions there. Many memorable birthday and New Year’s celebrations were held there as well. I was in the Mule Barn Theatre Guild productions there as a child and enjoyed lots of good pizza in the basement. There were lots and lots of family history and wonderful memories for us there.”
Marla Swaby – “I worked there as a waitress under the direction of Ms. Sharron Brown and loved working the nights the golf group came . . . they were great tippers! I always loved the murals and the beautiful woodwork including the bar and stairway.”
Shirley Hannah – “My daughter’s wedding rehearsal dinner was held there. She and I attended plays also . . . great memories!”
Rebecca Gatlin – “I started working there for Bob McCoy in high school and continued for many years after. I loved the ladies’ group who would play cards in the afternoon. Sunday buffet was always busy . . . so many memories.”
Debbie Lindsay – “I have wonderful memories there as I’m a native of Tarkio. I met my husband at a dance in the basement/bar in 1979. Jim asked me to marry him in the Towne Room. We had our wedding rehearsal dinner there also!”
Roberta Logan Crawford – “My senior year in high school we played Milan for state football playoffs. The Milan team ate supper at the Walnut Inn before the game and Bob let me serve the team in my cheerleading uniform. The team asked if I was a cheerleader for Tarkio and if I was going to poison them.”
Cathy Carter – “Some 60 years ago, my dad, Ivan Carter, stayed there when he traveled for Wyeth Hardware and made friends with many Tarkio people. He used to tell of one memorable snow storm he weathered there. I’ve been to many parties, dinners, and meetings there. And yes, I’ve had my picture taken on the walnut stairs.”
Mary McAdams – “My most vivid memory of the Walnut Inn is going there with my dad when he was on coffee break from the Avalanche. Back then, instead of staying put when you had a break in the morning, you went out for coffee. I also remember Uncle Merle McAdams and Aunt Nita staying there when they came to Tarkio to visit.”