Missouri State Parks, Arrow Rock celebrate J. Huston Tavern’s progress with ribbon ceremony

Monday, October 11, 2021

“Thank you for attending today and joining Missouri State Parks, Department of Natural Resources, as we continue Missouri’s legacy — specifically the legacy of Arrow Rock,” Missouri State Parks Director David Kelly said at the J. Huston Tavern’s ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday afternoon, Oct. 8. “The reopening of the J. Huston Tavern has been long awaited and is only possible because of the dedication of many people that are here today. I’d like to recognize the team that made today possible as each of them had an important role in making today possible and keeping the tavern going after the fire … and we could not do this without the Friends of Arrow Rock and our partnership with them … It was pretty amazing the work that was done and working with the Friends of Arrow Rock. Literally, 30 days after the fire we had a mobile kitchen here and a tent put up and outdoor dining. It was pretty amazing that was all able to happen that wouldn’t have happened without the folks we’ve mentioned here.”

The village of Arrow Rock celebrates the J. Huston Tavern with an official ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, Oct. 8, at 4:30 p.m. The tavern had experienced a fire in May 2019 and the kitchen was rebuilt. Pictured left to right are: Amanda Gray, Brookfield Office administrative professional; Mike Sutherland, Department of Natural Resources deputy director; Alan Hagedorn, tavern general manager; Chet Breitwieser, Friends of Arrow Rock president; Donna Huston, past FAR president; Sandy Selby, FAR executive director; Mike Dickey, Arrow Rock Historic Site administrator; Tim Taylor, Missouri Representative of District 48; Tim Harlow, Planning and Development; Dru Buntin, DNR director; and David Kelly, Missouri State Parks director.
Danielle Linton-Hatfield/Democrat-News

Community members gathered on the Arrow Rock Main Street to recognize all who helped restore the historic 1834 restaurant. Sitting in the crowd was not only Bingham the cat, but the Huston family — John, his wife, Donna, and their daughter-in-law Leslie.

Kelly listed several other partnerships, as well as state park staff and contractors — thanking them for all that they did to make this possible.

“The tavern experienced, obviously, this most critical incident in 2019,” he said. “I’ll never forget an early morning call from Mike Dickey about 5:30 on a Friday morning. … But I want to recognize Mike for his historical efforts to save this historic structure. Because if you know, in addition to being the site administrator, Mike was also the fire chief. And thanks to his dog who recently passed away to kind of help warn him of this incident. Mike was credited single-handedly (with) saving this historic structure.”

Arrow Rock Historic Site Administrator Mike Dickey recognized the Marshall Fire Department, as well as his staff for their assistance before recalling the night it all happened. He explained he had been preparing to go to bed when his dog, Ivy, started acting strange.

“ … She’s pacing back and forth through the house whining, and then she goes over to the dining room window and stands up in the window and she looks off down this direction … Well, then the fire alarm came on and I said, ‘Well I better get up, get dressed and go down there and shut the darn thing off,’” Dickey continued.

He had indicated discovering a few false alarms beforehand and thought nothing of what would come next.

“I came down here to the back driveway of the tavern and I got up there and I looked up and I go, ‘Oh crap,’ because there was gray smoke starting to curl out from under the eve of the kitchen,” Dickey said.

After taking out his radio to immediately call in the fire, Dickey and his staff got to work while waiting on firefighters from Marshall.

“I said get Marshall Fire rolling, because anytime out in this rural area we have a structure fire we like to get all the help we can get for water supply,” he noted. “… and while I’m waiting for more of the crew to show up … I walked around the building and I got to the front, and I shine my flashlight through the front windows. I could not see past the pane of glass. It was so black with smoke.”

Later, Dickey said the tavern kitchen’s back window then broke and the fire began ventilating.

“In a way, that was actually a good thing because the fire was going to where it could get oxygen away from the old part of the building,” he added.

Dickey and his staff used 300 gallons of water to put the fire out and by then MFD had finally arrived. While MFD entered the front of the tavern, Dickey and his staff entered the back. Not only was the kitchen a total loss, but there were several pots and pans that had been melted, as well as warped steel.

“Then of course we went ahead and — besides the foam — we dumped more water on everything to make sure it was out,” he said. “So the kitchen was a total loss, but all the doors — except for one end of the kitchen — had been closed — and it kept the fire contained therein the kitchen. Oddly enough, the dining room right next to the kitchen — what we call the Bingham Room — it was the closest to the fire — it had the least amount of smoke damage in the building.”

In sharing this story, Missouri Representative Tim Taylor of District 48 thanked all the first responders and additional supporters.

“The list of those who brought it back to life is long, and each of you deserves recognition. We are indebted to you without question,” Taylor said on Friday. “Had it not been for the first responders answering the call this building would no longer exist. … The event that unfolded here two years ago shines a light, as well as anything as an example of courage and commitment and dedication to community service that did not go unnoticed.”

“The Friends of Arrow Rock agreed that taking over the operation was truly in keeping with our mission of historic preservation and history education,” FAR President Chet Breitweiser added. “We’re truly thankful to the Department of Natural Resources, Missouri State Parks, Arrow Rock State Historic Site, for the continued appreciation of the operation of this treasured important landmark on the Santa Fe Trail. … The Friends of Arrow Rock are deeply honored today in joining you and celebrating this ribbon-cutting ceremony for the reopening of the Huston Tavern. We’re grateful to partner with you in the operation of this icon jewel in Missouri’s history.”

Since May 2019, a lot has gone into the renovations for the kitchen as each speaker listed above has indicated.

“And of course as you can see, as a result, we have a better kitchen — a kitchen that meets code,” Dickey said. “We’ve got better security, fire suppression and everything compared to what we had and we got three public toilets out of the deal, too.”

“ … and the fact that it’s the very first state parks property and the first publicly funded historic preservation project in the state,” DNR Director Dru Buntin concluded. “So it’s a significant part of our history, but without the partnership and the dedication of the Friends of Arrow Rock I’m not sure what the state of the tavern would be today.”

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