The series “From the Archives” features articles from the archives of our quarterly journal. The following article by Jerome Harman appeared in the Spring 1979 issue of the White River Valley Historical Society Quarterly.
My love affair with the White River country began soon after moving to southeast Kansas in 1935, with friends introducing me to that storied part of the Ozarks and its year around panoply of nature’s handiwork. The area had so much to charm the visitor-tree-covered hills abounding with wildlife, spring-fed streams rushing beneath limestone cliffs, peaceful valleys and, not the least, a delightful people who had long since come to terms with themselves and their existence.
Fishing was a prime attraction with float trips the consummate. At this time the only dam on White River was Powersite, completed in 1913 by a predecessor of the Empire District Electric Company, and one could float for one day or as many more as might be desired. On overnight floats, camp would be made on a gravel bar in the river. Cabins were also available for fishing and other vacationing parties, many camps being virtually on the banks of the White and it’s tributaries, as at Forsyth; below the old Kimberling bridge; and Blue Haven on the James.
One pleasant recollection of this era is that of the ice house in the old town of Forsyth. Standing on the east bank of Swan Creek where it entered White River, across from Shadow Rock bluff and swimming hole, its location alone was sufficient to make it picturesque. The site now lies within the high water plain of Bull Shoals Lake and is a part of City Park of new Forsyth, and, except in extreme flood stage, one can picnic on the exact spot where the old ice house stood.
In addition to its traditional function of supplying chunk ice for ice-boxes in the area, including tourist cabins, the ice house acquired a new dimension following repeal of national “prohibition”—it became a beer parlor as well. And what a beer parlor it was! Located near Lake Taneycomo and the Shepherd of the Hills country, its popularity was enhanced by the fact the product being dispensed was kept in kegs in the ice plant cooler where large cakes of ice were stored, and from there piped into the tap room. On a warm summer afternoon or evening a more refreshing brew probably could not be found anywhere.
As an added attraction the old ice house had a nickelodeon, well stocked with hit records of the day. Typical, and most popular of all, was the tune, “Sweet Lelani”, vocals by the old crooner himself, Bing Crosby. During its long heyday, this record must have been replaced many times in the old ice house for it was played almost constantly, and even late at night the rich mellow strains of Der Bingle’s Heavenly Flower could be heard in the cabin camp nearby.
Of one final aspect of the old ice house and similar spots of weekend conviviality in the hill country, I had no knowledge beyond hearsay:
Word was discreetly passed around that on Saturday nights when younger members of the local gentry came in for recreation they wanted plenty of elbow room, particularly when dancing with local lasses, and they took a dim view of the presence of outlanders; to a lonely Jayhawker, everything considered, this seemed a reasonable enough request.