Bringing a Town Back to Life
The new owner of the historic Windyville Store restores more than a structure
Katie Heflin has fond memories of venturing to Bennett Spring State Park from Blue Springs, Mo., with her family every summer. During their trips, she would make notes of the small towns they passed through on their journeys to the Ozarks, looking them up as soon as she got home.
One of the towns the family passed through was Windyville, Mo.
“It was a quirkily little area,” Katie said. “When I got old enough to drive and when it got too hot to fish, I would borrow the car and bring my brothers over and drive around.”
The tiny Dallas County community was once a busy place. It boasted a school (the home of the Windyville Bulldogs), two stores, a busy cannery, a post office, and other small businesses and homes. However, by the time Katie and her family traveled through, mostly only dusty memories remained.
As time went on, only one store remained in the town, fittingly named the Windyville Store, which was built in 1916 by Healey Bennett, then bought by Herbert and A.C. Scott in 1920 and expanded. Over the years, the store was opened from time to time by various owners, but the last time there was a true store was in the 1990s.
As her family trips to Bennett Spring continued over the years, so did Katie’s trips to Windyville, Mo., with her brothers, and eventually her son, in tow on those hot summer days.
“I always wanted to buy (the store), but I never thought I would be able to afford it,” she recalled.
As fate would have it, in 2015 she was looking for a location for one of her businesses and found the old store for sale. She called the realtor that day and looked the property over. By December, the building was hers.
“It was like everything fell into place,” Katie said.
Katie’s plan for the more than century-old structure was to create a hotel-type of business, with hopes it would deter the vandalism and theft that had plagued the store since it was abandoned.
“I figured if people wanted in it so bad, why not open it up so they can come inside,” she said.
After renovations, Windyville Cozy Cottage Bed and Breakfast opened in July. The former feed room and post office were transformed into guestrooms, and the store portion once again became a store, where visitors can get a root beer or peach float, hard candy, soda in a bottle or liquid candy in a wax soda bottle. The house specialty is a 15-cent bologna sandwich, a favorite of those who attended the nearby school.
“So many of our older people remember coming in and getting a bologna sandwich for lunch,” Katie said. “We wanted them to have that memory and it be something that didn’t change. Everything else has gone up, but if they can come in and have a bologna sandwich for 15 cents and sit around here in the store again and eat it, we want them to have that experience.”
Overnight guests have the run of the store after hours, but they are asked to be on the honor system with merchandise.
“If they want to just sit and visit, we’ll put coffee on for them before we go, or show them how to do it,” Katie explained.
Dave Allen did most of the construction, and can still be found at the store most days, either working on a project, sharing renovation stories or ringing up customers. He jokes that he has a lot of sweat equity in the business.
Many items from the original store were repurposed, including the rusty tin from the roof, which is now the ceiling inside the store, and what could be salvaged from the old ceiling is now the bathroom walls.
“It was important to keep as much as we could, and we had battles,” Katie said. “There were certain things I wasn’t willing to compromise on.”
Her dedication to revitalizing the store lead Katie to track down the old store counter, which was sold off in 2014 to a t-shirt shop in Hollister, Mo.
“The previous owner had rented it out to and they took the liberty of selling everything off in the store that had been here for a long time.” Katie shared. “I tracked down the counter and asked to buy it back. After hearing our story, they let us buy it back.”
Dave mentioned that Katie was looking for items that once belonged at the store at the local lumberyard, and it just so happened an employee’s husband had the original scales. A long-time neighbor of the store, Ronnie Powell, bought an old metal sign that once adorned the top of the store decades ago and decided it should come back to its rightful home, but he had a price.
“It was about six months in and he could see we were making progress,” Katie said. “He came in and said he had something he wanted to show me. The sign was laying outside and it was all put together. He asked me if I wanted it. He told me he gave $60 for it and he thought he might like to get his money back. I would have paid anything he asked for it to have it.”
Vintage metal signs were found in the walls of the building during the renovation process, including an old Texaco sign and an ice cream sign with the Scott name clearly visible.
Old receipt books from the original store have also been located and are on display, along with other antique items Katie has collected to decorate the rooms.
“Everyone has had fun with it,” Katie said. “A lot of locals come in and say they like seeing the store saved. We’ve put a different spin on things and use it for something it’s never been used for before. We’ve had several people stay with us, and we’ve even had a couple who came all the way up from Texas and had a blast.”
In addition to the store property, Katie has recently purchased 30 surrounding acres, including property immediately behind the store and the remnants of the former cannery building. She is working now to restore the building in hopes of making it into an event venue.
Some guests of the Windyville Cozy Cottage and store come for more than just the nostalgia – they’re hunting ghosts.
Windyville, Mo., is said to be the home of ghosts and spirits, unexplained red lights in the sky and screams from the nearby cannery. The area has been the subject of several paranormal investigations over the last several years.
“The stories have been around for a long time,” Katie said, adding that the rumors really began flying after a book titled More Missouri Ghosts was published, but there have been a few other stories that have been shared by locals.
A paranormal group from Waynesville, Mo., recently produced a 13-minute video with the results of its investigation in the store and cottage area.
Katie and Dave admit they have experienced some strange happenings as well.
“I’ve been creeped out a time or 10,” Katie said with a laugh. “I don’t think its something that it’s going to hurt me, but I’ve been creeped out enough to get up and turn on a bathroom light. When we bought the store, people were living here and there was a clothesline inside. We were taking out an old kitchen in the back and the line was hanging so low that I kept getting caught in it, so I took it down. At that time, we didn’t have keys to the building and we screwed plywood into the doors to lock it up at night. We came back the next day and the clothesline was back up.”
Dave got locked out of the building when a door that could only be locked from the inside somehow became locked.
“I got my drill out, took down some plywood and got in here and the deadbolt was locked,” he said. “The walls were all secure by then, so someone would have to break in, but there was no sign of anyone breaking into the building.”
Both have heard creaks and clangs, and had “weird feelings,” but Dave said his 7-year-old daughter heard voices.
“She was playing on the porch and then came inside where I was,” he recalled. “I asked her what she was up to and said she needed to go to the bathroom, then said, ‘there’s some little boy out there hollering for his dad.’ She just shrugged her shoulders and went on. I knew there were no kids around here, so I went outside and looked around, then went across the road and looked, but I didn’t hear anything. I sat outside for a little while and she came back out. I told her I didn’t hear anything and she said, ‘He must have found his dad.’ It was like it annoyed her that he was yelling.”
Locals have tried to downplay the ghost stories over the years because people searching for ghosts were creating problems, such as vandalizing private property.
Katie said she asked the man who penned the stories, the late Ronnie Powell, the same man whom she bought the store’s iconic sign from, if any of the legends were true.
“He would always try to change the subject,” Katie said. “I asked him again before he got really sick and he said maybe one of them was true. I asked him if it was the lady in the well story, and he said, “OK, maybe two of them are true.’ That’s all he would say.”
Whether chasing ghosts or looking to reclaim past memories, the Windyville Store rolls out the welcome mat for all, and Katie and Dave are never too busy to stop and visit with customers and guests, who are welcome to pull up a rocking chair on the porch or share a picnic table inside the store.http://www.ozarksfn.com/2018/10/24/bringing-a-town-back-to-life/http://www.ozarksfn.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/WindyvilleStore-1-1024x684.jpghttp://www.ozarksfn.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/WindyvilleStore-1-150x150.jpgOzarks Rootsghost,Heflin,Katie Heflin,Missouri,More Missouri Ghosts,paranormal,Windyville,Windyville StoreThe new owner of the historic Windyville Store restores more than a structure Katie Heflin has fond memories of venturing to Bennett Spring State Park from Blue Springs, Mo., with her family every summer. During their trips, she would make notes of the small towns they passed through on their...Julie Turner-CrawfordJulie Turner-Crawfordjulie@ozarksfn.comAdministratorOzarks Farm & Neighbor Newspaper