Spring in the Ozarks

The Riverside Inn, Elks Spring, Missouri

As the spring and summer months approach, we think back to days when Joplinites fled the city for a few leisurely days spent alongside a cool, clear Ozark stream. Outsiders had started flocking to the Ozarks early on, as documented in Lynn Morrow and Linda Phinney Myers’ book Shepherd of the Hills Country Tourism Transforms the Ozarks, 1880s—1930s. But while many from St. Louis and Kansas City traveled to the Shepherd of the Hills and Arcadia areas of the Ozarks, Joplinites had their own oasis just down the road.

McDonald County, home to Indian Creek, Elk River, and the Little and Big Sugar rivers, became a popular destination for Joplin residents seeking relief from the heat of spring and summer. One of the most popular resort destinations was W.H. Fleming’s Riverside Inn located at Elk Springs, Missouri, forty-five miles south of Joplin. The inn was established circa 1905 and offered rooms for $1.50 a day or $9.50 a week.

Guests with recent catches

A lady and her fish

Guests could expect a tastefully appointed inn and rustic cottages awaiting their arrival after stepping off of a train from the Kansas City Southern Railway. Fishing, boating, and bathing in Elk river were among the activities that guests could enjoy while at the resort. The more adventurous would find “surrounding mountains covered with heavy timber” which afforded “plenty of opportunity for exploring parties, and a number of caves” that were within a half hour’s walk from the inn.


Dinner time at the inn.

The inn was also known for its delicious fried chicken as one guest, W.E. Nesom of Shreveport, Louisiana, wrote the following poem to commemorate a meal:

“A Chant of Friend Chicken

If you are of that jolly bunch
Which loves a gastronomic hunch,
Just saunter down Missouri way
And place your money for a way
With proper show of honest pride
On yellow-legged chicken fried
At Fleming’s Inn at Riverside

You may affect the flash café,
Where night usurps the place of day;
Where one if flouted if he dines
Without the aid of vintage wines —
But, tell me, have you ever tried
A yellow-legged chicken fried
The way it’s done at Riverside?

You may, with tourist’s license, boast
Of clam-bakes on the Eastern coast,
Or dwell on some outlandish dinner
They stung you for in old Vienna-
Soft pedal, brother, till you’ve tried
A yellow-legged chicken fried
The way it’s done at Riverside

If, in punning sense, you know
The “chickens” of the summer show,
And oft at Johnnies’ door have met them,
The quickest way to quite forget them
Will be, to take a little ride
And sample sure ‘enough chicken fried
At Fleming’s Inn at Riverside

Without, a crust that’s golden, dreamy;
Within, a flesh that’s tender, creamy;
Then, add a certain juicy sweetness
To bring the picture to completeness
The Ozarks’ boast, Missouri’s pride
A yellow-legged chicken fried
At Fleming’s Inn at Riverside.”

A view of the river below the inn.

All one had to do is catch a train headed south from Joplin and soon find themselves in the midst of an Ozark oasis. Years later the inn burned down, but for a brief period it offered a respite from the ills of city life for many a Joplinite.


Cottages at the inn.

For those interested, the Riverside was located three miles west of Pineville on what is today Highway H.

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5 Responses to “Spring in the Ozarks”

  • Comment from Cooter

    The swinging bridge is cool.

  • Comment from Carolyn Ellertson

    This was my great grandfather (William H. Fleming)’s establishment.William died at his daughter Carol Poole’s house in Tulsa/Collinsville, Oklahoma area in 1924. Second wife Ladora Combs whom he was married to when he owned the resort also died there about seven years later. Both returned to Neosho IOOF cemetery for burial, although his name is incorrectly listed with the wrong middle initial. His tombstone there is correct as William Henry Fleming.

    My mother spent many summers working at Riverside Inn (aka Riverside Farm Inn) as a child, and we heard many stories..like, for instance, how people who would come down for the weekend from Kansas City and register as marrieds. Another time the same man would have a different woman for his “wife”. It was taboo to notice..My mother and her two sisters (daughters of Claude Fleming, one of William’s sons)would swim in the river because it was so oppressively hot they couldn’t stand it, but my grandmother would sit on the bank with a pistol to protect them from the water moccasins, and many of them had their heads blown off in the water if they got too close. She was still a crack shot at the age of 78, and could shoot a baking powder can off a stump with one of the menfolk’s pistol(on a dare). She missed the Calumet Indian’s head, but hit the can, even with only one eye, as she was blind from diabetes, and had cataracts late in life from it for fifteen years. She was one of the first people to have the surgery to remove them and did so in her seventies prior to visiting her family home and settling the estate in Iowa, where she was born and raised.

    The above referenced incident took place when she was almost 78 and did it on a dare from the menfolk of the family. She proved to them she still had it. Frances (Kyle)Fleming died in Everett, Washington in 1958, and is buried in Myrtle Creek, Douglas County, Oregon, where her husband Claude Moore Fleming is also buried (died in 1947). When we visited the property in 2002, it was an RV park. Sadly, the last two remaining of the original cabins has evidently been torn down. We saw them on a questing trip in 2002, but since done away with, according to one of the local historians in McDonald County.

    So much history lost.. so sad..I was thrilled and grateful to find this piece in your records, and had never seen the poem, but vaguely recall my mother saying when I was a child that someone had written one. Claudia (Fleming) Cleveland, William Fleming’s granddaughter, was my mother. Died in Bend, Deschutes County, Oregon August 11, 1993, and taken to Myrtle Creek, Douglas County, Oregon for burial, where others of the family lie, including her mother Frances Kyle Fleming) (died 1958), father Claude Fleming (died 1947), first husband Mason Cleveland (1914-1943) and second husband Buster Pruitt(1920-1997)(no issue),a sister (Joan Fleming Zock died ca 1997)(no issue), and a daughter (Sara Kathleen (Cleveland) Ropp who died in 2008, survived by two daughters and families.

  • Comment from Jane Bailey Zavala

    So glad to find all this information! I’m 65 and spent all my summers at Riverside Inn until my uncle sold it in the 90s. Oliver and Evelyn Kyte were my aunt and uncle and bought the place in 50s or 60s. It’s looking much better now – 12/2011 – than it has in many years. The Kytes always kept it immaculately. We also have a family log cabin closer to Pineville and have had it over 40 years, so we still visit the area any time we can. . . now it’s a magical spot for my kids and grandkids.

  • Comment from Brown

    Thank you for sharing your family history!

  • Comment from Carolyn Ellertson

    So neat to read your comments as well everyone..
    Jane: I have not visited this site since the above time, so it was neat to see your post almost a year later! Don’t know what possessed me to visit the site again. Doing a little genealogy, and making sure I haven’t missed anything I guess. When was the last time you saw the cabins? I understand they have been torn down now. My husband and I visited there in 2002 (2005?), and Ronnie Qualls was gracious enough to show us around. I felt my mother was sitting on my shoulder the whole time! I knew it was the right place when Ronnie showed us the cabin with the hinged wall, as mother described them in detail to us as we grew up in the logging town in southern Oregon which she removed to with her husband and three children in the early 1940’s. Sadly, my father was killed within the year they arrived, and my mother expecting me. I was born post humously the following February, and very close to you in age. My trip there was a questing trip of a lifetime, and I will carry it with me the rest of my days. We (her four children) offered many times to take her back for a visit, but she declined, saying that she thought it would be too much for her to take (ie, emotionally I presume, considering so much of her life there, her age and health, etc.). I was finally able to understand the “cabins in the treetops” she described to us as children. As an adult, I see they are literally canti-levered out over the side of the hillside, with decks among the tree tops. How beautiful they must have been, and how special for everyone in that kinder, gentler time! She told us about everything there, including Wonderland Cave, which we also saw, and several others. My husband would not give up until we found it, God Bless him! The whole time I was at the Riverside property, a beautiful irridescent butterfly hovered around me, rode on my arm, and alighted close to my feet each time we stopped to talk and observe something. I like to think it was my mother’s spirit, as I certainly felt close to her there. She also said the cabin closest to the road was once a stage stop. If so, it is a travesty that the entire history of the resort has been obliterated in the name of progress. I have been doing genealogy and family history for about 15 years, and by a twist of fate, Ladoras GG Grandson and I have recently started communicating on some family history. How fun and wonderful! He says he has some photos, and maybe you have some too? It would be great fun to share experiences and history. I can be reached in SW Washington State at: cellertson@kalama.com if you have interest in corresponding..In any case, thank you SO much for your input. Just wonderful.. Best to you. Carolyn Ellertson nee Cleveland. Great Granddaughter of W.H. Fleming and Mary E. Hamlin
    Thanks everyone for taking the time to comment. Just great!

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