Inspiration for Petticoat Junction’s Shady Rest Hotel?
By DAVID HOLSTED email@example.comHarrison Daily Times
MARSHALL — There was just something strangely familiar about the house that John Lorenz had come upon in the woods. The question nagged at him as he pondered about where he might have seen it.
Then, two days later, he sprang out of bed. He finally got it.
Lorenz, a retired engineer from Greenbrier, is sure that in the woods southeast of Leslie, just across the Van Buren County line, sits the model for the hotel from the popular 1960s sitcom. Not only that, he thinks the inspiration for Granny Clampett and even the town of Hooterville, both big parts of producer Paul Henning’s stable of bucolic comedy hits, came from the Heart of the Ozarks.
Lorenz was at the March 26 meeting of the Searcy County Historical Society, where he presented a fascinating program on his research into a remote hotel that once hosted railroad workers, people looking to escape the rat race and, just maybe, a young man who would create some of America’s best loved television shows.
Lorenz is an avid hiker, biker and cyclist who has an insatiable curiosity about his adopted Ozarks. He has never met an old house, cemetery or bridge that he didn’t immediately want to know more about.
“When you first meet me, I’m a little different,” Lorenz said. “You have to slow my personality down.”
So, when Lorenz came upon the old Shain Hotel while biking near the small community of Rumley a couple of years ago, he knew he just had to found out the history behind the house. Surmising that the hotel was the role model for a television show just opened up more questions.
“Who would have come here from Hollywood?” Lorenz wondered. “What’s the connection?”
Through painstaking research into county records and in talking with local old-timers, Lorenz has pieced together the story of the Shain Hotel.
A family and their hotel
William Shain, who was born in 1865 in Kentucky, built a house in about 1899 several miles from Leslie. It could have been built of wood from the nearby woods, Lorenz said, or it possibly could have been an example of a house kit that was sold by Sears, Roebuck and Company in the early 20th Century. It was remembered as a very beautiful house.
William Shain also built a saw mill as a means of making a living.
However, the Missouri and North Arkansas (M&NA) Railroad, which was being built at that time, soon provided Shain and his family with another source of revenue.
Tired railroad workers began to stay at the house at night after their labors, and William Shain got the idea of opening a hotel. The location became a flag stop on the M&NA. A few older members of Lorenz’s audience remembered when you could flag the train down at the Shain and catch a ride to Marshall or Harrison. Shain would eventually build a water tank by the tracks.
After the railroad was completed, in the first decade of the 20th Century, the Shain Hotel became a getaway destination for people living in the rowdy and boisterous boom towns that were springing up in the region. Guests would stay a day or two in the woods at Rumley to unwind.
About 1915, Lorenz went on to say, the mill burned down, taking an important source of income with it. The elder Shains went to Branson, Mo., where they died in the 1950s. They are buried in Maplewood Cemetery in Harrison.
William’s son, James, wanted to keep the hotel, but there was not enough business to support his family. James Shain married a girl named Vada, who became the love of his life. Unfortunately, Vada and an infant son were killed in a cabin fire near Dennard.
Lorenz has located the graves of Vada Shain and little George Shain in the cemetery at Dennard. His research into the Shains has made it an emotional experience.
“I can’t stand at the grave without getting a tear in my eye,” he said. “When you get close to the family and you know their history, it just gets to you.”
A heartbroken James Shain and his surviving children moved to Harrison, where he later married Jencie Lewis. However, he never lost his love for Vada, according to Lorenz.
Lorenz has managed to locate one descendant of James Shain, his granddaughter, Michelle Kennedy of Harrison. According to Lorenz, Kennedy knew next to nothing about the hotel. Because of the sadness of the family’s story, her mother, Marie Monday, never spoke of it while Kennedy was growing up.
The Shain house changed ownership several times in the intervening years and today is a private residence on private property.
Henning created not only “Petticoat Junction,” but “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Green Acres” and “The Real McCoys,” all so-called hayseed comedies.
Lorenz has also researched Henning’s history, and he is confident that the television executive was greatly influenced by his experiences in the Ozarks.
A native of Independence, Mo., Henning was a member of the Boy Scouts and made many trips to scout camps in Arkansas, including Camp Orr in Newton County. The only way to get to the Ozarks, Lorenz pointed out, was by train. It was not unreasonable to think that Henning might have seen the Shain Hotel in person.
“I believe he went past that hotel in the 1920s or 30s,” Lorenz said. “I have enough confidence to say when he developed that show, he had that hotel in mind.”
In making his pitch for the Shain Hotel’s inspiration for the Shady Rest Hotel, Lorenz noted several similarities. Both begin with the letters “sh.” Both are flag stops on three letter railroads — M&NA and C&FW (No one is sure what the letters stood for in the television railroad. Some have suggested they stand for the names of the engineer and fireman of the Hooterville Cannonball, Charlie and Floyd). Kids at the hotel swam in the water tank, as did the Bradley daughters in “Petticoat Junction.”
Lorenz went on to say that Hooterville, the hometown of Kate Bradley, Sam Drucker, Oliver and Lisa Douglas, Arnold Ziffel and the others, could have been based on Leslie. He pointed out that the depot in Hooterville was located next to Drucker’s General Store, where the train would take on supplies. Similarly, the train stopped in Leslie next to a store and lumber yard, where supplies could be obtained. Lorenz added that the Van Buren County town of Shirley represented Hooterville’s rival, Pixley. Lorenz said that Kate Bradley and her family hated to go to Pixley, because it was a “cash only” town. Even today, Lorenz joked, credit cards are not accepted in Shirley.
“The television producer had to have had something in mind,” Lorenz said, in presenting his theories.
Lorenz insisted that the Shady Rest was not the only idea Henning got from his time in the Arkansas Ozarks. As a Boy Scout, he would have hiked up and down the hills and canoed on the Buffalo River. He surely would have met Ava Barnes “Granny” Henderson.
A friendly woman, Granny lived on the Buffalo and her front yard, Lorenz said, was a favorite stopping-off point for those plying the river. It would not be a stretch to assume Henning thought of Granny Henderson when he created the character of Granny Clampett on “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
“Henning said he became very enveloped in the culture of the Ozarks,” Lorenz said.
Historical bike path proposed
According to John Lorenz, the old Shain Hotel can be part of an extensive tourist draw to north central Arkansas.
During his presentation to the Searcy County Historical Society, he described his vision for a biking/hiking trail that would follow the former route of the Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad, from Pindall to Shirley, a distance of about 80 miles.
Lorenz said he and his wife have walked almost every mile of the route. He described it as one of great natural beauty and filled with history. The Mill Creek canyon alone, he said, has steep sides and 17 bridges and creek crossings. Since it is a railroad grade, the pathway would be raised and easy to walk or bike.
As a name for the trail, Lorenz suggested the MANA (named for the railroad) Valley. He thought a sign could be placed somewhere near Pindall, welcoming tourists to the historic MANA Valley. A logical starting place, where tourists could learn about what the trail offered, would be the St. Joe depot, which is currently being renovated.
In Lorenz’s plan, each of the communities along the former rail line would have the opportunity to build on the story. It was his opinion that if the old Shain Hotel could be made a part of the tour, he might be able to get Linda Kaye Henning, who played Bobbi Jo on “Petticoat Junction,” to appear at the dedication. He also suggested that Max Baer and Donna Douglas, stars of “Beverly Hillbillies,” might also agree to appear.