EMINENCE — A large neon sign in Eminence points to the past — and now lights a path to good times ahead with the reopening of Winfields, a landmark that will soon live again in the tiny Shannon County town about 130 miles east of Springfield.
Multiple storefronts are part of the restoration and revitalization project, which includes fine dining, a coffee bar, a mercantile, apartments, and restoration of a speakeasy and a vintage soda fountain, where perhaps treats just tasted better when perched on one of the counter’s barstools.
“I had my first cherry soda when I was 16 years old on this stool right here,” says Erma Johnmeyer Schutte, one of the businesses’ new owners. “And I’d never had soda in my life. Because we always were farmers. We drank Kool-Aid. So this was ‘my’ place. And I thought I was in heaven.”
Those memories and hopes for the future led Johnmeyer Schutte and her husband, Dean Schutte, to take on the project. They expect the initial phase to be complete as early as mid-May, but depending on rehab efforts — in progress on a recent Saturday, where painters were hard at work — may take a bit longer.
She walks through the building, sharing modern-day and vintage details that distinguish and define their dreams for the space.
A row of ceiling fans, dating to the 1920s, powered by a belt system. Ornate ceiling tiles and hardwood floors. Chandeliers throughout the building, including a large one that is soon to be added back in the mirror-topped foyer.
The soda fountain will feature both Hilman and rolled ice cream — the latter which is made in front of diners’ eyes — and completed by some of 80 toppings, which Johnmeyer Schutte points out are all homemade. The adjacent mercantile, she says, will offer items like women and children’s clothing, furniture and more, and the restaurant will showcase steaks from the owners’ own cattle.
“Our steaks will be choice and prime,” she says of the high quality they will serve. “We raise our own steaks. My husband has been raising beef since he was about 17 years old. He started his own corporation with his family, and our steaks now go to Omaha Steaks, but they will come here.”
In the basement, the speakeasy — complete with a hidden path to the upper floors to escape when the law came calling — will eventually be a spot for visitors to gather. Upstairs, there are several apartments, one of which features an eclectic European-themed bathroom.
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While some details go back to the building’s earlier days — the area with the soda fountain was originally built in 1923, and was known as Hyde Drug — its most recent chapter was written by Winifred “Winne” Faulkenberry Weber. The late Weber was the most recent previous owner of the building, and began the “Winfields” era in the early 2000s.
“I remember her — she was very eccentric. There’s all sorts of stories about her,” says Johnmeyer Schutte, sharing photos of the building’s late owner. “She always dressed so beautifully and she was a beautiful woman, but she liked to laugh.”
Political aficionados may recall Weber, who in addition to being a school teacher and counselor, was described in newspaper articles as “flamboyant” through her work as a state representative from Jefferson County in the 1970s and ‘80s. She was also a trailblazer in a male-dominated era of politics, documented in the Sunday News and Leader in 1971:
“The only woman among the 30 new members of the Missouri House of Representatives this year is Rep. Winifred (Winnie) Weber, D-House Springs, a striking brunette.
“The former counselor from Parkway district school in St. Louis County defeated a batch of male contenders for the Democratic nomination last August and came out tops over two male opponents in the November general election.
“Defeat seems missing from this black-haired divorcee’s vocabulary. She has come a long way from the one-room school where she taught at the age of 17 in the heart of Missouri’s Ozarks.”
Weber left politics more than 30 years ago, but remnants of her time still live in the building, shown through those aforementioned photos with familiar political faces peering back: Former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson is in one, while former Missouri governor and U.S. senator Kit Bond is in another.
“Her proudest achievement, she said, was her service as chairman of the higher education committee and her work to get Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State) designated as the state’s liberal arts college,” noted the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2001. “She still beams when mentioning that Truman is consistently ranked by national magazines as one of the best college values in the United States.”
Her rural Ozarks roots remain relevant today, too. A street in Eminence is named after her father, an article notes. Down the street from Winfields, one of her six siblings shares memories of his older sister’s power of persuasion, which was evident at an early age.
“When Winnie was in grade school over there at a one-room school, she didn’t like to drink the water that come out of the wells,” recalls Billy Faulkenberry, who was around 10 years younger than Weber. “So she wrote the state of Missouri. Some people came down and checked the water. Well, she got the well condemned. She was in grade school and got the well condemned.”
“They wanted her to run for governor of Missouri, but she didn’t. She was a character.”
Weber moved back to Eminence a decade or so after she left politics. It appears that initially she tried to help the community by bringing in a pharmacist, which an advertisement she placed in the Springfield News-Leader in 1999 described as “an area desperately in need.”
Judy Stewart, with the Shannon County Museum, notes that she believes the store might have had a pharmacist in its early days, but hadn’t in recent years. Instead, it was a “drug store without a pharmacist,” she says, and sold over-the-counter medications.
“You could get most anything you needed except prescriptions,” says Stewart.
Distance for prescriptions was a challenge: There were pharmacies in Mountain View and Winona, the latter which is around a quarter-hour drive away. In the past, a local doctor also carried medications on calls, which was included in the visit.
But in spite of that longtime need, it appears that the former politican’s call for a pharmacist wasn’t heeded. Weber ultimately opened a restaurant in the building, which operated for several years.
“First, I’d like to get this building placed on the National Register and get some government money,” she told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2001. “It was built in 1923 and very little has been changed. Hell, I remember coming in here as a teen-ager and drinking pineapple Pepsis.”
Weber died in 2010. It does not appear the building was added to the National Register.
In the years since, the building has remained vacant. It wasn’t until recent months, when it was put up for sale, that Johnmeyer Schutte decided to take it on as her next project.
Next is the key word here, as she has already spent time as a local business owner in the restaurant and hospitality industry. Those efforts include a bar and grill, campgrounds, cabins and a resort.
A nurse practitioner by trade, Johnmeyer Schutte also points to another building near Winfields and speaks of her plans to turn it into a day spa.
“I’m going to do Botox here, and have hairstylists,” she says. “We’re bringing it uptown.”