New book about downtown Columbia guides readers into the past


Nifong. Guitar. Gentry. Hickman. Rollins.

These are more than just names to Warren Dalton, 92, who recently co-authored “Historic Downtown Columbia.” To him, they represent the maze and delight of Columbia’s history. They are legacies, personalities and distant mirrors reflecting the city’s past.

He spoke to a small gathering in the Friends Room at the Columbia Public Library yesterday evening about these names, all mentioned in his book.

“Historic Downtown Columbia” began when Dalton’s friends suggested he translate his vast knowledge about historic Columbia into a media format.

He partnered up with David James, a retired MU professor of hotel management. James collected photographs of the antique buildings, helped with research and organized the layout of the book. Meanwhile, Dalton recalled stories about Columbia heavyweights and the streets they walked.

“We found that history was wrong, and I’m someone who wants to get to the bottom if I can,” Dalton said.

For instance, James said, some homes that were previously thought to be have been built in the 1820s were truly built decades later, in the 1860s.

Dalton said he wanted to focus on buildings older than 100 years old. He found 50.

The 74-page book features old photographs of the familiar downtown buildings next to pictures James recently took. What was once a beauty salon purchased by two sisters more than a century ago now lodges India’s House on Broadway. A shoe shop built in 1880 is now Vespa of Columbia.

Also included are summaries of each building’s history in Dalton’s easy, conversational tone.

One woman who attended the lecture, Michelle Lancaster, came because she collects books on the history of Columbia and Missouri. The growth of the city from the early 19th century particularly piqued her interest.

“My parents were both from small towns, and I loved hearing the history of those towns,” she said. “(Columbia), to me, went from a town to a city. I like seeing how Columbia can retain its historical stuff even though it’s still growing.”

She constantly looks for new books about Columbia to add to her collection, so when James passed her the glossy “Historic Downtown Columbia,” she immediately smiled.

“These are all the old buildings all right,” she said, pointing to the photographs on the front.

James said the book and DVD took sixth months to finish. The DVD, produced by Boxcar Films, ferries the viewer through a virtual tour of early Columbia.

The book is available for $30 at Bluestem Crafts on Ninth Street. All proceeds will benefit the Missouri Theatre for the Arts.

James laughed as he said, “We’re not making a dime off it, believe me!”


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Filed under Columbia-Boone County, Old Southwest

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