History of the Walnut Street Inn
The Walnut Street Inn, previously known as the McCann-Jewell House, is a wonderful example of Queen Ann Victorian architecture. Steeped in history, this home has had a succession of historically significant owners, starting with Charles McCann.
In 1879, Springfield was 50 years old and ready for real growth. Young men were still going west to seek their fortunes, and Charles McCann was one of them. From Indiana, with his wife and two children, he came to Springfield. Immediately he became involved in business and civic affairs, and throughout his life had a hand in the development of the city. Wholesale trade was one of the most important features of Springfield in 1879. McCann decided to form a wholesale grocery firm, the Springfield Grocery Company. In 1886 he helped organize and served as a director and president of the Springfield Club, later to become the Chamber of Commerce. He then bought shares in the Springfield Wagon Company. It became one of the four largest wagon manufacturers in the nation. Mr. McCann was instrumental in the securing of the Frisco railroad shop's location in Springfield. He was the major force in raising funds to build Springfield's first public library in 1905. The Main Library still stands at 397 East Central Street. The Springfield Grocery Company today serves the restaurant trade of an 180-mile radius into Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri, and is a large employer in the Springfield area. The Chamber of Commerce has around two thousand member businesses.
Mr. McCann's first wife died not long after he came to Springfield, and in 1891 he married Miss Katherine Ashworth. Charles wrote in his journal, "While I had not made any resolutions, it had always appeared to me as a matter of course that I would not marry again...but I became acquainted with Miss Ashworth, and as I grew to know her better, my interest and affection were aroused to an extent that I was impelled to ask her to make a home for me, and when she had consented to marry me, I had the sensation of beginning life anew."
Charles built this house during the panic times of the mid-1890s. Jobs were hard to find, and skilled craftsmen were eager for work. Wrote Charles, "Good carpenters were paid only two dollars a day... I bought lumber, the best, in carloads, for ten dollars per thousand feet delivered, and other items in the same proportion, yet this house cost me nearly $6000... I put in the latest improvements except for electricity (and this exception was quite a mistake). I had Henry Hornsby cast for me 20 iron corinthian columns, which gave the house a very handsome appearance, and when finished, it was one of the best looking homes in the street."
The McCanns loved to entertain, and the entire downstairs was open for parties. There is a carriage entrance on the west side of the house, with a sidewalk and steps that lead down to what is now John Q. Hammons Parkway. Picture a carriage pulling up to deliver ladies for an afternoon visit with Katherine McCann. The ladies alight, and the carriage driver wheels around to the Carriage House to unhitch the horses, cool his heels and perhaps share some gossip with other drivers until they are called for the trip home. Until it was fully renovated into four large guestrooms in 1992, the Carriage House came complete with horse stalls and the carriage master's quarters.
An owner between the McCanns and the Jewels was recently unearthed while reading the autobiography of Charles McCann. According to Charles: "In February 1904, W.A. Dennis came to me one night at the Springfield Club and asked, 'Charlie, do you want to sell your house at 704 E. Walnut Street (now 900 E. Walnut)?' I said, 'Yes.' 'What will you take for it?' he enquired. I replied, '$8,500,' and he said at once, 'I will take it.' We arranged the details; I agreeing to give him possession on May 1st, as I had planned to move to the farm near Mountain Grove that date, he to pay cash. It was the quickest sale I ever made, and I regret to say that Dennis never took possession, as he died about one month after we made the deal and the property went to his wife who improved it and lived in it for some time."
Being lovers of antiquity and sleuthing, we are eager to discover more about Mr. and Mrs. W.A. Dennis. We know he must have been a businessman to be a member of the Springfield Club. His ability to pay $8,500 cash for the house suggests he was probably wealthy. Maybe the best clue is that he died somewhere between February 4 and May 1, 1904. We'll keep you posted!