Columbia's historic Van Horn Tavern is headed east

Thursday, September 26, 2013 | 10:26 p.m. CDT; updated 12:48 a.m. CDT, Friday, September 27, 2013
The historic Van Horn Tavern is being moved from Boone County to Marthasville. Beams that can be reused are being numbered and will be reassembled at the new location.

COLUMBIA — Workers wielding axes and kicking up decades of dirt and dust worked to remove the roof of the historic Van Horn Tavern on Thursday. 

Piece by piece, the tavern, which has spent the better part of two centuries in Boone County, is being dismantled in preparation for a move east to Marthasville. Its new home will be the Boone Monument Village, a cluster of historic buildings owned by St. Louis businessman Bernardo Brunetti.

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Van Horn Tavern owner Patrick Dougherty and David Sapp collaborated two years ago on a project to dismantle and reconstruct the historic site, which was a rest stop for countless travelers in the 19th century. (This story is available to readers with a Missourian digital membership.)

For much of the past several years, the tavern — successively known, because of changing ownership, as the Gentry, the Threlkeld and finally the Van Horn Tavern — was believed to be headed to the Boone Junction History Village in Nifong Park. Owners Patrick and Rita Dougherty donated the building through a written agreement to the Boone County Historical Society, which operates Boone Junction.

A faltering economy hurt fundraising efforts, however, and the historical society surrendered the building back to the Doughertys in April. The historical society raised about $30,000 from donors, society member David Sapp said. That would have been enough to disassemble the building but far short of the amount needed to move it and put it back together, he said.

Patrick Dougherty has been tending to the old building since he and his wife bought the property it sits on 40 years ago. Dougherty, 80, said that as he has aged, he has found it hard to keep up the tavern like he had.

"I became unable the last year or two to properly care for it," Dougherty said. "To get up and nail the tin roof down when a wind storm tore it off again."

Dougherty saw the proposal from the historical society as a golden opportunity to take the building off his hands before it deteriorated into an unsalvageable state. When that option fell through, he wasn't sure what was going to happen to the Van Horn Tavern.

Sapp didn't either. At a meeting of the Boone's Lick Road Association, of which he is the president, Sapp asked his fellow members if they had any ideas for preserving the tavern.

A day or two after the meeting, Sapp said, the association's vice president, Cathie Schoppenhorst, called him and told him she knew what to do with it.

She said she worked part time at Boone Monument Village, an interactive historical attraction in Marthasville. She thought its owner Bernardo Brunetti might be interested in a new building for his site and recommended Sapp get in touch with him.

It turns out she was spot-on.

Brunetti has an energetic affection for history. He speaks about it with the same enthusiasm a kid uses to describe a new toy.

"I love the early history of America," he said. "It's close by. Not like early Roman history. Instead of going back 2000 years, you go back 200 years."

He traces his affinity for historical buildings to a trip he took to Tennessee, where he stayed in a log cabin that belonged to a friend's family.

"All it took was one overnight stay in an old log cabin, and I've loved them ever since," Brunetti said.

He bought the property that would become Boone Monument Village in 2009. He said he thought the Van Horn Tavern would make a wonderful addition.

Brunetti plans to restore the tavern "in form and function," entertaining guests with period food brought to them by servers wearing historically appropriate attire.

It's going to be a tourist destination with a purpose.

"What we are today is because of what happened yesterday, who we were yesterday," Brunetti said.

As workers closed in on the final remains of the Van Horn Tavern's roof, Patrick Dougherty and Sapp walked over to take pictures.

They have some mixed emotions about the removal of the building they've devoted so much time to preserving, but mostly they're looking on the bright side.

"I had sorta some twinges that first day, but I'm frankly pleased that this will follow through and be preserved," Sapp said.

Dougherty said he is going to miss the visitors who come from time to time to take a look at the old tavern, but he's happy that he won't have to stand by and watch the building fall into further disrepair.

"It's been a great experience and a great history lesson," he said.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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Toni Messina September 27, 2013 | 9:57 a.m.

Like Mr. Daugherty, I also feel "twinges" with the loss of the Tavern. I always liked knowing that we had some of the Boone's Lick DNA still in place, with dust and decline a way to travel back to those early days.

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