The Holiday House
By Megan Driscoll
The Holiday House Restaurant was opened in May 1954 by my grandparents Dewey and Dot Humphries and my great grandparents Roy and Dorothy Johnson.
Don Horton, the owner of the Mt. Vernon motel, suggested that a restaurant would be nice to have next door. From that suggestion the Holiday House was built.
The restaurant opened on Mother’s Day 1954, and the crowd was more than expected. They ran out of meat except for chicken, and the only reason they didn’t run out of chicken was my grandpa was buying chicken from a neighbor as fast as they could butcher them.
The restaurant became a popular stop for people traveling on Highways 1 and 30. My grandparents kept guest books for people to sign. They had guest from all 50 states and many foreign countries. Some people who ate at the restaurant were Joe Di Maggio and the actress Kim Novak. Former Iowa Governors Hughes and Haig ate at the restaurant whenever they were in this part of the state.
The Holiday House became a meeting place for many local groups. The Lions, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce all held their regular meetings there. The restaurant hosted hundreds of family reunions, weddings, and anniversary dinners.
During Forest Evashevski’s and Jerry Burn’s time as coaches for the Iowa football team, the Holiday House would provide the pre-game meal. The meal was served at 10:00 a.m. and always the same menu. An 8 oz. steak, 6 oz. baked potato, green beans, dry toast with honey, and sliced peaches for dessert. The night before the game the Holiday House served hot chocolate and cookies to the team while they watched the opponent’s game film. After the film the team would spend the night at the Mt. Vernon Motel.
In the early 1960s the Holiday House became too small to handle the weekend crowds, so a new addition was added to increase the seating from 87 to 215.
In the mid-1960s the Humphries bought Johnson’s share of the restaurant. They operated the Holiday House until 1969 when a fire destroyed the building.
The fire broke out a little before noon on Sunday, February 16th, 1969. My grandfather had just loaded the roaster with chicken and as he stepped away the roaster exploded. My grandpa described seeing a ball of fire from the floor to the ceiling. At the time of the fire there were 150 people in the restaurant. My grandparents said they were very grateful no one was injured and everyone was able to get out safely. My grandfather told me for several weeks after the fire, customers were sending money for the meal they were eating at the time of the fire.
My grandparents decided not to rebuild because insurance didn’t cover their loss, and Interstate 80 was under construction at the time. They thought they would lose customers.
A lot of people that lived in Mt. Vernon when the Holiday House was open remember it as a nice place to eat. It was famous for its good food, especially its homemade pies. I think the Holiday House is part of Mt. Vernon’s history.