Ask Perry: Memories glad and sad about the old Poplar Inn

Gerald Perry

I was recently asked if I had some information about the old restaurant that was located near the railroad tracks on Sibley Road.

I believe the person was referring to a place called The Poplar Inn, which, of course, is no longer there. The place was named for the poplar trees nearby, but that was a misnomer as the restaurant was surrounded by huge chestnut trees.

I believe it was around 1968 when the building was torn down. I have some good memories and some sad memories of the old Poplar Inn.

Starting with the good memories:

Once, back in the early 1960s when I was the dog warden for the city, I was driving by the restaurant one morning and a man was standing in the doorway waving at me to come over. I drove over and the man asked if I knew the Chief of Police. I told him yes and, if fact, he was my boss.

The man said he was the owner of the restaurant and that I should tell the chief that James Kleehamer said he should stop by.

I relayed the message to my boss and he, in turn, suggested that I take my wife to diner there sometime.

After that encounter, it seemed every time I drove past the Poplar Inn Jim would be standing in the back doorway waving me in. We would sit and talk in the kitchen over a cup of coffee and a piece of fresh apple pie.

One day my wife and I and another couple were trying to decide where to have dinner. The other couple suggested the old restaurant by the railroad tracks on Sibley.

I remember the look of the large old gray building and the lack of fresh paint. There was a sign out front that read, “Steak, frog legs, chicken and shrimp.” We entered through the front door and into the waiting area that, back in the day, was probably a living room. There was a fireplace with a mantle, a mirror and a piano – a baby grand, if I remember right.

We were greeted by a waiter. I knew hm, his name was Elmer Manning. He had on what looked like tuxedo pants, a white shirt and a bow tie.

We were seated at a table with a white tablecloth and before we could order, a thunderstorm popped up and the waiter reappeared with five-gallon buckets that he placed around at various spots on the floor. Before long rain water began to drip into the buckets.

I remember the food was very good and on our way out, Jim spotted me and was very cordial.

Now for the sad memory:

It is truly a sad memory to actually have been a part of the old Poplar Inn’s final demise.

It was the summer of 1967 and among my many jobs with the city of Riverview were the duties of health and license inspector for the police department.

The police chief called me into a meeting with the city manager, the building inspector, the electrical inspector, the plumbing inspector and the city engineer. He told us that the city had received a complaint from the state health department about the Poplar Inn and we were to go over an inspect it from the basement to the attic.

When we got there, the owner, James P, Kleehamer, met us at the back door. When we told him what we were there for, he broke down and cried. He said he knew this day was coming, but it was still a shock.

It seems that when Kleehamer first rented the building from the Ford Motor Railroad, there was a stipulation that no major maintenance or repairs could be done to the building. So that’s the way things were run for all the years the restaurant operated.

I remember going up to the third floor and observing large holes where some of the roof was actually missing. It was a sad day, but because the building was in such deplorable condition we knew we had to shut the Poplar Inn down.

I never saw James after that.

The last memory I have of the place is that large shovel tearing into what had been a beautiful old building.
James P. Kleehamer died less than a year after his restaurant was torn down. I suspect he died of a broken heart.

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