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One year after the tornado: How one small business in Eldon has put the pieces back together

Just before 11 p.m. on May 22, 2019, a small town in northern Miller county just off Highway 54 would hear the sounds of sirens along with pieces of buildings, vegetation and other debris being thrown around by a tornado with winds estimated between 86-110 miles per hour.

Several homes and businesses were damaged, including the Historic Randles Court Motel that sits along Business 54 in downtown Eldon. It's a quaint, six-room motel that has deep roots in early 20th century Missouri.

Preserving Missouri history...

Jennifer Hart, the owner of the motel says that she wants this motel to be like a time machine. Each room represents a different decade over the past century with pieces of history and memorabilia in each room.

While its main purpose is a place for people to sleep, she also wants the building to function like a museum. She wants to bring people who stay here bits and pieces of Missouri history to give the past a place to live, too.

Unfortunately for the couple, it hasn't been an easy road.

A rocky start...

Hart says that she and her husband purchased the motel, which had an attached restaurant, "Philly Diner," in 2017. On August 28, just two days before they were set to close on the property, a fire broke out in the restaurant. The restaurant sustained major fire and smoke damage and it was decided it would be torn down.

Photo from January 2018 of the Philly Diner Demolition - Historic Randles Court Facebook

Fortunately, for the Harts, the motel only sustained minor smoke and heat damage. Jennifer and her husband were determined to breathe life back into this building and began renovations to restore the motel.

"We were putting the finishing touches on the final 3 rooms [the day of the tornado]..."

Fast forward to May of 2019. Renovations were nearing completion. The motel was cleared for business. An open house was scheduled for May 24, 2019.

36 hours.

That's all that separated the Harts from finally being able to call this motel their own.

Then, the tornado struck.

Hart said that the front porch turned into a wind tunnel. Debris came crashing through the windows of the motel rooms. Cars in the parking lot had their windows shattered.

The sign that had just been standing minutes before had been completely destroyed. Pieces of the sign were strewn across the property. She says she counted at least 40 different pieces.

When most of the sign had been re-assembled in the grassy berm in front of the motel, there had been one large piece that was missing. Determined to find that last piece, Hart took to social media. Fortunately, someone had taken aerial photographs and she spotted the piece.

An excavator used to recover the piece of sign stuck under debris. Historic Randles Court Motel in the back left of the photo.

It had sailed across the street nearby another business and had been piled up with other debris. Whether or not it was possible to be re-assembled to form was something Hart tasked MidState Signs in Eldon with.

Hart said when proposed the idea to the manufacturer they "looked at her like she was crazy," but she was serious. She did not want this sign to be thrown away.

Re-assembled sign nearing completion at MidState Signs

The sign was up hoisted back up in March of this year.

Originally, they had planned to light the sign in late-March, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hart thought it more appropriate to light the sign on the one-year anniversary of the tornado.

Last year, I asked Matt at Midstate Signs to do the impossible. He may not have been extremely excited at the idea, in...

Posted by Historic Randles Court, LLC on Friday, May 22, 2020

The lighting will be live-streamed on the motel's Facebook page.

Hart says she eagerly awaits a normal - something that she's never felt during the nearly three years she's owned the property.

She says that her business, which is a stone's throw away from the Lake of the Ozarks, is a great place for people who want to relax, disconnect from the modern world and take a step back into simpler times.

May 2019 tornado / Severe Weather / Top Stories / Tornadoes / Weather

Luke Victor

Luke Victor gives forecasts on ABC 17 News broadcasts and reports on weather stories on air and online, giving viewers and readers a deeper look at what causes different types of weather.

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