Chicken Inn

2011 - Ballroom/Venue

In the 1930’s Harold and Elsa Collings owned a small restaurant on the edge of Creston that specialized in serving chicken dinners. The restaurant became so popular that they decided to find a new location and expand operations. In 1936 they located and purchased the perfect spot three miles west of town where there was a small vacant “roadhouse” called “The Maples”. The “Maples” had been closed down several years earlier for selling bootleg liquor during the era of prohibition.

Since prohibition had finally ended, in 1936 Harold and Elsa rebuilt the facility to be used as a restaurant/bar and named it “The Inn”. They raised their own chickens in a pen behind the building which were used in the chicken dishes they prepared as their specialty. The chicken dinners became so famous in the area that the customers, when describing the restaurant, began calling it “The Chicken Inn”. Since then, it has always been known as “The Chicken Inn”, even though, to this day, the sign outside the building only says “The Inn”.

During the 1940’s the Collings developed a unique technique for preparing their chicken and the restaurant became increasingly popular, drawing guests from all over Southwest Iowa , and as far away as Omaha/Council Bluffs. In later years, a rumor began circulating that Colonel Sanders had stopped at the Chicken Inn at some time in the late 40’s on his way from Louisville, KY to Omaha and liked the chicken so much that he copied the Collings’ chicken recipe and used it in a new Kentucky Fried Chicken business he started in 1952. Although no one knows, or necessarily believes, that there is any truth to the story, the rumor only helped the Chicken Inn become that much more popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

In the early 1940’s the Chicken Inn burned down. However, Harold and Elsa rebuilt it, making it much larger by the addition of an open front porch and a large dance floor which was used as a ballroom.  Harold and Elsa’s son, Fred Collings, now from Sioux Falls, SD, also worked with his parents over the years in various positions, including dish washer, salad boy, cook, and eventually, “bouncer”.

In its early stages as a ballroom, local bands played on weekends. Then, as the decade of the 1940’s rolled on, Harold Collings, because of the notoriety of The Chicken Inn, got acquainted with booking agents in Omaha and Chicago who helped him feature big bands who were crossing Iowa at the time. Some of the biggest bands of the day performed there, including Guy Lombardo, Lawrence Welk, Blue Barron (Harry Freidman), and the Sammy Kaye Swing Band.

As the big band era slowed, country music became popular and the Chicken Inn turned to country. Some of the biggest country stars of the ‘50s made appearances there including such names as Kitty Wells, Ray Price, Charlie Pride, Roy Acuff, and Johnnie & Jack.

Finally, in the 60’s and 70’s, the Chicken Inn turned to Rock and Roll and the place was a Southwest Iowa hot spot for the best Rock and Roll bands of that era from the Iowa/Nebraska region. Many Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bands were scheduled regularly at the Chicken Inn during those years including such groups as The Rumbles, The Notorious Noblemen, The Coachmen, The Crestmen, The Fortes, and The Green Giants, to name just a few, plus most of the popular Rock and Roll bands from Des Moines and other areas of Iowa and Nebraska.

In 1974, the Chicken Inn was sold to Harvey Briles of Creston who continued to operate it for over 30 years as a restaurant/bar/entertainment center and as late as 1979 featured country artist Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours. In the later years, the facility was used in a variety of ways, largely as a rental facility for local events. Eventually it was used as an antique outlet and, today, the Chicken Inn is essentially closed. However it still stands prominently along Highway 34 in Southwest Iowa , reminding all that drive by of its rich history of food and entertainment-big bands, country, and rock and roll.

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