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Horace T. Walker: a Man of Many Parts

While Horace T. Walker's greater fame is an inventor, and his contributions to health with Walker's Pure Herb Tonic, and as the inventor of the walk-behind tobacco setter, he was also a builder and far less well known was his role in the entertainment sector
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By Jim

Horace T. Walker, born in Adair County in 1880, was the oldest of the four children born to Arthur William and Laura A. Logan Walker, also natives of Adair County. By the time he died seventy-seven years and nine days later (January 1957) he had gained a measure of fame in Adair County as the operator of a tin shop, mayor of Columbia, creator / purveyor of Walker's Pure Herb Tonic, and inventor / patent holder of a one-man mechanical tobacco setter. (He ran for mayor unopposed in 1943 and won the office by a landside 216 votes. In late 1944, the News referred to him as "an eloquent and entertaining speaker.")

ColumbiaMagazine has in the past highlighted in story and image all of these achievements (see links below), but one aspect of his life has remained unremarked, that of movie house mogul of Columbia. This requires a bit of backing up to get the full picture.

By 1922, the Paramount Theater, then Columbia's only motion picture venue, was facing a change of location forced by safety concerns. As were many other such entertainment outlets of the time, it was located on the second story (of a building on the Square) with severely limited egress points; likely, only exit was the single doorway which also served as the entrance. A number of deadly fires in theaters nationwide had stirred state and local officials, including those in Columbia, to take steps to prevent future such occurrences.
In February 1922, the News reported Columbia businessman and entrepreneur N.M. Tutt was having built "an extensive building on the alley, left side, just above the Baptist church." Known as Tutt's Hall and with a seating capacity of several hundred, it opened in the early summer of that year. Just days before the autumnal equinox, Mr. Elsie Young, owner of the Paramount, to Mr. Tutt, and the operation was moved to the new venue. (The Hall was also used for vaudeville acts, dances, recitals, local play productions, and other such gatherings, as the photoplays were shown at most on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.)

Mr. Tutt's direct involvement with the theater didn't last very long and come 1923, enter Mr. Walker.

In March of that year, the News carried a brief front page article stating Mr. Walker had purchased the Mr. Tutt's "picture show outfit [that is, the equipment] and has also leased the hall." The article went on to state the new owner would "make a effort to furnish one of the best houses of entertainment Columbia has ever had."

Two other even briefer pieces in the same edition (likely, paid advertising disguised as "news"), stated that Mr. Walker was experienced in show business and "knows how to please the public," and that attendees would see "movies that are movies." (This researcher came up empty in the quest for references to Mr. Walker's prior association with the entertainment industry. The 1920 federal census listed his occupation as house carpenter.)

Passing mentions of Walker's Theater and the Walker Theater appeared in the newspaper through part of 1924 (as well as one reference to it in the spring of 1923, as the New Paramount theater), as did mentions of Mr. Walker's continued activity in the building trade. In September 1924, the newspaper remarked he had just completed Albin Murray's garage building and over a year earlier, he had been in charge of a crew of men working on the First National Bank building.

It isn't known with certainty when Mr. Walker's entertainment emporium showed its last movie but almost certainly it had been gone for some time when the Rialto opened in the Walker (not H.T. Walker) Building in the fall of 1928. A note in the late summer of 1923 remarked Mr. Tutt had rented his hall to Mr. Walker until June 30, 1924. The latter date may be about the time he quit the business, as the last mention of the Walker Theater appeared just a few weeks prior to that.

Toward the end of February 1927, a front page article announced Mr. Walker had rented the Sam Lewis building "located near Russell's store" and that the structure was undergoing remodeling and would have "office and display rooms in front, factory and shop in rear." It went on to state "New machinery will be installed to make most everything out of tin and sheet metal" and that Mr. Walker would carry "a large stock of roofing, guttering, tanks and plumbing supplies."

His locally famous Walker's Pure Herb Tonic made its appearance in the News in a series of two ads that ran in June and July 1935. An image of the larger of the two appears below.

Links to previous ColumbiaMagazine images and articles: For those with an interest in such things, Horace's Walker grandparents were (according to internet sources) Morean & Tusa / Tuzy Bradshaw Walker, and his great-grandparents were Joseph & Katherine Kelso Walker. Through the Walker line, he was a cousin to sisters and longtime Columbia residents Thetis Williams Bass and the Misses Maranda and Mattie Williams. He was also a great-nephew of Dr. Tunstel Quarles Walker.

This story was posted on 2017-09-20 15:23:41
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Walker's Pure Herb Tonic ad

2017-09-20 - Columbia, KY - Photo courtesy Jim. An ad for Paull Drug Co., from the Adair County News in 1935.
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