Pocatello native Bill Ryan is a retired United Press International editor who was formerly with Idaho State University as alumni director and journalism professor. He lives in the Dallas suburb of Richardson, Texas, and can be reached at email@example.com.
It thing was once for Pocatellans a common to drive to Blackfoot for an evening of fine food and dancing at the famous Colonial Inn. But would you believe that the building was a home for students and later served as a â€ślaying inâ€ť hospital.
The story was told by Marilyn Parsons Peterson in a presentation to the Bingham County Historical Society. Marilynâ€™s greatgrandparents, Robert Nelson and Henrietta Parsons, homesteaded in the Thomas area, west of Blackfoot. The only son among seven daughters, Robert Adrian Parsons married Josephine Christensen in Pocatello in 1907. After many years on the farm, they bought a large house in Blackfoot and converted it into an old folks home.
Marilyn wrote, â€śAt the time, there was no hospital in Bingham County. Those residents in need of hospitalization simply stayed at home or were forced to go to Pocatello or Idaho Falls. This hazardous and sometimes dangerous arrangement proved insufficient, particularly after the start of WWII. A heavy influx of construction workers sharply pointed up the need for a place where maternity care could be obtainedâ€¦.â€ť Drs. A.E Miller, Sr., J.O. Hampton, and Merrill Packer were practicing in Blackfoot then.
â€śThe doctors got Josephine a (maternity hospital) license and she was drafted. She converted one room into a delivery room where 2,500 babies were born over the next 13 years.â€ť It wasnâ€™t until 1948 that residents approved a bond issue to build Bingham Memorial Hospital, and construction soon started. As the hospital opened, the Parsons began a new venture with their son-in-law and daughter, Chic and Velma Oâ€™Neal.
The Oâ€™Neals oversaw construction of a small bar, enclosing a veranda to make what was called the North Room, adding a room with a fireplace called the Chase Room because of its wallpaper depicting a stag hunt. The Colonial Inn Supper Club opened Oct. 6, 1950, and enjoyed immediate success. â€śIn the spring of 1951, a smorgasbord was instituted on Wednesday and Saturday nights which cost $2.50 for adults and $1.25 for children,â€ť Marilyn wrote. â€śThe 1967 edition of the Ford Times magazine featured the Colonial Inn as being selected by the company as a famous eating place of the year.â€ť Chic and Velma Oâ€™Neal were owner and hostess during the glory years. â€śThe Oâ€™Neals and grandma decided it was time to retire and put the Colonial Inn on the market. It was purchased in the fall of 1975 and has never had the same ambience since,â€ť Marilyn wrote. â€śThe days of cocktail dresses, suits, prom dinners, elegant functions, started to evaporate when it was sold.â€ť Chic Oâ€™Neal died in 1979 and Velma in 1985.
Today, the restaurant has been owned by Eduardo Lora since 2008. â€śWe specialize in food for Hispanics,â€ť Eduardoâ€™s daughter, Mary Ellen Lora, told me last week. So the place has been going for more than 60 years, but any owner will be hard pressed to equal the Colonial Inn of Chic and Velma Oâ€™Neal.