Continued interest in iconic White Springs Supper Club leads to book idea

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Doris Barrette

White Springs, which is currently up for sale, is still a popular talking point nearly two decades after it closed its doors. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Nearly two decades since it closed its doors, White Springs Supper Club remains an iconic piece of McGregor history. 

“Two or three people each week mention it,” said Doris Barrette, who grew up at the Springs, washing dishes and peeling potatoes as a girl, then later waiting tables and serving drinks. Her mother, Ethel Mann, helped run the establishment from 1949 until her death in 2004. “Wherever I go, people say, ‘I miss the Springs.’ I’ve heard it for years.” 

That’s why, at the urging of her niece and the ladies at the Hair Hut, in Marquette, where she gets her hair done, Barrette has decided to write a book about White Springs. 

“I’m the only one who knows the real history,” she noted. 

Archie Fritz built the Springs on the property that once housed the Klein Brewery and opened the supper club in 1936. Barrette said it is not clear whether Fritz actually built the Springs or if he simply removed the upper floors from the brewery. The building is four stories high, 80 feet long and 60 feet wide. Three rooms—each seven feet high—in a sand cave were used to store and cool the beer the brewery manufactured. The cave was connected to the Springs by an entrance behind the bar, which has since been blocked. 

After Fritz built the Springs, Barrette said there were a few different owners, and her mother tended bar for each of them on Saturday nights. While Ethel was working at the Springs, it was purchased by Ervin “Shorty” Mann and his wife, who came from Cedar Rapids. The couple shortly divorced, leaving Shorty as the sole owner. He and Ethel married in 1948. After Shorty’s death, Ethel became the sole owner of the Springs. Harold Landt then helped her run the business for many years. 

Barrette said her book will delve deeper into this history, starting with when the property was Klein Brewery. McGregor historian Lucy Anderson helped with some of those details. 

“I have pictures of the caves that have never been seen before,” she said. 

The book will then transition to White Springs, covering everything from the supper club’s signature food to the dances and roller skating held upstairs. 

“I have lots of photos, lots of stories,” Barrette assured. 

She will also write about some of the Springs’ most well-known characters, notably her mother, Ethel Mann. 

“It will have mom’s history,” Barrette shared. “She had quite a life.” 

Although she’s never written a book, Barrette feels the process will go well. Much of it, she said, is already written, thanks to an article she penned for the North Iowa Times in 2013. 

“My niece has agreed to do the typing,” she quipped. 

In addition to incorporating her own memories into the book, Barrette also welcomes others to contribute. She’s encouraging people who have anecdotes or funny stories about White Springs to contact her at (608) 326-6757. 

After all, she knows those memories are out there. 

“After all these years, it means a lot that there’s this much interest,” she said. 

Talk has even grown over the past two months, now that the White Springs property, located at 30159 Klein Brewery Rd., outside McGregor, is up for sale. 

“There’s been a lot of interest in it,” said Jenny Coleman, with ReMax Ridge-N-River Realty, who’s the listing agent. 

Along with the commercial building that housed the supper club, the property also includes a two-story home, free-standing two-story barn, 15 wooded acres and the man-made caves once used in the brewing operation. 

Coleman is most intrigued by the caves—which she said are large enough to park a car in—as well as the upper story of the old White Springs building. The floor, once the platform for stomping feet and gliding wheels, is still in good shape. 

“It’s the best thing in there,” Coleman remarked. 

Currently zoned for commercial use (besides the house, which is residential), Coleman said the property still offers a lot of potential—everything from an apartment complex or brewery to a restaurant or retail location. 

“It depends on how ambitious you are. It’s going to take some work, but it’s at a great price to do that,” Coleman said. “People like the location. It’s close to town and close to the woods.” 

As for Barrette, she likes that the property may be utilized again, whether it’s for a restaurant or not. 

“I just hope someone does something with it,” she said.

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