Annie Fisher home slated for demolition

In a way, a piece of history is about to meet its demise, this time a landmark of black history. The Annie Fisher Home at 2911 Old Highway 63 South is now slated for demolition.

Yet, in some ways, the history of Annie Fisher and her accomplishments will live on.

For now, the former location for a restaurant and catering service operated by Annie Fisher, a black entrepreneur born in 1867, is in danger of being torn down. The home, built in the 1920s, is now sandwiched between large apartment buildings. The two-story, window-filled grand building is now owned by Merle and Charlotte Smarr.

The Smarrs have filed a request for permission to demolish the house, according to August 18 2011 article in the Columbia Daily Tribune, and the 10-day waiting period for the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission to take action has passed. The Historic Preservation Commission named the house to the Notable Properties list in 2009.

This will be the second home of Annie Fisher that has fallen to the wrecking ball and the second that has fallen to the results of changes in Columbia. A 15-room home she built earlier at 608 East Park Avenue was torn down in the 1960s as a part of a 1960s urban renewal project, according to 2009 Columbia Housing Authority document.

Yet, even if this home, too, is demolished, the story of Fisher’s success and life will remain with us.

Sept. 22, 2011 — A discussion of the Columbia Public Library’s One Read selection, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 22, 2011 in the Columbia Public Library, Friends Room will include a discussion of Annie Fisher, Blind Boone, Douglas Park and the Sharp End, using historical photos and documents.

2010 — A Facebook page dedicated to the Annie Fisher House Project includes a video tour of the home as well as historical documents.

In 2009, the Columbia Housing Authority named the Downtown Food Pantry after Annie Fisher. The document outlining the honoring of Fisher notes, “…Ms. Annie Fisher (1867-1938) of Columbia came from humble beginnings and became a self-made local African-American businesswoman and nationally renowned caterer and restaurateur … saved enough money to open her own restaurant .. and operate a mail-order business that sent her foods to customer around the world…”
2009 — This You Tube video on City Scope: Annie Fisher, Cateress of Columbia, narrated by Bill Thompson notes the house has 81 windows. Thompson says she put so many windows because she wanted the people eating at her restaurant to be able to look out at the beauty of Columbia and Boone County.

The house has had many champions, most recently Sheila Kitchen Ruffin, who in 2010 founded the Annie Fisher Project to save the home. According to the August 18, 2011 report, Ruffin has been unable to drum up necessary support for the project.

A Feb. 8, 1911 article from the University Missourian is headlined: ”Her Cooking Famed Throughout States.” It goes on as follows:

“Mrs. Annie Fisher, Columbia Negro, Serves for the Best of Society. Owns silverware for 250. Chipped Potatoes, Beaten Biscuits and Fruit Cake Renowned Dishes.”

The June 17, 1938 article from The Call announced her death. “Mrs. Annie Fisher, Famed ‘Beaten Biscuit Woman’ of Columbia, MO., Succumbs.” It goes on to note she died at her home at 608 Park Avenue at age 71. The article also includes information on the building at 2911 Old Highway 63 South, stating, “Twelve years ago she opened a dining room on highway 63, about a mile and half south of Columbia.” That would be the home now in danger of demolition.

Fisher and her accomplishments have been in the media recently as well. In the February/March 2009 issue, Columbia Home & Lifestyle published an article on ”Lost Black Neighborhoods,” and “My Favorite Things: Verna Harris-Laboy.”

Fisher, according to the article on black neighborhoods, “was world-renowned for her beaten biscuit recipe, which won her a first-place award at the 1904 World’s Fair.” She had a catering business which she used to pay for the Park Avenue home and then later the Highway 63 home.

Harris-Laboy, who researched Fisher and often dressed up as her for presentations at local schools, said Fisher was born in 1867 and only received a third-grade education. ”Fisher also had china and silverware to accommodate 1,000 people (she rented her supplies out when she wasn’t serving a party) and a mail-order business. Her courage and business acumen would be extraordinary at any time but are particularly remarkable for a black woman of her time and place,” notes the article written by Christina George.