|TRI-COUNTY RESTAURANT HISTORY
|Tri-County Restaurant - A Taste of History
|Tri-County Restaurant is an historical Old Route 66 landmark located in Villa Ridge, MO and which is
still fully operating. As of September 2006, this establishment has closed due to Health & Safety
Issues. The property was originally owned by a Spencer Groff, who along with his father owned a
large chunk of land very near the present day Tri-County Restaurant & Truck Stop. The property saw
many structures as the restaurant started as a garage where they soon started selling soft drinks and
tobacco. At this early time it was known as the Altamont Garage Park. Due to the bright yellow paint
the location was given the name of the Banana stand which stuck for many years. Later the Groff's
erected The Diamonds Restaurant in 1927 which claimed to be the "World's largest roadside
restaurant". It was built in the shape of a baseball diamond due to the odd shape of the lot.
According to the book "Diamond Dust", written by Ursula Groff, it all started when the Groff family
immigrated from Holland to the land of freedom sometime in the 1700's. Through the years and
traveling westward Andrew, the father of Spencer Groff finally settled in the Gray Summit Community
of Franklin County known for its rich and fertile farmland due to the three rivers in this proximity. The
Groff family soon became successful farmers increasing their acreage year by year. Their land also
included the highest point for miles around and where the forks of the Ozark Trial, St. Louis Rock
Road and the Old Springfield Roads.
Due to the lack of good schools in this area, three families including the Groff's donated funds to
erect a High School on the property close to the fork of the roads and near an operating black smith
shop. In 1894 Altamont High School, named by its first teacher Miss Bertie due to its high elevation,
opened and began classes in September of that year. It was here at Altamont, that young Spencer
Groff began his educational pursuit and his love for baseball as the students made a make shift
baseball diamond near the school where they could indulge in their American Dream of baseball. The
school only lasted 4 years, closing its doors in 1898 due to the erection of larger facilities in
In 1898, young Spencer who had a passion to become a Lawyer went off to the William Jewell College
near Kansas City in Liberty, MO to pursue his studies. While away he only looked forward to his return
trips home where he could run the farm fields and ride on his favorite horse. In 1907, Spencer
decided not to return to the College and stayed home to run the family farm. Many in the community
thought that it was funny to see a College boy try to operate and run the daily events of a family farm,
but soon he became one of the most successful farmers and cattlemen in the Eastern part of the
State. He also became President of the Villa Ridge Milling Company and his sharp mind for mercantile
and business resulted in many share holders receiving very nice dividend checks each year!
Spencer soon became a wiz with profiting from deals at the St. Louis Markets and Merchant Exchange
due to the demands for farm good that the war created. The end of the war brought an end to the
large profits to be earned and Spencer started to regret dropping out of College and his pursuit to
become a Lawyer. Soon after his mother passed away and with his father becoming old with less
needs his sister Ursula who was teaching music could tend to his needs. In a swift decision he
decided to return to his studies and moved to St. Louis and attended the Benton College of Law at
night. After two years he passed the year end exams with ease. After financial losses in the market
and a spiritual break down of sorts he found himself with debts that he thought he would never be
able to repay. Penniless he returned to home to a farm that was decaying away. He now had to
salvage what he could returning to a life of labor to repay his large debts. There were no riches to be
made in farming during these years, so he started to sell plums from the orchards near the forks of
the roads. After seeing how successful this became, he started to realize that the passing motorist
would buy things if you had the right things to sell them.
His first roadside stand was no more than a large umbrella where he took the profits from selling the
plums and invested in a stock of soda to sell out of an old wash tub. It sold and sold as long as the
hot weather held out. He then decided after the first year that he needed something more permanent
to sell from. So using the roof form the old farm silo and wooden legs to hold it up the second year of
roadside sales became more successful! Never seeing anything like this he became the criticism of
the community. He then named this first stand Altamont Park after the school he so loved in his early
Soon after a highway official remarked that it looked like a Banana Stand, so thereafter he started to
call it the "Banana Stand". Wanting to continue this profitable adventure through the winter and not
only in the warm months, Spencer started to think about what could he sell roadside in winter. So he
boarded up the sides of the stand for further shelter and warmth then installed a gasoline pump.
Soon he added frankfurter sandwiches to his list of items to sell. He then realized the farm could
produce edibles to sell from the stand and then added local products such as buttermilk, little
evergreen trees he dug himself. Business was growing and growing and his debts were shrinking.
Soon his roadside mercantile attracted local farmers, tourist, passing drivers, etc. He then started
thinking about how business did slow in fall and winter and still had his passion to become a Lawyer.
He started studying in his spare time and passed the exams to enter the Washington University
School of Law. Allowing the family servant and farm hand to run the stand he returned to school. This
only lasted one year and he returned home finding the business in shambles of sorts. He then
decided to concentrate his full efforts on his stand and earning an honest days wages. The following
three years saw and increase in business and trade too heavy for this little makeshift stand. He then
decided to build a building. Without engineers he used a pick to mark off the ground to outline the
new site. Beginning at the fork of the roads and paralleling each road it would be in the shape of a
diamond and twelve by thirty feet in size. When finally erected it was unique and stood out from the
base of the hill for all to see! On its white sides he painted large yellow bunches of bananas and still
called it the "Banana Stand".
Business became so good that his sister gave up her career of teaching music to assist her brother
at the stand. Later due to petty break in from people to steal soda and other goods, he decided to
man the stand himself for 24 hours a day due to not having enough funds to hire a watchman. He then
stayed open 24 hours, another move which paid off for his business as late night truckers started to
stop to rest and get a bite to eat.
With an increase in traffic and accidents, the stand started to frequently dispatch first aid services
and bring accident victims back to the stand for treatment.. If it was too serious they would call for an
ambulance. Soon a phonograph was added to provide music and help to pass the time away when
there alone during the night. Then the talk about highways finally became fact and concrete started
to be poured. The new highways changed the junction a bit and a second "Banana Stand" was in the
works due to the existing one becoming too small to handle the business received.
The new building was also going to be in the shape of a diamond at the junction of the new concrete
highways. This was going to be called "Diamonds", but when nearly finished with a partial roof, bad
storms blew in and tore it to the ground. This blow from nature almost was enough for Spencer to
toss in the towel and sell his business. Then not giving up, he started a second time to erect the new
larger "Diamonds" building. He opened his new "Diamonds" on July 3, 1927 the same day that was
called road opening day. With a concrete floor and framed sides with was the largest yet, however
business grew each year and he found himself removing a wall to add on to meet the demands.
Those who laughed at his original little roadside stand were now finding full time employment within
its walls. Spencer also had a heart and would hire high school children during the summer so they
could earn money to pursue their educational dreams which he fully never finished himself. He would
also temporarily hire the head of a traveling family which ran out of funds to continue their travels so
they could in good honest spirit be able to continue on. It was this first Diamonds which was able to
boast the motto "The World's Largest Roadside Restaurant".
In 1928 he then hired people to drill a well for him at the summit of what was called Altamont Hill and
he enclosed the pumps with a wood tower and place electric lights on top in the shape of a diamond
for all to see.
In 1934, Spencer received a package in the mail containing the hand of his faithful family servant with
instructions for a ransom and where to take the money. This was foiled due to the extortionist placing
a wrong sign at one point in relation to another victim form a previous night. On the day of the new
year in 1935 lightening struck his boyhood home and fire took it away from him.
Then on Feb 27,1948 (Although the Franklin county tribune said it was on March 4, 1947), fire took
away the first Diamonds burning the framed building to the ground. The only thing which survived
was the old popcorn machine. It was then that the business passed on to Mr. Eckelkamp who started
to work there in the late 1920's and became a business partner in the early 1930's. Eckelkamp then
rebuilt what was the Second Diamonds Restaurant from brick which served the public under that
name until 1969 when a newer (third) building was erected east and closer to the newer Interstate 44.
The Diamonds sign and name were taken to this new site and a new owner, Arla Reed, bought this
older building and opened what is now the Tri-County Restaurant & Truck Stop.
The third Diamonds built nearer to Highway 44 was finally shut down and raised in 1995 due to
uncertainties of plans for new highway ramps in the area and economic cost to continue operating
and repairing it with such uncertainties.
|The below are scans from the book called "Diamond
Dust" written by Ursla Groff in 1936. THANK YOU SANDY!!
Click on the below images for a full size to view.
|The below are various post cards and pictures throughout the history
of the current Tri-County Restaurant previously Diamonds Restaurant.
|The below photographs are from the Brush Creek Cemetery located about 1 mile
from the original Diamonds (now Tri-County) Restaurant in Villa Ridge, MO. This is
the final resting place of the roadside genius Spencer Groff, his sister Ursula and his
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