Advertised as the "most romantic spot in the west," Deer Cliff Inn is one of the longest continuously running businesses in Franklin County. Built by the Hull Family, the inn sits alongside the western bank of the Cub River beneath a cliff created millions of years ago by a volcanic mudslide. Diners on the spacious patio can enjoy the atmosphere of the river and occasionally catch a glimpse of the mountain goats that frequent the rock face of the cliffs.
The Property know to some as Watercress Spring was originally an old Indian campground. According to Mary Ann Hull, (grandmother to Roland, Ett and Tyra Hull and one of the early settlers in Franklin), Indians used to drive deer over the cliff above the inn to get food to feed their tribe. During the first winter for the pioneers, a hunting party with three or four dogs went up through the Cub River canyon. The dogs cornered 15 head of deer on the cliffs overlooking the present site of Deer Cliff Inn. The deer jumped over the cliff to their deaths. The meat from the deer provided food for the new settlers that helped them survive the winter, and the location was referred to from then on as Deer Cliff.
The land at Deer Cliff was homesteaded in the 1880's by a Manning family and later bought by Joyn and Martha Dunkley. Joyn continued to buy other homesteads in the area until he had accumulated 1040 acres. LeRoy Hull, Martha's brother, bought the acreage from Martha when Joyn passed away during the Depression. Since times were tough, Martha told LeRoy he could pay her when he got the money. LeRoy farmed the land, raising hay and cattle to help pay for the property.
One day, LeRoy's son Roland was herding sheep with his friend Enos Holden on Deer Mountain. He stood looking over the beautiful Cub River canyon. His eyes caught sight of a quiet nook where a cliff and the river met. He turned to his friend and said, "I would sure like to own that pretty piece of ground down there."
Enos replied, "Build a firm foundation and go for it."
Roland told his father about the piece of property and LeRoy promised him that when Martha was paid in full that Roland would get the 20 acres he wanted.
Eventually Roland did receive the property, and envisioned a cabin by the spring with the river and cliffs nearby. Recalling an old abandoned cabin, a short distance down the canyon, he tore it down and built a living room with an L-shaped bar, kitchen and bedroom with the logs. He pumped water out of the spring, which also served as his refrigerator.
At the time during the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) had a camp six miles up the canyon. Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the CCC put unemployed men to work from all over the country building bridges and roads. Hull thought that if he served beer, soda pop, hamburgers and hotdogs, the workers at the CCC camp would come down to his place. He needed $50 to get started, and when his family could not come up with that amount, he borrowed it from his boss at the sugar factory in Whitney. He promised the manager his job if he didn't pay him back, and he got the money.
Hull bought a beer license at the court house and purchased the needed supplies. In the summer of 1938, his cabin became the first Deer Cliff Restaurant. Hull's hunch paid off, as the 30 boys at the CCC camp walked the six miles down the road every day to buy snacks at the cabin. Roland hired Ronald and Laura Dursteller for $18.50 a week to help.
People also came from other areas, and it soon became apparent that the little restaurant would not be big enough to serve the public. Roland, his brother Ett, and sister Tyra decided to build a bigger building closer to the river.
Tyra had already had an exceptional life as a professional singer. Born in 1911, Tyra grew up in the old rock house in Whitney on Highway 91. Her grandfather started to build the home and got the basement done when he was killed by Indians. Grandmother Mary Ann Hull had the home finished. Even before graduating from the Oneida Stake Academy, Tyra was singing with her aunt and cousin, Lillian and Regina Weaver, in a girl's trio called the Melody Weavers. Nearly the same age, people thought the girls were sisters. They started singing for monthly family gatherings, then for community functions, then in Montana, at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Saltair in Salt Lake City, and for KSL radio. Soon they were discovered by a talent scout who asked them to come to California, and they had a lot of fun singing up and down the West Coast.
While in Seattle they were invited to go to Shanghai, China on an around-the-world tour. They thought it was a joke until the tickets came in the mail. They decided to go. After a six-week stint, Regina became ill and they cut their trip short to return home. Two offers followed to continue in show business: a five-year contract with Warner Brothers and a summer contract with Yellowstone Park. Homesick for the mountains, they decided to go to Yellowstone. Then at age 27, after meeting some pretty big names in the entertainment industry, Tyra decided to return to her Southeast Idaho home.
In 1940, Roland, Tyra and Ett built the first part of Deer Cliff Inn. Roland raised trout in ponds fed by the spring near the inn. Diners could fish for their own trout, have it cooked by the inn staff, and eat the catch of the day. They served chicken, hamburger steaks, soda pop and beer. They also rented a juke box so people could dance. The patio near the river was the scene of many Saturday-night dances.
On December 7, 1941, Roland and his fiancé Ruby eloped to Kemmerer, Wyoming to get married. After the ceremony when they returned to their hotel, they learned that Pearl Harbor had just been bombed. Ett went off to war. Roland had to run the family ranch, and with gas rationing and a shortage of money the family decided to close the inn. Roland and Ruby eventually moved to Pocatello where Roland worked at various jobs, and Tyra went back to California. When the war ended, the Hulls returned to Deer Cliff and reopened the inn in 1945 or '46. Tyra was now married to Roy Eichert.
There was a different feeling after the war - people wanted to get out and have a good time. The inn had 75 to 100 people come every night to ear, dance, and have a special evening. Roland was the bartender and bouncer, Ett did the cooking, and Tyra became the hostess, bookkeeper, and cashier. Roland's wife Ruby made pies and Delyle, another brother, managed the ranch. There were no power lines and the family had to generate their own electricity for cooking. They also had to crank their own phone. The dirt road running up the canyon washed out whenever it rained.
The year of the big snow in 1948 was the only year they kept the inn open year-round. Sometimes they were snowed in. Roland owned a four-wheel drive weapons carrier truck. When the canyon road was snow-packed he drove down the road and pulled out the customers who were stuck in the snow. They would eat dinner, have a good time, and the Hull would take them back down to the highway again.
In those days a customer could buy a meal for under $2. A chicken in the basket cost $1.85 and a trout dinner cost $1.25. Salad and French fries were served with the dinners. Customers enjoyed live bands while they ate, danced and socialized on the inn's patio.
In 1952, Tyra and Roy built the large room where dances are now held and expanded the kitchen. Tyra finished all the knotty pine paneling and pine tables. It was about this time that Roland decided to focus on the trout business and Tyra and Ett became the co-owners of the inn.
The family was always proud that they raised their own help. The three brothers lived on the old ranch property and their daughters and Tyra's came along at the right time for them to have four beautiful waitresses. Roy fixed the equipment and helped with cooking.
Deer Cliff Inn is now owned by Tyra's daughter and son-in-law, Joy and Jim Dougherty and is open Mother's Day until Halloween, depending on the weather, open nightly (except Sundays) at 5:00.