|The Old South, July 2010.|
Time quells a lot of memories – but not all of them. I can quite clearly remember my first week in Russellville as a student at Arkansas Tech University. First time I lived away from home. I learned a lot of things very quickly. I learned that at night you could see stars from the center of campus; that there was little to no insulation on the outside of my room at Roush Hall; that driving up Mount Nebo with its little tight hairpin turns was a lot of fun… and that you really only had two options for sitting down and eating overnight in town – the Waffle House or The Old South.
|I spent way too much time in this booth.|
|Of course, there's pie.|
See, The Old South was about 45 years old about the time I was looking at 20. In my late teens I didn't really comprehend the value of the sleek Art Deco styling, the time capsule that the place had become for the last remnants of the great Route 64… maybe not of cultural importance to the level of Route 66 but certainly a byway of significance in the way this part of the country unfolded in the middle part of the 20th century.
|A postcard from the original Old South in Fort Smith. |
(Fort Smith Historical Society)
|Note the rounded windows, part of the original design.|
|The front of the restaurant has a similar set-up to that of|
a classic Steamliner diner.
|Evening at The Old South in May 2008. Note the neon.|
The Russellville location, though, started quick and has endured for the ages. The last week of March, 1947, Stell delivered on a contract to Woody Mays (owner of Woody’s Classic Inn and Coffee Shop; the motel still operates today, though the coffee shop is long gone) and had the location built in just six days. It opened on April 4th, 1947 on the outskirts of town.
|Lettuce and carrot salad, hot roll and crackers with butter.|
I’m rambling. You can read more about the history over on the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program website.
|The restaurant's "famous" fried chicken.|
But it was. It didn't take me long after graduation and a whirlwind few months that sat me down in Jonesboro at my first TV job in 1995 for me to realize I missed the place. I missed Russellville as a whole. When we’d go back (my ex-husband’s father lived there) I’d wistfully gawk as we drove on by. He wasn't a fan.
Me? It’d take me time to make a real return – and by that point it was May of 2008 and I was pregnant and craving fried chicken… and it was as it always was, crisply and heavily battered, greasy and served with that eponymous salad that wasn't much more than lettuce and carrot shreds. Comfort food.
|Corned beef in a can for breakfast.|
But I digress.
The place nearly ceased to exist altogether this past April, shut down for non-payment of taxes. But Russellville? Well, folks around town have ties to this place, this old section of Americana. And they banded together and held a city-wide yard sale and paid the taxes. And it’s open again.
|Homemade biscuits and cream gravy.|
One more note. Next time I go back I will order the fried pickles and photograph them. The Old South actually holds Austin "Fatman" Burnell's original fried pickle recipe. Burnell created the Arkansas original back in the 1950s at the Duchess Drive-In in nearby Atkins.