Hungry for a Bit of History?

Published 10:59 am Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Living in the Tri-State area, so prominent in the history and development of the USA, may sometimes not seem as important to today’s generation as historians portray it.

But I was reminded anew of the hunger for stories about the past and in particular the “old days in Middlesboro” when family members and friends gathered to celebrate the long life of one who had grown up here but left in the 1950s for a professional career in another state.

After the memorial service, the group of young and old visited and reminisced about times past. The younger ones were curious about life in Middlesboro, the boom and bust periods that defined the city, and major changes remembered by the elders. How would this area compare now to the city remembered in mid-20th century?

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Of the many questions, and among many memories, the one topic that seemed to be of great interest to those in the older generation: Food. Places to eat. Memorable times at the local drive-ins. Banquets for athletic teams. Special meals on special occasions with special people.

It didn’t take long to realize that our conversation was leading to an important time in the history of the Magic City and also to a realization among both young and old that only a few years later the fast food industry would change the way the world eats.

Someone mentioned that Conley’s Drive-in was popular among high school students and others in the mid-50s and that it still serves the community in 2018 from its location on Cumberland Avenue.

Other locally owned drive in restaurants included Tri-Way Drive In, Colonial Drive In, and Bill’s Drive-In. Bill’s was remembered as a favorite spot for lunch, attracting a regular clientele that enjoyed great country-style meals every day at noon.

The Sport Center downtown attracted customers for billiards and unforgettable sandwiches. Close by was the Perry and Pope Drug Store, serving beverages, sandwiches, and milkshakes. Lee’s Drug, on the corner of 20th and Cumberland, was a favorite teen-age spot.

Tea Rooms, which were described as much more than tea rooms, offered food for locals (Georgia’s Tea Room, downtown near the First Baptist Church) and for both locals and travelers (Green’s Tea Room, as part of a motel on 25E and Cumberland Avenue).

And for special individual events and group banquets, it was Colonel’s Restaurant or the Little Tunnel Inn that was most often mentioned.

All were included as memorable places in the “old days” and as part of Middlesboro’s history that has largely faded from view. But the memories helped satisfy the hunger of

a new generation to learn about the past and of an older generation to share common interests. And, that’s an important lesson for all of us.