Woodstock old-timers say Ed Mulkey operated a successful restaurant on Main Street in Woodstock before he opened the Dixie Inn in 1947. He took his reputation from the center of town down the road about a mile to the intersection of Main Street and Highway 92, an unpaved state road lined with small farms and few or no businesses nearby. Gid Reeves owned the property and perhaps had an inkling of the growth ahead and the possibilities for that area to become a thriving commercial center.
Adjacent property had once belonged to Civil War Reconstruction Gov. Rufus Bullock. Bullock's Barn was a landmark, and tales of the governor's drunken escapades outlived any good deeds he might have done. (It is noted in the history of Woodstock's Baptist Church that he made a sizable donation to their building fund in 1872.) Other properties in that general area during the Civil War years were owned by Dr. John Miller McAfee, the white ancestor of Maynard Jackson, and by the Borings. Lou Boring would later marry Dr. Will Dean, original proprietor of Dean's Store.
By the time the Woodstock Lions Club organized in 1961, Dixie Inn had new owners who called it Varner's Restaurant. The Lions held their regular meetings there. On Dec. 1, 1962, yet another new owner, Bill Tasker, took possession. The Feb. 27, 1963, issue of the "Woodstock Star" carried this information: "Bill Tasker announces that Varner's Restaurant will now be the Shepherd Inn." Mr. Tasker's hobby was breeding, raising and training German shepherd dogs.
Soon after opening as the Shepherd Inn, Mr. Tasker reported the restaurant was serving 200 pounds of catfish per week, and rapidly reaching the average of 500 previously reported by the original Dixie Inn. In March of 1964 the restaurant burned. Not long afterwards, it was rebuilt and opened as the Old Dixie Inn. Jack and Jewell McFarland were early owners after the fire, followed by Bill and Melba Pressley.
Eventually, Delmar Watkins purchased the property from Gid Reeves and continued to operate the business as Old Dixie Inn. Later, it was purchased by Kenneth and Maxine Grimes who seemed to recapture the essence of the original Dixie Inn and had loyal customers until September 1986, when the restaurant closed.
No sign of this piece of Woodstock's history remains on the site. With the opening of I-575 just a few blocks away, it probably seemed necessary to open another gas station.
For the generation that remembers the first Dixie Inn, nothing since compares with that establishment. Gene Fowler claims the distinction of being its first busboy when curb service was common. (If my calculations are correct, and if curb service was offered when the restaurant opened, Gene was about 14 years old then.)
"Dude" Sims was a cook there, and at some point Edgel Mulkey and Johnnie Ghorley were waitresses. Look for Johnnie in uniform on the mural at Towne Lake Parkway and Main Street. Johnnie tells about roller skating from the middle of town down to Dixie Inn. Someone would put a nickel in the jukebox and outside speakers would bring the latest country hit song to skate by. After all, the parking lot was paved and kids were dancing on someone else's nickel. The service was great, the atmosphere was homey, and the food was reported to be the best around. Barbecue pork, fried chicken and catfish were the main items on the menu. It was the place to be at meal time.
There are a few photos around to help folks bring up their memories. The difference in the two buildings is obvious. Members of Preservation Woodstock are hoping to locate other photographs that will give a more complete picture of this landmark business. About 200 photos, mostly of the interior and customers, were taken during the last day or few days before Old Dixie Inn closed. Those are on display at Dean's Store. A photo exhibit and reunion reception is being planned for this fall, and to make that event a day to remember, we are asking that folks with old photos or menus allow us to scan them to be included in the display.
There might be other items that could be displayed as well. We have a few newspaper ads, and we know that some promotional items were produced by some of the owners, even the ones that used different names for the business. We especially want to reach former employees and staff, from busboys to waitresses, and cooks to cashiers. They will need to be on hand at the event as we thank them for their part in putting Dixie Inn on the map and in our hearts. Contact Kyle Bennett at the Woodstock Visitors Center, (770) 924-0406. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Juanita Hughes is the retired manager of the Woodstock Public Library.