Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published on Jan. 26, 2017.
Back when life moved at a slower pace in Carrollton, and when there were few places to grab a quick meal, eating out was considered a treat. Restaurants became small hubs of society, where folks could spend a slow time in the company of neighbors and strangers.
For longtime residents of Carrollton, the memories of such places are a fount of nostalgia, and for many, Thaxton’s Tea Room evokes strong feelings even to this day.
Thaxton’s was a city institution that flourished for 32 years, from the middle years of the Second World War to the Carter administration. Lena Davis Thaxton served up mountains of fried chicken, oceans of banana pudding and stacks of tea cakes to an entire generation of Carrollton folk. Thaxton cooked Sunday lunch for churchgoers, served up breakfast for merchants on the square, and laid out supper for people who drove in from all directions.
Going to Thaxton’s every Sunday “was just as automatic as going to church,” said Charlie Vaughn in a 2017 interview. He spent his boyhood in Carrollton.
Each Sabbath, when Tabernacle Church let out on Bradley Street, he and his family — and dozens of other churchgoers — would migrate up to the square, where they would join the crowd from First United Methodist Church and continue on out to the intersection of College and Newnan streets. There, mingled with the churchgoers of First Baptist Church, the dressed-up crowd would enjoy a down-home lunch.
Vaughn and other former patrons of Thaxtons grow positively rhapsodic at memories of their favorite dishes, all of which were served up family-style. For Debbie Bolding, who often visited Thaxton’s as a small girl, the dessert of choice was Lena Thaxton’s teacakes.
“To this day, if I can find a teacake that’s like Thaxton’s, I just think I have won the lottery,” she said three years ago. “Because they were just so different. They weren’t a cookie, and they weren’t like a brownie, and it wasn’t like a cake; it was something kind of in between, and they had a very distinctive kind of flavor.”
Eddie Cole of Carroll Realty and Insurance has his own memories:
“Anybody who ate at Thaxton’s is going to talk about the fried chicken. Of course, as a chubby little kid, I can also add to that lemon pie. She had a lemon pie that was just an outstanding feature, once you got through the veggies and the fried chicken.”
As a small boy, Cole had a paper route that ran past Thaxton’s and remembers once accidentally throwing a paper that smashed through a window. Mrs. Thaxton, he said, was outside the front door even before he could stop his bike, demanding that he replace it — which he did, spending 17 cents for a new pane of glass, which Thaxton’s husband helped to install.
Lena Davis Thaxton was born in 1903 in Heard County, one of 14 children raised by parents who, every summer, went out to the Flat Rock Campground Church, two miles west of Franklin, for the old Southern tradition of “dinner on the ground.”
That didn’t mean a picnic, exactly. The ladies of the community would bring a variety of foods that they would set on a long table, outside, under an equally long pavilion. Helping prepare such staple foods as chicken, beef, cornbread, and vegetables gave her all the training she ever received as a cook.
In 1923, while working as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in the community of Frolona, she met and married Deity Thaxton, a postal carrier. They bought a farm nearby and started raising their own food, while she clipped recipes from the newspapers and ladies’ magazines.
The couple moved to Carrollton in 1934, where Deity Thaxton had taken a job carrying the mail from Carrollton to Griffin. Mrs. Thaxton, as was common in the day, kept house and sometimes shared the food she had made with her neighbors.
On a spring day in 1942, while the nation was at war, one of those neighbors who had sampled Thaxton’s home cooking asked Thaxton to feed her family while she was visiting her daughter. Thaxton did so, and pretty soon found herself fixing lunch for the people the neighbor’s husband worked with. News about the good cooking continued to spread until finally, Deity Thaxton hung a sign outside the house: “Thaxton’s Tea Room; Home Cooked Meals.”
The original location of Thaxton’s was near the corner of Newnan and College streets. It was not long, however, before the restaurant outgrew that building, so they moved just up the street, to the site of today’s Smith Park; a building surrounded by large oak trees.
In 1948, the restaurant moved again, this time to the Carrollton Hotel on Maple Street, the current site of United Community Bank. At this point, Thaxton’s had a large wait staff, and rooms for many of the city’s civic groups to meet.
In 1955, the restaurant downsized and moved back to its previous location on College Street. It remained open until 1974, so most people who remember the restaurant think of it as being in that spot.
Thaxton’s, although very popular, never lost sight of what had made it a success in the first place. Mrs. Thaxton continued to follow the same recipes, but in latter days, other people did the cooking as she acted as quality control. Cole remembers her in her apron, taking in the money in the front of the restaurant.
The original cost of a meal there was 50 cents, and Thaxton’s food always remained affordable. Vaughn said that when he and his siblings attended school on College Street, they would walk down and have lunch at Thaxton’s. Their father had made a deal with Mrs. Thaxton that he would come by during the week and pay the tab.
Her husband died in 1967. Mrs. Thaxton closed the restaurant in 1974 and moved to Alabama where her daughter lived. She passed away in September, 1992. But her memory remains, especially among those who fondly recall having family lunches at Thaxton’s on Sunday’s after church.
“It was a real treat to go out,” said Bolding. “And of course my mother loved it because she was dressed up for Sunday and didn’t have to rush home and pull a chicken out of the oven.
“Sunday was a lot about family,” Bolding added, “and a place like Thaxton’s provided a really good meal, and it wasn’t the fast-food sort of thing that has become dominant. It was like good home cooking — but without having to do the cooking yourself.”