Stories from the glory days of Huntingdon’s Colonial Tea Room on the Court Square were told over and over during the recent open house of the renovated and restored historical building. It operated in the '50s and '60s, although no one is sure of the opening and closing dates.
Owners Tommy and Paulette Crews and their son and his wife, Adam and Kimberly Crews, have worked almost three years remodeling and restoring the building that will be used for weddings, parties and other special occasions or as just a quiet place for attorneys to take depositions. Already two weddings have been booked.
Several hundred people viewed the three floors that include a basement, main floor and upstairs on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, July 29 and 30.
Charlie Lee King, now about to turn 81 and who still lives in Huntingdon, is one of those who reminisced about his experiences there as an employee. The Colonial Tea Room was known as an upscale restaurant in its day, according to Charlie.
He was only 17 when he went to work at his first job for Ruth Woods, who owned the Tea Room at the time. Her husband Edgar Woods operated the Greyhound Bus ticket booth inside the Tea Room.
King says he quit school to go to work to make some money.
“Mrs. Woods could tell that I really wanted to work and that I wouldn’t be chasing around after women,” he said. “I wanted to do what God wanted me to do and that was to work.”
The Tea Room was open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. every day Monday through Saturday and served breakfast, lunch and supper, according to Mr. Charlie, who worked for $3 a day every day it was open.
He was a short order cook who made chicken salad, hamburgers, potato salad and slaw and filled in for a regular cook in case they didn’t show up.
He also made rolls and was proclaimed as the champion roll maker, a title that agitated the other cooks.
Mr. Charlie worked there for ten years and says he learned so much from Mrs. Woods that prepared him for work in other jobs.
“She was a working woman and she had everybody else working as well,” he said. “I even pulled weeds and grass behind the building when I wasn’t working in the Tea Room.”
He received one free meal a day, like bacon and eggs, and a free piece of pie at lunch.
He said after working at the Tea Room, he would go to work for a few hours at the Cat and Fiddle Restaurant, then go to the Johnson Hotel and finally wind up his workday at the Oasis.
He complimented the building and its restored looks.
“I never thought I would see a building like this,” he said.
Wilma Smith, Aline Sullivan and Brooke Hodges all of Huntingdon worked there as waitresses.
Vegetable plates were 65 cents.
They all recall shelling peas and beans as they got ready for the next meal.
Wilma recalled that it was a very nice place to eat.
“Everything had to be so, so,” she said.
Aline worked there just after graduating from high school in 1958.
“Ethel Louise Sparkman always ordered tomato aspic,” she said. “Robert Dilday always wanted iced coffee and hot tea.”
Brooke mentioned the coffee was some of the best and always had a tiny bit of butter and salt in it.
The tips were few and far between and were never over a dime or 15 cents, the waitresses recalled.
Upstairs housed the offices and library of Gordon Browning, who served as a Tennessee governor.
The upstairs also was home to owner Louise Liles’ Modern Beauty Shop, which still has the name written on the glass door. Huntingdon resident Martha Jane Wilks said she worked there.
Private parties were also held upstairs.
Paulette and two friends, Glenda Rayburn Hayes, and Ginger Radford Voss had birthday parties at the Tea Room growing up.
There were always white cloths and bouquets on the tables, according to Paulette.
Crews family saves the building
The building that graces the corner of Court Square and West Main Street and narrowly escaped
becoming nothing but a memory as it was about to be torn down.
With little repair over the years, the town feared that it had become a danger.
But the Crews family still saw potential in the building.
Adam Crews, assistant director of patient transport at Jackson-Madison County Hospital, and his wife,
Kimberly, director of peri-anesthesia, convinced his dad, Tommy Crews, a retired banker, and his mother, Paulette, a retired educator, that that they should purchase and restore the building.
“I just thought it was something too historical and beautiful to tear down,” said Adam. “I had read in the Carroll County News-Leader where they were considering tearing it down and there was a deadline.”
The building was purchased from Felix Perry of Nashville by the Crews family in August 2014.
According to an account of the Court Square’s history written by Frances Enochs Bush, the building was constructed by Adam Hall for a general store over a hundred years ago. The building was later purchased
by Felix Grundy Williams in 1882. Ivy Teachout, who was an expert cook, opened Ivy’s Tea Room in the building. She sold out to Fannie Johnson who sold it to Ruth and Edgar Woods years later.
The building has been home to Ann Boyd’s Florist, Bill Gwaltney’s Florist, and Morris Chandler’s Restaurant over the years. The last business was a type of cash advance business.
The project turned out to be much bigger than the Crews family ever anticipated.
“Adam and I took hammers and beat the plaster off the walls down to the brick,” said Tommy.
The floors were unlevel, there were leaks, and it had to be made handicap accessible. A 12-inch thick block wall had to be put up at the back and tied to the original building.
“Codes had to be met and letters had to be sent to the town on the updates,” said Tommy.
Mark Bush was the original contractor with J & E Cabinet Co., with Miller Carpentry lending their expertise to the windows, buffet server and other woodworking. Each window had different measurements that had to be dealt with that made it difficult. Both Tommy and Adam worked on Saturdays for about two years on the project.
In the meantime, Paulette and Kimberly saw the need saw to hire a decorator with expertise along these lines. Pam Williams of Huntingdon was contracted.
The front of the building is done in brick and stucco with the colors left up to Pam, according to Kimberly.
“She just did an outstanding job,” she said.
The stairway, made by the Amish, has a handrail which features teapots and teacups, fabricated by Jack Van Goethem of Hollow Rock. A portion of the floor was the original floor, however, Carroll Hardwood cut heart pine flooring to match the grain in the original floor.
Tommy said 90 percent of the materials were purchased in Carroll County and many of the items came from homes or businesses in Carroll County.
“We wanted to make sure everything was done right, but there was never a moment that we thought we would not complete it” said Tommy.
The beauty outside the building was enhanced by gray stone pots filled with plants by Jason Reeves, research associate at the West Tennessee Research and Education Center in Jackson.
Adam said there was the feeling that they wanted to be a part of what was going on in Huntingdon, like the movie theatre, city hall, the lake and The Dixie.
“Our roots are in Carroll County and we are glad to be a part of the town,” said Paulette. “We’re glad to pass this on to our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
Overwhelmed with response
The Crews family said they were overwhelmed with the response the open house at the restored Colonial Tea Room received on July 29 and 30.
A couple they didn’t even know came from Franklin to tour the building.
“We heard a lot of stories from people who remembered the Tea Room,” said Kimberly. “It was such a good day.”
Some of the comments from The Tea Room’s Facebook included:
• “Beautiful. Love the old Tea Room.”
Jo Hartley Bell
• “Great job. Looks really rich and gorgeous.”
• “I am so happy that you brought this beautiful old building back to life again. Thank you so much.”
Karen Kee Pierce
• “It’s absolutely beautiful.”
Melissa Liles Peterson
• “Love it! Proud of it!”
•”It absolutely looks elegant and fabulous. Huntingdon should be very proud of this venue”.
Jean Evans Sherrill
• “Beautiful!!! Huntingdon is blessed to have such a beautifully restored building in our town. Thank you to the Crews family for the vision of restoration and quality of work they have invested in this project. The
tea room is once again shining as a cornerstone of our heritage and beautiful venue space for our future.”
Vicki Taylor Williams