Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Old South Restaurant
Old South Restaurant

OLD SOUTH RESTAURANT, RUSSELLVILLE, POPE COUNTY

SUMMARY

The Old South Restaurant is associated with the historic context Arkansas Highway History and Architecture, 1910-1965 and thus is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C with statewide significance as the only surviving example of a post-World War II modular, Art Moderne diner built in 1947.  When it was constructed, the Old South Restaurant was located on an undeveloped stretch of Arkansas Highway #64, at that time the main travel route from Tennessee to Oklahoma.  The diner quickly became an oasis for hungry and weary travelers, providing good food and a place to relax twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

ELABORATION

The Old South Restaurant, located at 1330 E. Main Street (AR Hwy. #64) in Russellville, is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C with statewide significance as the only surviving example of a post World War II modular, Art Moderne diner.  Constructed in 1947, the Old South Restaurant was the business brainchild of William E. Stell, owner of the National Glass and Manufacturing Company of Fort Smith, Arkansas.  Born in Hugo, Oklahoma, in 1894, William Stell moved to Dallas, Texas, in 1914.  In 1929 at the start of the Great Depression he moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas, and started the National Glass and Manufacturing Company, which produced fixtures, furniture, and metalwork for restaurants and department stores.  Always a forward thinking entrepreneur, Stell began developing a modular diner system in the 1940s.  Utilizing the resources of the National Glass and Manufacturing Company, the talents of the company architect, Glenn Pendergrass, and the company’s experience in restaurant design and construction for El Chico restaurants in Dallas, Texas, Stell developed a modular design for diners that could be produced by the National Glass and Manufacturing Company and offered for sale in a turnkey operation.

Mr. Stell constructed the prototype Old South Restaurant in Fort Smith in the mid-1940s as an experiment.  To manage the diner and develop the menu, he brought in R. C. Strub from Schwab's in New York City.  This restaurant remained a popular dining spot until it was demolished in the late 1970s.

Although it isn't known how many Old South Restaurant packages were sold, only one other was ever constructed in Arkansas.  In 1947 Mr. Woody Mays, owner of Woody’s Classic Inn and Coffee Shop in Russellville, ordered an Old South Restaurant package.  In true turnkey fashion Mr. Stell had the diner set up and operational - including the menu - in six days.  The Russellville Old South Restaurant opened its doors on April 4, 1947, and has been in continual operation since that time.

When it was constructed, the Old South Restaurant was located on the outskirts of Russellville on an undeveloped stretch of Arkansas Highway #64, at that time the main travel route from Tennessee to Oklahoma.  By virtue of its location and the fact that it was open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, the Old South quickly became a popular dining spot for travelers including such famous entertainers as Ernest Tubb, B. B. King, and the King himself, Elvis Presley.  Even after the construction of Interstate 40 in the 1960s which by-passed the Old South Restaurant, it remained a popular spot for travelers and locals.

Woody Mays owned the Old South Restaurant form 1947 until 1950, selling to Roy and Beatrice Cornelius.  Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius operated the diner until 1955 when their daughter, Mary Gay, took over.  Mrs. Gay sold the Old South to Angus and Juliette Gosnell in 1957 whom in turn sold in 1961 to Lemoyne and Lorene Mackey.  The Old South Restaurant has remained in the Mackey family since that time with nephews Rick and Ted Mackey being the current owners.

Today, the Old South Restaurant looks virtually the same on the exterior and interior as it did when constructed in 1947.  Its streamlined design, rounded windows, metal skin, neon lights, aluminum fixtures, and padded booths typify its Art Moderne design.  Even the menu offers many of the same items that were originally served, including the famous cream soups and salad dressing developed by R. C. Strub for the prototype Old South in Fort Smith.  It is still open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week serving the needs of travelers and locals.  The Old South Restaurant is associated with the historic context Arkansas Highway History and Architecture, 1910-1965, and thus is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C with statewide significance as the only surviving example of a post World War II modular, Art Moderne diner.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anderson, Will.  Where Have You Gone, Starlight Cafe? Portland, ME:  Anderson & Son’s Publishing Co., 1998.

McAlester, Virginia and Lee.  A Field Guide to American Houses.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.

Witzel, Michael Karl.  The American Drive-In.  Osceola, WI:  Motorbooks International Publishers & Wholesalers, 1994.

The Old South shall rise again.  The Courier, undated article in the Lifestyle section.

Old South to mark its 50th year.  1997.  The Courier,  29 March,  pp. 1A, 3A.

Old South makeover strives for nostalgia.  1995.  The Courier, 30 April.

Long-time Stoby's manager buys Old South Restaurant.  The Atkins Chronicle, undated article.

Interview with Mr. William B. Stell, March 1999.

Interview with Mr. Hartsell Bartlett, March 1999.

Interview with Mr. Rick Mackey, March 1999.

Interview with Mr. Richard Bailey, March 1999.