Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Summer 1990 edition of the FNB Chronicle, published by First National Bank and included as a supplement to the Independent Herald. It was written by Josetta Griffith, long-time editor of the Chronicle. Several of those quoted in the article have since passed on.
If you are 40 years old or older, you probably remember a restaurant that was located just south of the junction of Highways 63 and 27 called the Glass House.
And, if you’re 50 years of age or older, you almost certainly remember the Glass House.
From the mid 1930s through the late 1950s, the Glass House was the “hub of activity” and the “hang out” for the area.
The Glass House was first owned by Major Bert Bowes, and by most accounts, it began as a small cubicle of a building which housed an open barbecue pit. Soon, however, 19 cabins and cottages were made available on adjoining property — rental cabins for travelers on the heavily-traveled U.S. 27, which was the main north/south route from Michigan to Florida during the Glass House era.
The need for more dining space prompted the addition of the glass-enclosed wings that extended from the north and south sides of the center of the restaurant.
Ownership of the property has been held by several men and women through the years. Records indicate the following owners of the property when it was operated as a restaurant: Wallace Wylie and Ethel Roberts, H.L. “Doc” Armstrong, Ira Stonecipher, W.F. Stonecipher, Jess Miller, Bruce Stewart, Fletcher Byrd and Edgar Acres.
In addition to the restaurant and modern lodging accommodations which boasted of “steam heat and private baths,” the Glass House was also the Greyhound bus stop for our area for many years.
Frank “Sunny” Tighe remembers the boys leaving from the Glass House Greyhound bus terminal to go to the Civilian Conservation Corps and the sadness felt when many young Scott Countians left by bus to go into the armed services of their country during World War II.
“Oh! How happy were those who returned,” Tighe said. “How happy were the home folks meeting them there at the Glass House. Some were disabled, yet those meeting them were oh, so happy the they had returned.”
According to Tighe, “All passengers getting off the bus at the Glass House had a happy face. Buses then had no restrooms! Whether the passenger was having a rest stop or coming home, all wore happy faces.”
The Glass House was open 24 hours a day. It was the only place late at night to get gasoline and, for many years, one of the few places to find a telephone.
Since the Glass House was such a popular stopping place for travelers, as well as a favorite “hang out” for locals, it was an attractive spot for other businesses to locate. A bowling alley was operated across Highway 27 from the Glass House for a time by Calvin and Delphie Erwin. The Erwins bought The Pines Motor Court and the bowling alley from her father, George Shoemaker. The bowling alley was managed by the Erwins from 1948 until 1952 and the motor court was leased to Doc Armstrong, who owned the Glass House property. The motor court and bowling alley were sold to Ed Shaffer of Harriman by the Erwins. Several young men of that time worked as “pin boys,” manually setting up the pins after each frame of bowling. They were paid according to the number of pins they set up. It’s been said that Donald Shoppman really was a whirlwind at setting up the pins.
Delphie Erwin Fisher recalls that on Thursday nights the salesman from East Tennessee Packing Company (she could not recall his name) would bowl with Doc Armstrong, Calvin Erwin and Gene Chitwood all night long. She remembered Harold Parton was the pin boy and her son, Ray, kept score.
The “Pines,” located across the highway from the Glass House, changed hands after a few years and became known as the Dixie Motor Court. In later years, the motel rooms of the Dixie Motor Court burned and the office building was converted into a restaurant called “The Little Jewell” by owner Ed Acres.
John T. “Big John” Litton acquired the restaurant and subsequently made it into a convenience store. Fill ’N Foods, presently owned and operated by Ronnie and Faith Overton, first began in this same building, which was once the office for the motor court.
In the 1950s, the Dixie Ohio Express Truck Lines established a terminal at the Glass House and their dispatcher was located in the small cabin just south of the restaurant. The huge tractor-trailer trucks would be driven from Cincinnati to the Glass House and from Chattanooga to the Glass House. At that time it was an eight-hour drive from Cincinnati along the often curvy Highway 27, and the driver was required by federal regulations to lay over eight hours before returning to the road headed for Cincinnati with a load of goods from Chattanooga and points south. Several local men were employed by Dixie Ohio Express, as drivers, dispatchers and hookup men. The dispatchers were able to communicate by way of teletype with other dispatchers as far away as Texas. For that day and time the teletype was state-of-the-art in communication technology.
Bates Pennycuff remembers his span of employment as a dispatcher for the company. He said he couldn’t even type his name when he was first learning the job, adding that the “hunt and peck” system worked just fine for him. The hookup men had the job of changing the tractors from one trailer to another when the trucks were heading back to their original point of departure.
Practically every family in the Helenwood, Low Gap and New River areas had a family member who worked in some capacity at some point in time at the Glass House.
Pearl Lawhorn McCarty of Elgin remembers working in the mid 1930s waiting tables, pumping gasoline and washing dishes at the Glass House for Major Bowes. She earned $1 a day. She also recalls that the shifts were long and hard but jobs were hard to come by.
Nellie Newport worked at the Glass House during 1936 and 1937 as a waitress. Then she became the “pie baker,” making all the pies from scratch. She recalls the cherry pie was the customers’ favorite. After she married, Major Bowes came to her house and asked her if she would continue to bake pies at home and he would pick them up each day. She baked 18 to 21 pies each day! Nellie recalls Bowes’ son, David, as just a small child waddling sleepy-eyed and tousle-headed to the restaurant each morning and she would prepare his breakfast for him.
For a time, a black family lived and worked at the restaurants and cottages. The husband did odd jobs and the wife worked in the kitchen. This was long before the civil rights movement and it is remembered the black folk traveling through would only be served food in an area in back of the kitchen.
Besides the positions of waitress and cook, the Glass House also had “bouncers” (customers, it seems, tended to get rowdy from time to time), and shoe shine boys. Big Ed Stephens was remembered as one of the bouncers, and Freddie Phillips remembers shining shoes. Freddie Phillips’ mother worked on the night shift at the restaurant, waiting for his mother’s shift to end. Because there was more than one person named Freddie Phillips, the above mentioned Freddie was referred to as “Glass House Freddie.” It is not clear whether he was called that because he lived so close to the Glass House, or because he could nearly always be found at the Glass House.
It was recalled that a soldier, in an excited state, broke one of the small window panes in the Glass House door. Ethel Roberts immediately informed him that it would cost him thirty-five cents. He replied, “Good, I’ll take five dollars’ worth!” and proceeded to break more panes. It also cost him a trip to jail!
Doc Armstrong attended hogs behind the Glass House. To keep the hogs confined he installed an electric fence. According to a story remembered by Delphie Fisher, he wired the fence directly to the switch box and, you guessed it, the first rain that came there were no more hogs!
Besides such places as Tobe’s Restaurant in Oneida and the Shell Grove Restaurant at the Tennessee-Kentucky state line, the Glass House was about the only restaurant offering good food and an atmosphere in which the family could enjoy a meal. Tom Gentry remembers enjoying many Sunday noon-time meals at the Glass House when his father-in-law C.W. Wright would take the family there to eat after church. One Sunday, Tom recalls that C.W. had left three quarters as a tip for the waitress. When they got in the car to leave, one of Tom’s sons said, “Here, Grandpa, you left this money on the table.” C.W. took the money back in for the waitress, Gentry said.
After ballgames, the Glass House was where most people headed. The school bus almost always stopped at the Glass House on the way back from away games so the kids could get a sandwich or snack. This was most young folks’ first experience at the Glass House Restaurant. It was always bustling with activity. The latest model juke box would be blaring out the favorite songs of the day . . . everyone would be shoving to get to the oval-shaped counter to place their order, afraid the bus would run off without them . . . the pinball machines would be “ding-donging” and the “hangers-on” would be laughing loudly and trying to talk with one another above the other noises.
Yes, for those of us old enough to remember, the Glass House was the place we met our friends for a good time, worked to earn a living, enjoyed a good meal, first met our husband or wife, spent the night in a comfortable cabin, whiled away lazy summer days, met the Greyhound bus, or visited with and shared stories with tourists from far-away places.
Although only a few of the buildings that made up the Glass House Restaurant and Cabins remain today, the memories made during visits to this landmark establishment will long live in the minds and hearts of those fortunate enough to have experienced the era of the Glass House.
With the completion of Interstate 75 in the 1960s, Highway 27 was replaced as the main corridor between Michigan and Florida. Many once-thriving businesses along U.S. 27 that depended on tourist traffic saw a dramatic decline in business and were forced to close their doors. Such was the case with the Glass House.
This story is the February 2018 installment of Forgotten Times, presented by United Cumberland Bank on the fourth week of each month as part of the Independent Herald's Back Page Features series.