History of the dining hall

By Joan Baxter

The 2017 Greene County Fair has nearly ended, bringing with it wonderful memories.

Those who won blue ribbons will hang them somewhere or perhaps place them in a scrapbook to enjoy later. The 4-H projects will be completed. No more tractor pulls until next year and the horses will still be seen on the track from time to time but for exercise and not to compete in a race. The tents will be gone and there will be no more cotton candy for a while.

Of course, next year the Hamvention will be back with hundreds of folks enjoying our beautiful fair grounds, and next summer it will all begin again.

The members of the Fair Board spend the entire year planning for each fair, and it seems that each is a little bigger with more additions.

Fair food is always a priority to visitors. Come hungry and you will go away satisfied with the wonderful varieties of food available.

For several years, one of the most popular places at the fair was the Dining Hall which is now a pleasant memory.

The cafeteria-style home cooked meals which were prepared and served by the Spring Valley United Methodist Church were a number one choice for many fair attendees. Those who were at the fair every day enjoyed the home-cooked selections available.

The church needed some additional funding for its various projects. The church members were excellent cooks who loved to share their talents and so it was that they assumed the responsibility in 1963 of providing home-cooked lunches and dinners during fair week.

Other churches tried something similar, but they did not offer the variety of food and some folks thought the cafeteria-style dining was an asset because you could select your meal and be back to your fair chores quickly.

This proved to be a major undertaking for the church. There could be as many as seventy-five people each day serving the lunches and dinners. As many as 140 members and helpers would spend the entire week cooking, serving and cleaning up. Church members and friends supplied the labor as well as most of the vegetables and fruit which were products of Greene County. Church members always planted extra crops in order to donate the necessary vegetables for the week.

After a few years, this became a fine art. The general chairman would meet with the sub-chairmen to discuss menus, etc. For instance, the meat chairman would, with her/his committee select the entrees for the week. Another individual would be in charge of vegetables and salads, and another for desserts.

It was not unusual to use nearly 1,200 pounds of beef, 750 pounds of ham and 235 pounds of chicken during the week. The majority of the meats and vegetables were raised by the church members. A variety of vegetables was served during the week, but green beans were the most popular. It was not unusual for the group to serve 20 gallons of green beans each day.

Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of the week was that paper plates and plastic forks were not used. Meals were served on ceramic plates and stainless steel flatware with real glasses providing a home-cooked atmosphere.

Each year, the planning would begin early. At the end of the fair, $1,000 would be set aside for “start-up” funds for the coming year..

Favorite foods included chicken and noodles, beef and noodles, Swiss steak, liver and onions, ham, beef stew, road beef and steak and gravy. All this was accompanied by potatoes, vegetables, melon, salads along with delicious pies and cakes.

The members recognized that the project required a great deal of work each year, but the smiles on the faces of the patrons who came year after year to enjoy the food made it all worthwhile.

After about twenty or so years, it was no longer feasible for the group to continue providing the meals, and so the Spring Valley United Methodist Dining Hall was closed.

This was not to be the last time the members of the church got together to prepare meals, however.

Each year for the Spring Valley Potato Festival, you will find the members serving chicken and noodles along with potato candy made by members. Those good cooks also provide Thanksgiving as well as other dinners for the public during the year.

The congregation had its beginning as the Sardis Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1820. When the village of Spring Valley was platted, a lot was purchased in 1850 for $25 and frame structure was constructed for $840.

By 1906, the small building was no large enough and so the building was sold with the provision that it would be removed within ten days in order that the new construction could begin.

The cornerstone for the present building was laid on Aug. 25, 1906, however the building was not completed until May of 1907. Much of the labor and materials used in the building was provided by the membership and one of the beautiful stained glass windows were provided by donations from a Sunday school class. In 1956, once again the members stepped up to the need to provide an annex at a cost of $40,000 with most of the labor donated by members.

Even though the dining hall is no longer serving lunch and dinner, fairgoers will find ample selections for an excellent repast.


By Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.

Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.