Sam Burnham, Curator
If you aren’t familiar with Cartersville, Georgia or if your familiarity is a recent development, you probably wouldn’t imagine a sleepy little town of mostly miners and farmers. In the 1980s Cartersville was still a quiet little town, so if we go back to the 1940s, mentally, it will help set the stage for this story. This one is a legend passed to us as fact. The source is reputable so we’ll take it as fact until convinced otherwise.
This story begins in 1931. Herbert Hoover was President. A man named Fred Garrison set up shop, slinging burgers at the corner of Main Street and Gilmer Street in Downtown Cartersville. It seems an unlikely time to be opening a small business in a sleepy small town of miners and farmers. But 89 years later, 4-Way Lunch is still slinging burgers. In all that time they’ve never had a telephone.
Sometime in the 1930s, 4-Way hired a young man named Butter Ross. I don’t think his mama named him “Butter” but I don’t ask Superman what his real name is so I’m not asking for Butter’s birth certificate either.
Shortly thereafter the entire world went to war and Butter Ross went went with it. He did his duty and served his country. He fought honorably against the Axis powers. He returned to Cartersville as a hero with a dream. He wanted to open his own diner, sling his own burgers, be his own man. He wanted to hang his own name over his own door. So he announced his intentions to open his own place just around the corner.
In 2020, Cartersville is becoming a happening place. They have two world class museums and a Kroger with a bar in it but it’s still a relatively small town. In 1946 Cartersville was barely on the map. The idea of two diners operating less than the length of Weinman Stadium apart was unthinkable. The competition would be brutal. This town just wasn’t big enough for the both of them.
The management at the 4-Way begged Butter not to do it. They even warned him, “you’re gonna start a war!” But Butter was determined. “It won’t be my first war. And I ain’t never lost.” True to his words, Butter didn’t lose. In fact, his diner is still open as well. For both places to survive 74 years in such proximity in a small town is astonishing. The biggest takeaway is that they both had to be on top of their game every day. A bad day for one could mean its demise.
Today you can find a dozen or so places to eat within walking distance of this metaphorical battlefield. Regionally recognized chains and excellent local choices have added serious competition for the lunch crowd. There are more comfortable options with much larger menus. Despite the added pressure, the original two belligerents are still going strong.
The 4-Way boasts 10 diner stools at the bar in the main room. The back room, a remnant of segregation days, can hold two or three customers. No one cares what color you are now, all seats are first come, first serve. The only color that matters is green, as in cash. Your card is worthless here. They don’t even have a phone, much less a card reader. With so few seats the menu is small. All meals are made to order, meaning they make it, you order it, they immediately place it in front of you. No waiting. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Enjoy it but get to eating because someone is probably waiting on your seat. A gravy burger with chili cheese fries and a sweet tea is a fine meal.
Over at Ross Diner the setting is a bit more relaxed. With at least twice the seating things aren’t quite as rushed. Everyone sits around a u-shaped bar while the waitresses work through the middle. There’s a full kitchen in the back as opposed to just cooking everything right behind the bar like they do at 4-Way. It takes longer to get your food but it is made fresh. A fried pie with ice cream is an excellent choice and give you a chance to eat at both diners on the same visit to town.
So ABG has now given you a tip on how to get lunch and desert at two places but only using one parking space. You can add in some great shopping as well as enjoying the fantastic architecture of historic downtown. You’ll also be doing your part, serving honorably in the Great Cartersville Diner War, 74 years and still going strong.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Towards the back of the great lexicon of Georgia place names which are pronounced differently than they are spelled you’ll find White. Any true citizen of Bartow County can tell you it is pronounced “Whites.” Such a name makes for interesting headlines in the Cartersville newspaper such as “White Man Charged With Robbery” or “White Residents Angry About Tax Hike” or maybe “White School Sees Enrollment Increase.” You know, since there aren’t enough controversial headlines out there already.
White is a unique place. Nearby you can find the world-class Tellus Science Museum and the modern yet beautiful Cass High School (which was relocated from Cassville but understandably wasn’t renamed White High School.) The museum and the school are relatively recent developments.
Let’s talk about some other locations in White.
First of all, let’s just say this is one of those fun, quirky places that you’ll find scattered across the rural South. There’s a lot fewer of these places than there used to be - too few for my taste anyway.
Old Car City is a slice of Americana. It’s kinda rusty, a little beat up, and pretty odd. Calling this place a junkyard would be like calling The Louvre a building filled with old pictures. Old Car City is a collection of masterpieces, cars you don’t see every day. Some are in rough shape and the mosquitoes might fight you for them but if you come prepared, you’ll see some cool stuff.
The best primer I can think of on Old Car City is the article my friend James Calemine did on the place for Snake Nation Press. He has done a lot of photography there and many of the photos found their way into his books. Old Car City is one part preservation and one part disposal. A museum and a salvage yard where history is what is salvaged.
While I love old and unique automobiles, food is the way to my heart. Just across the street from Old Car City you’ll find Wes Man’s.
Now I’ve done a review of Wes Man’s before. ABG can vouch for the burgers as well as the steak and gravy. They even have an Old Car City Burger that is a burger with bacon, pulled pork and BBQ sauce. There’s a full breakfast menu as well. The food is good.
But if you’ll look around as you’re waiting for your meal you’ll notice all sorts of oddities. Newspaper clippings, autographed photos of celebrities, old license plates, numerous Sheriff Woody dolls line the walls. Some of the items might leave you scratching your head. Coach Drew commented more than once that “they hung that up there and they don’t even know what it is.” It’s a plausible theory.
As sort of a gateway to White, there’s an old Chevrolet panel van out on the corner of the Wes Man’s parking lot. It is coated in layers of paint. A special request can get a birthday greeting painted in the side of it for a special someone. It’s right out beside the highway for all the White residents and even the White visitors to see. (See how crazy that sounds?) Anyway, Happy birthday to Daddy Billy Joe, Luke, and John.
I really hope these two places last forever. As the creep of strip malls and fast food climbs up I-75 like kudzu emerging from the bowels of Atlanta, I fear pavement and progress will ruin this pristine weirdness. The best thing I know to tell you is do not delay. Plan your White visit today. Check out Old Car City and grab a bite at Wes Man’s. You’ll thank us for it.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Just stop for a minute.
During the lockdown a lot of us were freaking out about not going anywhere. I can still remember the highly diminished traffic in town as I putted around on “essential” errands. So much came to a screeching halt. That was a detrimental event for a lot of business owners and I get that. But I realized something else as well.
We’re too busy.
How often do you carve some time out of your busy schedule to participate in that longtime Southern art of doing absolutely nothing? Do you remember what it is to sit on the porch on a stormy evening in late July with no one to talk to but the thunder?
Oh, you can accomplish a lot on such an outing. You could whittle a stick. You could enjoy a cold beverage. You could pluck at a guitar. You could blow a few gnats out of your face. You could wave at cars as they pass by while you pity the poor souls who aren’t as fortunate to be as busy as you. You could ponder the grass you just mowed and how good it looks. You can debate with yourself the pros and cons of a non-native species such as the peach tree. You know, important stuff.
Most importantly, you can unwind, decompress. You can be thankful to not be stuck in Atlanta traffic. You can be present in the moment. You can put away the stress and demand of the rat race - this modern contraption we call an economy.
Maybe a friend drives by and sees you living the good life and decides to join you. Y’all can sit together and solve all the world’s problems. A porch is a fantastic venue for socializing, sharing news, shaping ideas, daydreaming. There’s a great multitude of things you can accomplish by sitting on the porch doing nothing.
While a porch is the ideal I shared here you can get the same benefit from a free standing porch swing, a chair on a patio, or any number of other lawn furniture options. You might get extra credit for a hammock. The point is to stop for a spell. Disconnect from modernity for a moment and see how it changes your life.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire