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
The 1954 New York Yankees had five future Hall of Fame players, including Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. They went 103-51. They finished 2nd in the American League. They lost roughly 33% of their games. Almost 10% of their losses came against one pitcher, a young hurler from southern Floyd County, Georgia. His prowess when facing the Bronx Bombers earned him the nickname “The Yankee Killer.”
Willard Nixon was born in Taylorsville, Georgia but grew up in Silver Creek and Lindale where his parents worked in the Pepperell cotton mill. Nixon played Textile League baseball for Pepperell before starring as a pitcher at Alabama Polytechnic, now known as Auburn. In both the Textile League and in college he was known for his pitching and his hitting.
He was highly successful in both college and the minor leagues. He made it to Boston and eventually secured a role as a starting pitcher. He also saw action as a reliever and as a left handed pinch hitter.
His win-loss record wasn’t as great in the majors as his earlier experience seemed to predict. In fact, he went 11-12 in 1954. Of those 11 wins four came against the Yankees and five came against the Tigers.
Beating the Tigers was not an amazing feat. Despite future Hall of Famer Al Kaline, the Tigers ended 1954 with a 68-86 record. But beating the Yankees four times and then carrying that momentum over into 1955 to give Nixon five straight wins over New York...that’s the stuff of legend in Beantown.
It is well documented that Nixon also had a skill at forgery. He had the ability to mimic the signatures of several Red Sox players, particularly Ted Williams. Attendants would bring a box of balls for Williams to sign and he’d say “Give it to Willard.” So if you have a Ted Williams autographed ball, there’s a good chance it’s really a Willard Nixon autographed ball.
Back in Northwest Georgia, folks don’t remember the 12 losses. They remember the domination of the Yankees. Kids grow up wading in Silver Creek where it flows through Willard Nixon Park. The creek then continues north to Lindale where it goes through the middle of the old cotton mill where his parents worked and where he got his start in baseball. When those kids ask who Willard Nixon was, they learn about The Yankee Killer.
There’s still a rich baseball tradition in these communities. Willard Nixon was a product of that tradition but a lot of other kids have grown up on those diamonds. I myself played two seasons of t-ball in the shadows of the cotton mill’s smokestacks, where The Yankee Killer got his start. My ball playing days ended like the vast majority of the kids that play down there, which is to say not playing professionally on any level. But the legend lives on of one that made it to the show, the Georgia boy that the Yankees couldn’t beat, Willard Nixon, The Yankee Killer.
Sam Burnham, Curator
It’s not a rare thing to find a border town with some quirks. While it doesn’t sit right on the state line, Ringgold is the first town heading south into Georgia via I-75 from Chattanooga. The town has a storied history. The Great Locomotive Chase ended with the capture of the Andrews Raiders on the tracks just north of town. Patrick Cleburne forced to Union Army to balk on an invasion attempt at the Battle of a Ringgold Gap just to the south of town.The city was host to thousands of Sounders soldiers in hospitals after the battles for Chattanooga.
But there’s another side to this town’s history. In some cases it’s less tumultuous than the War Between the States but in some cases it probably kind of similar.
You see, a couple with one form of ID (each) and $75 (cash - card transactions add a 3% fee) can obtain a marriage license in a matter of minutes. Couples with 6 hours of premarital counseling can get a license for $31. Once the license is secured, couples can go before a probate or magistrate judge, both of which are standing by for weddings as couples arrive. Couples also have the choice of walking out the front doors of the courthouse and crossing the two lanes of Nashville Street (we recommend the conveniently located crosswalk) to the Ringgold Wedding Chapel where $115 can get you a couple-only weekday wedding. Obviously larger ceremonies are available.
These policies and practices have built a unique institution in Ringgold. This is how a town of 3,500 people issues over 2,000 marriage licenses every year.
There have been some famous folks among the half million or so people who have tied the knot in Ringgold. George Jones and Tammy Wynette began their six year marriage in Ringgold. Don Everly of the Everly Brothers had one of his several weddings in Ringgold. Singer/songwriter and two time Governor of Louisiana Jimmie Davis married his second wife in Ringgold. Best of all, Dolly Parton said that Ringgold reminded her of “rings of gold” when she married her husband (yes, I know his name but he appreciates his relative anonymity) in Catoosa County in 1966.
Ringgold’s booming wedding scene is just one reason to come to town. A well preserved historic downtown is filled with local restaurants and shops. So whether you need to elope or you just need to browse for antiques, Ringgold might be your destination.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire