of the most popular places in Cartersville is the 4-Way Lunch. A
favorite with many folks, the diner has always been a meeting place, and
a popular subject for artist's drawings. Newcomers to Bartow County are
shown the Indian Mounds, Young Brother's famous outdoor Coca-Cola wall
sign, and the 4-Way. Commanding the prominent corner of Main and Gilmer
streets, the diner has been called the "heart of our town."
usually begin arriving around 6 a.m., and by eight, it's standing room
only. Glance in the window the next time you walk or drive by. Had a
Native American named the restaurant, it might have been called
"Place Of Many Backs In Window".
informality of the 4-Way lends itself to many regulars who have become
accustomed, and even look forward, to the kidding that goes on daily.
It's as though the silent agreement is to sit, eat, and free up a stool
for the guy standing behind you. The relaxed atmosphere is one reason
for its popularity. Meeting "Pete" Starnes and her sister Sue
Brockman for the first time, I was greeted as if they had known me for
years. Noticing that neither of the ladies recorded customer's orders, I
asked them how they kept track.
go by their faces, not their names," Starnes said, lifting my elbow
to wipe the counter. "A customer can stay away for years, but when
he or she walks back through that door, I almost always know what the
order will be."
have customers who don't mind the drive up here from Atlanta who need to
sink their teeth into a 4-Way burger," Brockman said, then added,
"Did I say 'need?' Well, yeah. That's just the way it is
says the "celebrity status" she's received from working at the
4-Way has been fun. While rafting down the Nantahala River in North
Carolina, a woman called to her, "Aren't you the one who works at
and Brockman have definitely set the stage for women diners. When the
restaurant's floors were covered in sawdust--reminiscent of bars--women
wouldn't even step through the doors, probably having a notion the 4-Way
was for men only because it sold beer. Once the ladies started working
there, things changed. Women came to enjoy the food, and many still do.
1912 the building housed a drink stand featuring "Coca-Cola."
A frequent sight at that time was a horse and wagon parked outside
loaded with cases of the familiar bottles. Joe Head, dean of enrollment
at Kennesaw State University and Bartow County native, remembers the
stories his father told about working at the drink stand as a young boy.
Robert Head had to pull a rope with a counter weight on it to get the
heavy lid off the oak box where soft drinks were kept on blocks of ice.
That wasbefore Coca-Cola was kept in metal boxes with its name on the
sides. Hamburgers were 20c apiece in 1968 when Joe Head was employed at
the 4-Way on what was called "the beverage side." Head recalls
that women didn't come in very often at that time, but began visiting
the 4-Way more frequently in the early seventies. Head Also recalls that
paper sacks used for take-out orders were pulled from a stack nailed to
the wall. "They were good days, that summer," Head said.
"I'm glad to be a part of the legacy."
1931, Fred Garrison bought the building and named it the 4-Way.
Garrison's son Ernest remembers, "My father took a sack full of
meat and a couple packages of buns, and came down and started
cooking." As a young boy, Garrison stood on a Coca-Cola crate to
wash dishes at the 4-Way. Today, Ernest Garrison is still behind the
counter, after taking over the business from his father twenty-five
many years the 4-Way has been surrounded by an enigma. Local legend says
that in 1883 the building that houses the 4-Way was a saloon. Its
proprietor, Alfred Payne, advertised it as "The Best Little Place
in Town." However, DiAnne Monroe, Payne's great-granddaughter says
that is incorrect. Her extensive research shows that no building existed
on the corner of Main & Gilmer at that time. Monroe asserts that
Payne did run a hamburger stand through the 1920s at the 4-Way's present
location, but it was not a saloon. Payne's saloon was at the corner of
Cherokee and Wall Street. Prior to his death in 1929, Payne moved his
operation to the corner of Erwin and West Main, across from the old
Stein building, to run a restaurant called the Broadway.
me, it is the history of this place," Monroe said. "The most
marvelous part is that the 4-Way's owners, the Garrison family, have
cared enough--for more years than most people can count--to have
maintained a place that is so special to our community."
almost lost its favorite place when it caught fire on June 29, 1993.
Though it may have been a short circuit that caused the fire, it was
providence that at 3 a.m. a passerby spotted it and called 911.
Firefighters subdued the blaze, but the outer structure had already lost
its integrity to the heat. Along with appliances, the original red
counter and the circa 50s Coca-Cola menu sign perished.
dawn, the wooden frame of the 4-way remained bolted to its corner.
Inside, suffering a worse fate, were the stools--stools that had at one
time supported generations of families, government officials, and actors
Harrison Ford, Ricky Schroeder, Robert Duvall, and our own Benji
Wilhoite. But mostly, just plain folks.
word got out, a crowd gathered at the site. People stood and stared at
the charred remains. Many shook their heads while some turned away
teary-eyed. For all, in that moment, there came a stillness. To many, it
seemed to be the end of an icon. One onlooker remarked, "This is
too much to bear. Our 4-Way is a tradition. My grandparents took my
parents here, they took me, and, now I take my kids."
Hobbs, of Cartersville, remembered, "About 45 years ago, I had to
come to the 4-Way everyday to get a hamburger for my father, and when I
brought it to him, he'd say to my mother, 'Myrtle, I wish you could make
a hamburger like ole Ernest.'"
Garrison walked among the rubble, and though outwardly he seemed to be
holding up, he had reason to worry; no insurance, and, worse, no money
of Garrison's predicament spread almost as fast as the flames that
consumed the 4-Way. Atlanta and Birmingham papers picked up the story.
Local television ran continuous footage of the gutted landmark. Comments
and questions poured in to the local newspaper and radio. Will the ruins
of our treasured landmark remain until the rubble is cleared for a new
building? Will the people of Cartersville allow a place, that for over
60 years has been a second home for many, be leveled?
the initial shock wore off, the community pulled together to save the
4-Way. Sue Brockman began an appeal to local businesses, then went door
to door requesting donations. Pete Starnes displayed T-shirts, caps, and
mementos, which quickly sold out. Food suppliers donated food, and a
local electrician re-wired the 4-Way free of charge. Congratulating the
community on its united effort to save the landmark, Garrison declared,
"We did this!"
the absolute delight of townsfolk, with only a two-month wait, the 4-Way
was back in business. People from Mississippi, Virginia and North
Carolina who had made eating at the 4-way a ritual over the years, came
to the re-opening celebration. Not only did they want mementos of their
"favorite place," they wanted to once again enjoy the food and
friendliness that is the 4-Way's hallmark.
customers, nearly 500 that day, took turns occupying stools. They ate.
They laughed. They told stories and shared experiences. "As a
little boy, my daddy would pick me up and put me on the stool," one
customer began. "I remember holding on to the red counter real
tight with both hands, then I'd swing from side to side while waiting
for my cheeseburger and Ne-Hi grape soda."
resident, Loraine Fourine, fondly remembered the stool that wobbled.
"Maybe they could fix one to wobble," Fourine said.
never will forget my father and grandfather's favorite--burgers with
steak gravy," another customer said, adding, "As a kid, I
would not eat hot dogs from anywhere but the 4-Way."
another diner put his cheeseburger down long enough to say, "This
here is a nice, friendly place to eat, where folks don't mind rubbing
elbows with those next to them. Lawyers and ditch-diggers sit side by
diner boasted that he couldn't start the day without breakfast at the
Puryear, 77, first ate in the 4-way when he was 21 years old, and has
been coming to Cartersville, from Powder Springs, no less than twice a
week, ever since. "Back then, I would have borrowed money to get
here," he said.
Bill Gore, said, "Eating at the 4-way is an experience. My family
and I get together and drive from Floyd County to eat at the place that
I've been going to since I was a kid. I've eaten my share of
cheeseburgers. " Gore wondered why, after the fire, Garrison didn't
replace the soft ice cream machine. "I looked forward to that
those relishing the 4-Way fare at its reopening, was a man wearing a
finely tailored business suit, a napkin tucked into his shirt collar.
Looking up from his plate, he asked, "Who covers fries with gravy
besides the 4-Way?"
years, the menu at the 4-way has remained unchanged. Garrison only
recently added iced tea and biscuits. "Hoppy" Edwards, the
head cook for twenty years, is famous for turning out some of the
sloppiest burgers this side of Atlanta--gravy covers the whole plate.
unchanged, is the diner's lack of a telephone. In its 68 years at the
same location, the 4-Way has never had a phone. Customers and employees
wanting to make a call have to walk across the street to the service
station. Ask Sue Brockman and Pete Starnes why they don't have one, and
they will probably tell you there is hardly enough room for them and the
cook, let alone a phone. Even after renovating, Garrison chose not to
install a phone.
after the grand reopening, I returned to the 4-Way. At the end of the
brand new red counter, cluttered with salt and pepper shakers from the
lunch crowd, an elderly gentleman sat with a cane resting against his
leg. His hand shook as he brought a cup of coke to his lips.
clatter Sue and Pete made didn't seem to bother him, nor did the loud
voices of the two teenagers bouncing up and down on stools, waiting for
their hamburgers "all the way." When he brought that hamburger
dripping gravy up to his lips, I knew he must be in hamburger heaven.
1995, Senator Nathan Dean passed a senate resolution commending the
4-Way Lunch for over fifty years of continuous service. "The
terrific reputation and rich history of this classic local diner, where
the smell of onion gravy is as much a part of the place as the tattered
bar stools or the wooden clock with a picture of the restaurant on it,
continues to lure new patrons along with the old, and its long standing
success as an excellent eatery deserves recognition and praise."
the same year the 4-Way burned, Cartersville was chosen 54th out of the
100 best small towns in America., a fitting tribute to the idea that to
live in a small town is to stay in touch with what we humans are really
all about--the nucleus of a common bond. The people of Cartersville
never thought twice about saving the 4-Way. Today, a plaque honoring
those who helped rebuild it hangs on the wall of the diner, a daily
reminder that when people put their hearts together for a cause, there
are no boundaries that can not be overcome.
This article was originally published in the Cartersville Magazine.
Mae Frances Barrena--she who dances with words--lives in Cartersville, Georgia with her husband. They have two sons and two grandsons. Mae is a former New Yorker. She came south 19 years ago, loves it here and intends to stay.
A few months ago Mae asked her words for a dance: a book about her life as a professional dancer tentatively titled "Glitter". Come on over http://homestead.juno.com/wordancer and enjoy the show!