"Fried Chicken Capital of the World"
January 1, 1840 celebrated the arrival of the Louisa Railroad to Gordonsville. The introduction of rail service contributed to the growth and vitality of the town as a prime rail junction. The two railroads that formed the junction were the Virginia Central, formerly the Louisa Railroad and now renamed the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad and the Orange & Alexandria, now known as the Orange, Alexandria and Manassas.
With the introduction of rail service, enterprising African-American women commenced a tradition that was to symbolize Gordonsville forever as the "Fried Chicken Capital of the World".
Early passenger trains did not enjoy the luxury of dining cars and were greeted by "Waiter Carriers" who later became known as "Chicken Vendors". The women balanced platters of fried chicken on their heads and served hungry passengers through open windows.
The Gordonsville Exchange Hotel opened in 1860 and provided an elegant stopping place for passengers on the Virginia Central Railway until March 1862, when the Army of Northern Virginia transformed the Exchange Hotel into Gordonsville Receiving Hospital. During the Civil War, the "Chicken Vendors" served thousands of hungry soldiers on the trains.
Following the war, the women continued serving rail passengers succulent fried chicken and delicious fried pies made with Early Harvest, Yellow, or other "acid" apples. Chicken legs and breast cost fifteen cents; backs and wings; five and ten cents. By 1879, the Gordonsville Town Council required a "snack vendor's" license and payment of a license tax.
The modernization of rail service with the addition of dining cars, the replacement of wooden coaches with steel cars with closed vestibules and finally air-conditioned cars with sealed windows, ended a century of tradition.
This plaque is dedicated to all of the legendary "Chicken Vendors" for their memorable contribution to Gordonsville's economy and history. Pictured are Maria Wallace, Laura Swift, Lucy Washington, Francis Taylor, Adeline Daniel, and Mary Vest.
Isabella "Bella" Winston followed the tradition taught to her by her mother, Maria Wallace, who met the trains and served the passengers even before Gordonsville became an Incorporated town in 1870. Hattie Edwards was also a "Chicken Vendor" who later operated her own restaurant, Hattie's Inn.