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Gainesville pulls rank on fried chicken

Historian says Southern staple was invented at Gen. Longstreet’s hotel

POSTED: September 17, 2008 5:01 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle made an appearance Saturday morning at the dedication of the restored historic Longstreet-Piedmont Hotel on Maple Street. Cagle discussed the importance of Gainesville to the state of Georgia, among other topics.

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While it long has been established that Gainesville is the Poultry Capital of the World, a local historian is now asserting that Gainesville may have been the place that fried chicken was invented.

Garland Reynolds, a Gainesville architect and historian on Gen. James Longstreet, told an audience on Saturday that pan-frying of chicken may well have originated in the popular kitchen and dining room of the Longstreet-Piedmont Hotel.

"Southern fried chicken was invented right there," said Reynolds, pointing to the former site of the Piedmont’s kitchen. "That’s our story and if you want to dispute it, just come on and try."

He cited an 1879 article in Harper’s Magazine where writers came in search of Dahlonega, but noted their stop at the Piedmont.

"We ascertained that Gainesville was the nearest railroad point," the story said. "Hither, we proceeded and went to dinner at a summer hotel kept by Gen. Longstreet of the late Confederate Army. At that dinner we were introduced what was subsequently determined to be the piece de resistance of every Georgia meal: chicken. We had chicken soup, stewed chicken, chicken fried and chicken in cold slices. In addition there were eggs in abundance."

Reynolds believes that fried chicken may have been one of Longstreet’s culinary innovations.

"After all, he was a general and Col. Sanders was just a colonel," he quipped.

The claim on the origin of fried chicken was made during the dedication of a restored second of the old hotel.

Reynolds said that poultry was so deeply associated with the Piedmont that many live chickens were brought to the hotel kitchen each day to be prepared. He said the kitchen of the Piedmont was Gainesville’s first poultry processing plant.

The hotel, which was built by Longstreet in the 1870s, was advertised for its proximity to numerous therapeutic springs.

"Centrally located on the Air Line Railroad in the midst of a fast-developing mineral section and surrounded by numerous mineral and pure water springs," read an advertisement for the hotel.

It was billed as a "magnificent and commodious" resort for "invalids and summer tourists."

It was advertised for its closeness to the mountains and noted that the hotel was 1,400 feet above the ocean level.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the keynote speaker for the dedication, praised the work of volunteers in restoring the historic inn.

"You’re preserving something, but it is something that’s going to stand for the test of time," Cagle said. "It’s going to last another 100 years, and maybe beyond."

While Cagle made no mention of his announcement this week that he is exploring a bid for governor, he quietly alluded to the possibility.

"I hope, maybe, that I might be in a position in the future to stand strong for preservation and historical significance," he said.The section that has been restored is just one portion of the horseshoe-shaped hotel, that tower three stories high. Among its guests were future President Woodrow Wilson and his wife, Ellen Axson Wilson, who came to Gainesville for the birth of their first daughter, Margaret.

Mrs. Wilson returned to Gainesville a year later for the birth of a second daughter, Jessie.

Margaret Wilson would take over many of the duties of first lady after her mother died while her father was president. He remarried about a year later.



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