BAKER: A footnote to our history: The Coffee Pot Cafe in the 1930s
By Bill Baker
Whether native or newcomer to the tri-state area, we can find lessons in the rich history of the Cumberland Gap area. And we can learn of the difficulties so often faced by those who went before us.
Every now and then, there’s a gem of interest that can take us down a road less traveled. And, for me this week it’s a café that served another generation during the years of the Great Depression.
Located in downtown Middlesboro, it was the Coffee Pot Café at the corner of 20th Street and Cumberland Avenue. Phone number in the 1937 edition of the Tri-State Telephone Directory: 9126. Street Address: 2001 Cumberland Avenue.
The café was open through most if not all of the 1930s.
I learned from two relatives about this café and its place in the life of those who lived in the area almost a hundred years ago. They were my sister-in-law, Imogene Brittain Rose and her husband Larry. Weekends and vacations for them were devoted to searches for antiques, collectibles, souvenirs, and memorabilia.
Imogene taught for 30 years at Middlesboro High School, and Larry was the chief bookkeeper at the Middlesboro Daily News. Both are gone now, but their memory lingers, and a small copy of a breakfast menu from the Coffee Pot Café among their collectibles led me to search for more details.
I found references to the café in publications from the United States Congress. From the early 1930s, business leaders had sought Federal assistance to help them fight major flood problems. And the café was listed there. No names of the owners.
We can believe that the owners were concerned citizens who wanted their business and their community to prosper.
And we might conclude that their customers wanted good food and reasonable prices when they stopped in for breakfast.
From the menu, the “special of the day” consisted of the following: Choice of cereal, two eggs [any style], or ham or bacon with one egg, toast [dry or buttered], coffee, tea, milk, or Postum. Cost per breakfast, 35 cents.
As an old-timer I had forgotten that Postum had been an old-time hot breakfast beverage [a coffee substitute]. You can find more details on the internet, if you too had forgotten.
This final note on an ad for Postum which offered a “… promise to keep couples together and kids off the street.”
Most of our communities likely had a hometown eating place much like the Coffee Pot Café with food and prices comparable to the “special of the day.” Not the best of times, but some good memories for some of us and a footnote in the history of the tri-state area for others.
Dr. William H. Baker is a Claiborne County native and a former Middlesboro resident. email: email@example.com