Scott County, Tennessee
FNB Chronicles

This page was updated 06 Sep 2008

The Airline Tearoom: a landmark remembered

Contributing Columnists

Probably the ultimate compliment that can be paid to a landmark is to have the area where it is located bear its name. Ask anyone born in Scott County before 1950 what the area in the vicinity of the junction of Highway 27 and 63 is called and they will immediately respond, "The Tearoom."


U.S. Highway 27 runs north and south from Mackinac, Michigan to Homestead, Florida and is known as the "Airline Highway." Several years ago there were markers along Highway 27 inscribed, "J. Lon Foust Highway." It is believed that Mr. FOUST was probably a politician who was instrumental in getting the highway constructed. Courthouse records indicate that Highway 27 was under construction in Scott county in 1928.

THIS BUILDING, on the "Airline Tearoom" site at the junction of U.S. 27 and State Hwy. 63, will be demolished soon, as a major highway improvement project is currently underway. Its passing will marked the end of an era in Scott County – the Airline Tearoom era – which dates back to the 1930s.

Before Interstate 75, Highway 27 and 25 merchants and business places "competed strongly" for tourist business. Competition was so strong that the "Highway 27 Association" was formed to promote tourist traffic along the Highway 27 corridor. TOBE PHILLIPS remembers attending an association meeting in Georgia years ago with H. F. COOPER, DAN WALKER and O. O. DUNCAN. The speaker addressed the group in the southern Georgia drawl and told them, "The puhpus of this meetin’ is to prahmote traffic on Highway 27." He went on to say, "Gawgia used to be a cotton state, but, cotton went west; cattle went east; black folk went north; and, yankees are comin’ south. One yankee is wuhth a bale of cotton and a d--ned sight easiah to pick." Tourism was big business and "travel courts," as motel restaurant facilities were called then, prospered. Shells of these long since abandoned travel courts are scattered all along Highway 27 and Highway 25. One close by is the Shell Grove Motor Court at the Tennessee/Kentucky state line above Winfield. Travel courts that were able to modernize, like Tobe’s in Oneida, survived. More than a few, though, couldn’t cope when traffic was re-routed with Interstate 75 and many are standing in ruin or have been demolished. Business had already begun to drop off for the Airline Tearoom, but surely the re-routing of north/south traffic on Interstate 75 was the last straw. It would never bustle with activity as it did in its heyday.

BESSIE DONOVAN met and married HARRY KEEN while she taught school at the Mossop School in Huntsville. HARRY KEEN was a brother to HELEN (Mom) BAKER, JAMES TOOMEY BAKER and HOWARD H. BAKER, Jr.’s grandmother. The children of BESSIE and HARRY KEEN are HARRY ALDERSON KEEN of Oak Ridge, KATHRYN KEEN COWAN of South Carolina and JOE GIBSON KEEN of Virginia. The KEEN children attended school at Huntsville.

The original Airline Tearoom was built and operated by BESSIE and HARRY KEEN. "Aunt Bessie" was a wonderful cook and Sunday meals with crisp linen table cloths and napkins made dining a real event. The Tearoom was a special place to enjoy fine dining with good friends. It had a unique atmosphere found in few restaurants of its day. Some say it was a gathering place in the evening to catch up on the latest news.

Records in the Register of Deeds Office in Huntsville indicate that HARRY and BESSIE KEEN obtained the Tearoom property from W. D. BAKER, J. W. BAKER and HOWARD BAKER on May 8, 1930. The BAKERs obtained the property from W. W. and MARTHA LAWSON January 14, 1928. In subsequent transfers the property was referred to as "the Tearoom Property located on the Cincinnati-Lookout Mountain Airline Highway."

Being located at the junction of an east/west and north/south highway made it an ideal location for bus lines to schedule regular stops. It served as a bus station for many years.

In an attempted robbery at the restaurant, HARRY KEEN confronted the robber and a scuffle ensued. It was remembered that HARRY KEEN suffered from a neck injury. Some thought it was a result of this scuffle, but HARRY ANDERSON KEEN said his father had sustained the neck injury during the time he was Superintendent of Mines for L. E. BRYANT at Strunk, Kentucky. After selling the Tearoom property, HARRY and BESSIE lived in the house now owned by CHARLENE JEFFERS in Helenwood.

BAILEY and OLLIE STANLEY were subsequent managers of the restaurant; also, CRIT and UNA PHILLIPS were among those who managed the restaurant for a short while.

GEORGE AND MODA SHOEMAKER on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary. The Airline Tearoom restaurant was closed to the public for this all. day celebration and the cooks prepared food for the large family gathering.

GEORGE and MODA SHOEMAKER obtained the Tearoom property June 1, 1939 from W. E. BAKER, J. W. BAKER and HOWARD BAKER who had obtained the property from the KEENs July 27, 1936. Some time later the original wooden Tearoom building was torn down and replaced with a concrete block and brick building. The new building was constructed in two phases and housed a grocery on the west side and a modern restaurant on the east side. The basement level had two apartments and a beauty shop.

A beauty shop operated by DELPHIE SHOEMAKER ERWIN was one of the first beauty shops in Scott County; it was located in the basement of the Tearoom building. Later DELPHIE’s sister, ADA, came to work with her and the shop became known as ADA’s Beauty Shop, after DELPHIE and her family moved away. ADA’s shop was in continuous business, on the basement level, until the property was purchased by the State of Tennessee for the widening of Highway 27 project now underway. ADA and her daughter, RUTH, now operate the beauty shop from their new facility beside ADA’s home.


THURMAN MULLINS was one of the last store operators. It has been many years since a restaurant has been operated at the Tearoom. The building has been used over the years for a variety of purposes. It has been a church, a mattress factory, a clothing store, a used furniture store and a ballet dance school.

When the property was known as the "Tearoom" is leveled in the next few months to make for the widening of

Highway 27 and Highway 63 access, it will be fondly remembered by many of us as a really special place. It is one of the few landmarks that lends its name to the entire area immediately surrounding it. Places of business come and go, but only a few leave their mark... the Airline Tearoom is one that will live on in our minds forever.

[FOOTNOTE If anyone has exterior or interior pictures of the original wooden Tearoom structure, we would like to include them in a future edition. All original pictures are returned after copying.]

FNB Chronicle, Vol. 3 No. 1 – Spring 1991
First National Bank
P.O. Box 4699
Oneida, TN 37841

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