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History where you don’t expect it

Hayhurst’s Hayloft: A major restaurant chain is one of rural America’s largest museums.

Susan Hayhurst

March 9, 2023

2 Min Read
white rocking chair and checkerboard outside of Cracker Barrel restaurant
SIT A SPELL: The ladderback rocking chairs for sale at Cracker Barrel are made by a sixth-generation company, and the antiques displayed throughout the restaurants are real. Susan Hayhurst

Have you ever relaxed in a Cracker Barrel restaurant rocking chair? Or read the signs on the walls and wondered where they came from?

According to a 2018 article in Country Living magazine, the first Cracker Barrel opened in Lebanon, Tenn., in 1969. The owner wanted the building decorated like an old country store. Local antique enthusiasts Don and Kathleen Singleton took on the challenge.

Since 1979, their son, Larry, has overseen furnishing every Cracker Barrel location and scouting for unique regional artifacts. An antique dealer’s dream, he runs the company’s decor warehouse that features more than 100,000 catalogued, clean, repaired and barcoded Americana treasures. The company has sourced more than a million antiques.

All tools, rusty signs and memorable toys are authentic, incorporated into each site’s decor. Our local Cracker Barrel sports American Agriculturist, Marion County Farm Bureau, Funk’s Hybrids, Sta-Bull Fence Co. and Clabber Girl Baking Powder signs.

Naturally, the restaurant near Terre Haute, Ind., would have a Clabber Girl sign. According to legend, the sign might have come off an old farmer’s fence post, who traded the right to post the sign for a can of Clabber Girl. Hulman & Co. used the ploy to advertise. Clabber Girl made Hulman wealthy, which in turn made the Indy 500 famous.

Each Cracker Barrel restaurant displays an ox yoke and horseshoe over the front door, a traffic light over the restrooms, a deer head over the mantel and a cookstove in the retail section. The company owns nearly 800 cookstoves.

Do you like those rocking chairs? Andrew Hinkle, born in 1815, founded Tennessee’s Hinkle Chair Co., maker of the chairs. A farmer, he supplemented his income by making ladderback chairs. Today, the sixth generation of Hinkles operate the business.

By the way, the dining table golf tee peg game can be solved in under a minute!

Hayhurst writes from Terre Haute, Ind.

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