A Lebanon Institution – Snow White Drive-In

8 Feb

Today, I had lunch at a local institution – Snow White Drive-In.Snow White

Being by myself, I made my way to the lunch counter. On the way, I talked to a few people who I know. I also scanned the grease board that lists the meat and three selections. There were also some homemade pies to check on. However, I already knew what I was going to get. It has been my favorite thing at Snow White since I was a kid. Other people can have their pinto beans and barbecue. They can also have their milkshakes and banana splits. I will take the long chili dog and french fries every time.Chili Dog

As I sat at the counter and ate my chili dog, I began to think about the place in which I was sitting. Snow White Drive-In opened in the 1950s and has seen a lot of changes through the years.

In the beginning, it sat on the outskirts of town on the two lane highway from Lebanon to Nashville. It was probably a destination for the people who lived in town and was definitely a place where teenagers could hang out without being under the watchful eyes of their parents.

Now, Snow White is in the city limits. There are neighborhoods all around it, and a Publix sits across the street. There is also a Taco Bell just down the road.

Snow White has seen a lot of changes, but it has also seen a lot of challenges. Taco Bell sits on the site where another drive-in used to be. I would imagine the competition was fierce between the two businesses, and only one could make it.

When I was a kid, the owner of Snow White was robbed and murdered behind the restaurant. It was a shocking crime, but the business survived as other owners took over.

Snow White has also seen chain restaurants come to town and provide competition. I will not list them all because they are the ones that are in every town. However, a few are close enough to Snow White to be seen.

There was a time when Snow White closed, but other owners knew how important it was to the fabric of our town and reopened it. Now, it stays busy all of the time. It has also doubled as a setting for music videos and movies. Through all of the changes and challenges, Snow White Drive-In has survived as a small bit of Americana.

However, that could be about to change. A few weeks ago, the newspaper reported that the landowner is working on a deal to bring another business to the location. The report did not say what that business was going to be, but I have heard that it is going to be a convenience store, which we already have a million of.

The article quoted the owner of the property, and he went on and on about how he loves Snow White as much as everyone else. In fact, he promised that the restaurant would still have a place on the property in a new building. After all, it is the food that makes the place successful.

I am not sure about that. People can get the same food at a bunch of places. I think it is the building that makes Snow White Drive-In different. People can walk into a place that has been around since the 1950s and imagine a different time. They can feel the nostalgia in the air.

I think eating in a place that people have been going to for six decades is cool. However, I have no illusions that I am experiencing the “good old days”. As a historian, I do not really believe there was a “good old days”. I believe that people were eating in this building when they heard about that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I believe that those people were white because of segregation. I believe that some people were there the night man landed on the moon. I believe some people were there when they first heard Elvis on the jukebox.

Snow White is like other historical places. Its existence connects us with the past, both the good and bad parts of it. That is why I have taken history students there to eat. It gives them an idea of how things may have been.

I do not fault the landowner for getting value out of his land. Heck, I also develop land and own the property directly behind Snow White. I just feel that he is wrong when he says that Snow White will be the same in a new building. It will be a restaurant just like all of the rest. The food will be good, but the history will be gone.

Something else will be gone. Snow White Drive-In is a part of the fabric of Lebanon. When it goes away, a small thread of the town’s history will go with it.

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14 Responses to “A Lebanon Institution – Snow White Drive-In”

  1. Marilyn Armstrong February 8, 2014 at 19:27 #

    We lost a beloved — and enormously popular — ice cream drive in that had been in Uxbridge for more than 40 years. They made their own ice cream and frozen custard — it was wonderful — and they made a special sugarless sundae for dogs. But their kids didn’t want to work there and the owners were getting old and tired. So they sold the land for a good chunk of change (middle of town on the main road — doesn’t get better) and it is a CVS. Remarkably, the other day, we discovered it reopened in a new location. New building. Better parking. Nice outdoor tables and umbrellas. The kids changed their minds. Maybe the crappy economy changed their minds for them. There may be hope yet!

    • Rick February 8, 2014 at 19:39 #

      This happens all over the country. Progress is a great thing, but it comes with sacrifices.

      • Marilyn Armstrong February 8, 2014 at 20:05 #

        The bad economy is — ironically — tending to extend the life on these places, at least around here. There isn’t much work and suddenly, mom and pop’s deli looks like a pretty good deal.

  2. shutterbugshea February 8, 2014 at 21:00 #

    Hi! I hope that the Snow White Drive-in lives on! I know the sadness!
    When I went back to my little Jersey town…the place where I was born and raised, it was a sad sight! Dover was turned into another place that I did not recognize…
    I still have those precious memories…and I won’t accept offers to bull doze them down 😀

    • Rick February 8, 2014 at 21:43 #

      I guess that’s part of life. Remembering people and places that are no longer with us.

  3. satanicpanic February 9, 2014 at 01:28 #

    I totally agree with the rest of your post- there is something really cool about having these older places around- but more than anything I have a strong urge to eat a chili dog now.

    • Rick February 9, 2014 at 04:56 #

      Chili dogs are manna from heaven.

  4. Andrew Petcher February 9, 2014 at 05:54 #

    In my home town there used to be a place called the Elizabethan Tea Rooms and they sold home made cream cakes. It’s gone now of course!

    • Rick February 9, 2014 at 16:16 #

      It’s something that happens everywhere.

  5. paintlater February 9, 2014 at 12:12 #

    When I travelled to the USA we stopped at a place called Peggy Sue’s Diner, I think Arizona, it felt uniquely American to us. It was fabulous! Taco Belle is Taco Belle everywhere else in the world. Vive La Difference.

    • Rick February 9, 2014 at 16:19 #

      The locally owned places are always the best.

  6. jcalberta February 10, 2014 at 16:19 #

    Lots of the old drive-ins are gone now, eh?
    it’s always a joy to go back to some place and find one still there.

    • Rick February 10, 2014 at 16:37 #

      One of these days, there will be none still around.

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