News from the Tennessee Valley Diversions
SUNDAY, MARCH 25, 2007

Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House in Lynchburg, Tenn., used to feed Jack Daniel, as well as the federal agents assigned to regulate his distillery. It recently reopened after renovations that allow for even more lunch seatings for the popular family-style Southern meals.
Daily photos by Patrice Stewart
Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House in Lynchburg, Tenn., used to feed Jack Daniel, as well as the federal agents assigned to regulate his distillery. It recently reopened after renovations that allow for even more lunch seatings for the popular family-style Southern meals.

Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House
Tennesse landmark offers Southern hospitality and a dose of the hometown ‘recipe’

By Patrice Stewart · 340-2446

LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — Here’s a recipe for a perfectly delicious spring outing.

Take a drive through the picturesque countryside of Southern Tennessee to admire the flowering trees and colorful flowers.

When it’s time for lunch, head for Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House in Lynchburg. Along with Southern-fried chicken, creamed corn, fried okra, macaroni and cheese, green beans, biscuits and more, you’ll get a big helping of hospitality, a bit of history, and even a taste of “the hometown recipe.”

Better call ahead, though, because even though Miss Mary’s place recently reopened after a renovation that added more kitchen and dining space, reservations are usually needed. However, they can accommodate 90 at a time now, reducing what used to be months of waiting for a Saturday reservation in busy seasons.

Miss Mary Bobo’s establishment began as a travelers’ hotel in 1867. She took over the historic Salmon Hotel in 1908, and she personally saw to the needs of her guests until 1983, when she died one month short of her 102nd birthday.

For nearly a century, this two-story, Federal-style house just off the town square in Lynchburg has offered food and fellowship to travelers and tourists. When you arrive, you can sit a spell in the parlor of this National Historic Landmark and look at the old photos of the boarding house’s most famous diner, “Mr. Jack.”

Jack Daniel took many a noonday meal there. Due to feuding about his distillery, he didn’t always share the table with the boarders who took all their meals there, such as Tom Motlow, who ran the Farmer’s Bank; Will Parks, who owned a Ford dealership; and the federal agents assigned to regulate the distillery.

The distillery bought the boarding house in 1984, and Daniel’s great-grandniece, Lynne Tolley, became the proprietress of Miss Mary’s, which no longer takes boarders, but offers family-style dining.

“Folks from all over the world come to our table as strangers and leave as friends,” she said.

Tolley may drop by your table. “Have you tried those apples yet? Do they have enough of the hometown product in them?”

A hostess is assigned to each table to share a bit of lore and make sure the dozen or more guests at each table get plenty.

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Miss Bobo’s provides a hostess for each table to share a bit of history and give instructions, such as “Pass to the left” and keep the stuffed bell peppers, fried okra, creamed corn, macaroni and cheese and other Southern foods moving from guest to guest.
“This is a boarding house, and if you can’t reach it, yell,” said hostess Betty Robertson, as the Lazy Susan loaded with stuffed bell peppers, slaw, apples, potatoes, relishes and other goodies began turning.

“Our apples with a little bit of ‘the product’ in them,” she announced, proudly referring to Lynchburg’s main industry.

Walk it off

After lunch, you may want to walk off your meal with a tour of the nearby Jack Daniel’s distillery. But it’s still a dry county, so the apples will be the only place you can get a taste.

“Miss Bobo ate this food every day and she lived to be almost 102, so it must be good for you,” said Robertson. “As hostesses, we get paid to eat and talk, and that’s a good thing.”

Miss Mary greeted people in a wheelchair and hosted a table after she broke a hip, and she planned the menus and bought food almost until her death, Robertson said. She also played piano and entertained guests in the parlor.

“Back then, they loaded the table with food for lunch, and afterward, they covered the food with a cloth and later came back to eat what was left for dinner,” she said.

That is one tradition that was discontinued, and Miss Bobo’s is not open in the evenings any more, unless a private party is booked.

Mid-day meals are served at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday. During busier months, starting in May, a 3 p.m. seating will be added.

The menu changes some each day, but the apples are always offered, except during the Christmas season, when a special holiday menu includes sweet potatoes. The table always holds two meats; six vegetables and side dishes; hot cornbread, biscuits or rolls; a homemade dessert, such as fudge pie with “a bit of the recipe” in the whipped cream on top; and ice tea and coffee.

Take a taste home

After you get a taste of apples with the recipe, you may want to take some home. They are available in jars, along with corn relish and more goodies, in the gift shop, which also offers Tolley’s new cookbook, “Cooking with Jack.”

Exploring the historic building and add-ons is a treat, too, from the Jasper, Motlow, Parks, Crutcher, Tolley, Evans, Fanning and Roundtree dining rooms to the Springhouse Conference Room. Many dining rooms have fireplaces, and rest-rooms and an elevator are among the additions.

You’ll pick up plenty of history, such as the tale about how Lem Motlow saw his Uncle Jack’s distillery through the 29-year dry spell of prohibition and became a state legislator and politician in order to get the whiskey distillery reopened.

He never succeeded in making Moore County wet, but he did persuade the legislators to let him make whiskey in a dry county, where the company is still the leading employer and taxpayer.

If you go

What: Miss Mary Bobo’s Southern-
style dining

Where: 295 Main St., just off the downtown square in Lynchburg, Tenn.

When: 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with additional seatings at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. beginning in May

Cost: $19, including tax, for adults, and $8 for children 9 and under; for reservations, call (931) 759-7394


Buy some apples and a little of “the recipe,” and you can try making Miss Mary Bobo’s apple recipe at home.

Lynne Tolley, co-author of “Cooking with Jack,” shares this recipe, along with a cooking tip: In any recipe that calls for vanilla, you can use Jack Daniel’s whiskey instead. It’s good to add to whipped cream, too.

Candied Apples

3 tablespoons butter

6 cups peeled and sliced green apples

1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook apples in butter until just tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in sugar and Jack Daniel’s. Continue to cook until juice has thickened, about 5 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 6 servings.

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