The History of Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House

Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House has served up tradition, and Southern hospitality, not to mention good home cooking, since 1913. Located in the heart of Lynchburg, Tenn., just off the town square, it’s recognized as one the South’s signature family-style dining restaurants. It possesses a history almost as rich as Miss Mary’s Fudge Pie and was built before Lynchburg became home to Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.

In 1818, Thomas Roundtree, one of the founding fathers of Lynchburg, settled and built his home on the property where the house exists today. He built the house around the same time as he laid out the town. To attract settlers, Roundtree developed several businesses and auctioned homestead sites.

He eventually sold his home to Dr. E.Y. Salmon and his wife in 1857. Having recently returned from the Civil War, Dr. Salmon came to Lynchburg to practice medicine in the newly developed township. The couple added a large, two-story frame home to the original brick structure, giving the house its distinction and elegance. This would serve as both Dr. Salmon’s home and place of business. It became known as the Grand Central Hotel, but was sometimes called the Salmon House. Almost immediately, it became known as one of the best boarding houses in the region because of its delicious food.

In 1908, Dr. Salmon retired and Jack and Mary Bobo took over the property.

Jack and Mary had been longtime neighbors, as well as classmates. In 1902 they wed in Shelbyville, Tenn., at their minister’s home. The two eventually went into business and moved to Estill Springs with Mary’s half-brother, Frank Evans. Their first daughter was born in 1905.

Eventually, Jack and Mary returned to their hometown of Lynchburg and became the caretakers of the old Salmon House. The couple renamed the property The Bobo Hotel, but continued its reputation of outstanding food and board. It developed as the town’s centerpiece and a permanent fixture, both socially and commercially. In 1913, Mr. Salmon died and the home was sold to the Bobo’s for $2,500.

Jack Bobo died in 1948, but Miss Mary continued to run the boarding house for another 35 years. The boarding house eventually became exclusive to The Jack Daniel Distillery’s invited guests. Throughout a given year, Miss Mary and her staff would feed 50 to 100 people a day, five days a week. And her guest book boasts the signatures of notable guests from around the world. Up until the age of 98, Miss Mary ordered the groceries, planned the menus and wrote the checks.

During Miss Mary’s final years, she continued with her private table and almost every day her daughter and son, also widowed, ate with her. In 1983, Miss Mary died just weeks shy of her 102nd birthday. With her children already in their retirement years, it seemed the boarding house might close its doors for good. However, The Distillery realized the importance of the boarding house to the town and Lynchburg’s vitality. Its charm and country cooking embodied the principle elements of Southern tradition.

The distillery purchased the establishment from Miss Mary Bobo’s heirs. It had been more than 75 years since someone other than Miss Mary Bobo had run the boarding house, but it reopened on May 1, 1984, with Jack Daniel’s great-grandniece, Lynne Tolley, as proprietress.

Employing the same cooks and preparing the same recipes, Miss Mary Bobo’s grew from four dining rooms to five. It no longer boards guests, but continues serving two midday meals. Midday “dinners” are now served as two seatings by reservation only and each guest is guaranteed a unique dining experience.

The dinner bell is rung for each seating, and the guests’ names are called from the reservation list as diners follow their hostesses to the dining tables. Each table is tended by a Lynchburg hostess, ladies from the town who see to it that the plates are kept full, that the conversation is kept lively and everyone has a wonderful time. Two entrees are served each day, depending on the cook’s fancy. They can include anything from Miss Mary’s Famous Chicken and Pastry to meat loaf and roast beef with fresh vegetables served straight from the garden. Hot bread, rolls, or the Southern favorite, cornbread, are made fresh for each meal.

For years, Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House has had a waiting list for the noon-time meals, so to accommodate the need for more seats, renovations were needed. Upon the completion of construction, the newly-renovated restaurant will accommodate 100 guests at each seating. And even though it might be growing to accommodate more guests, Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House won’t lose an ounce of its old Southern charm and history.

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