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Dallas, Texas
National Historical Landmark

FAIR PARK

by Clint Skinner

16. Old Mill Inn

The Old Mill Inn is a restaurant located across the street from Grand Place. However, its original purpose was to serve as the Flour Milling Industry Building for the centennial celebration. Workers made it an exact replica of the Burrus Flour Mill in the town of McKinney, a building which had been around since the early 1800s. The new clone of the building housed exhibits pertaining to the flour mill industry that included three kitchens, a tea room, and an experimental mill. To run the attraction, a group of flour mill companies managed to persuade a national cooking star named Ida Mae Chitwood to take charge.
TX Dallas - Fair Park Old Mill Inn
Old Mill Inn
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016
Born in Tennessee, Ida and her family of twelve moved to Ector, Texas as a result of her father's vocation in the railroad industry. All seemed well for Ida when she married Loren Chitwood and started a raising a daughter. Unfortunately, one day when he was riding a mule, the animal collided into a barbed-wire fence and tried to pull away, resulting in the wire slicing his throat open. Ida was forced to live with her family so she could continue raising her ten-month-old child. Tragedy struck again when her mother died. Afterward, the family decided to move to a town named Clarendon.

Wanting a better life for her daughter Christeen, Ida Chitwood moved back to Tennessee and attended the George Peabody School for Teachers. While she studied there, one of her instructors advised her to become a home demonstration agent. The position would require her to teach cooking skills, canning procedures, nutrition, and other ways to improve household living. She followed the suggestion and acquired her certification from the U. S. Department of Agriculture in 1918. Ida returned to Texas, then began working for Donley County and the surrounding area. Her success led her to opportunities in other regions in the state. While serving Tom Greene County, she encountered Houston Harte, the publisher of San Angelo Standard-Times. He proposed that she should take the cooking portion of her demonstrations and perform them on the road.

Ida decided to give Harte's suggestion a try in 1924. Using only a microphone and her kitchen supplies, she traveled throughout the state providing cooking classes for the public. Her endeavor was an immediate success. During the late 1920s, she moved to University Park in Dallas County. Ida continued gaining fame from her shows and started getting attention from outside the state. By the 1930s, Ida had gained national acclaim, evidenced by the fact that musicians like Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman performed at the beginning of her demonstrations. She traveled from city to city along the railroad system using her own private car, which contained her office, belongings, and supplies.
TX Dallas - Fair Park Old Mill Inn
Old Mill Inn
Photo courtesy Clint Skinner, February 2016

When Ida Chitwood arrived at Fair Park, she taught cooking classes in addition to acting as the building's supervisor. She also spent her time making fresh biscuits absolutely free to those visiting the attraction. Because of hard times, people would wait more than an hour in line to taste the famous cook's food.

After the exposition, the Old Mill Inn eventually became the home of the Borden's Dairy Exhibit at the fair. Children would get to have the chance to meet the family of the company's mascot Elsie. Her husband was named Elmer and her daughter was called Beauregard. The two family members were available for petting along with the matriarch.

The building currently serves as a restaurant specializing in southern cuisine. Open throughout the year, its interior is decorated with remnants of the past. A stairway leading to a private dining area has autographed photos of famous people who have paid a visit. In addition to the customary meals it provides, the restaurant allows guests to participate in a mystery party every Friday and Saturday through a local company called Keith & Margo's Ultimate Mystery Dinner Adventure.

November 5, 2016
© Clint Skinner


FAIR PARK:
Fair Park - Attractions:
1. Fair Park Station
2. Main Entrance
3. Founders Statue
4. Women's Museum
5. DAR House
6. The Texas Vietnam Veterans Memorial
7. Sydney Smith Memorial Fountain
8. Music Hall
9. Fair Park Esplanade
10. Centennial Building
11. Automobile Building
12. Hall of State
13. Tower Building
14. Big Tex Circle
15. Grand Place
16. Old Mill Inn
17. Magnolia Lounge
18. Hall of Religion
19. African American Museum
20. Leonhardt Lagoon
21. Dallas Museum of Natural History
22. Science Place I
23. Children's Aquarium
24. Fair Park Bandshell
25. Texas Discovery Gardens
26. WRR Headquarters
27. Science Place II
28. The Texas Star
29. Cotton Bowl Stadium
30. The Texas Skyway
31. The Embarcadero
32. The Creative Arts Building
33. Food and Fiber Building
34. Pan American Arena
35. The Woofus
36. The Swine Building
37. Briscoe Carpenter Livestock Center
38. Livestock Pavilion and Arena
39. The Horse Barn
40. Fair Park Coliseum
41. Top of Texas Tower


References:
1.Bigtex.com
2.Dallashistory.org
3.Dallas Morning News Archives
4.Fairpark.org
5.Slate, John H. Historic Dallas Parks. Arcadia Publishing, 2010.
6.Tshaonline.org
7.Watermelon-kid.com
8.Wikipedia.org
8.Winters, Willis Cecil. Fair Park. Arcadia Publishing, 2010.

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