Gordonsville Virginia’s Legendary Chicken Vendors

The African-American women of Gordonsville Virginia became known as “Legendary Chicken Vendors”; Orange County’s first female entrepreneurs. Early trains did not have dining cars, and passengers had to eat at trackside establishments. They greeted the waiting railroad cars with trays of fried chicken expertly balanced on their heads and baskets of rolls hanging from their arms, selling fried chicken to passengers through the open windows. No one knows the exact date the custom began–perhaps with that first train.

Trains carrying soldiers during the Civil War were greeted at the depot by crowds of chicken vendors. Chicken legs and breast cost fifteen cents; backs and wings, five and ten cents. By 1879, the Gordonsville Town Council required a “snack vendor’s” license and payment of a license tax by these thriving entrepreneurs!

In 1869, newsman George W. Bagby called Gordonsville “the chicken center of the universe.” In 1871, the C&O Railroad provided northern newspaper editors the opportunity to visit the south. In the book detailing this journey entitled “The Pine and the Palm Greeting; or The Trip of the Northern Editors to the South in 1871”, published in Baltimore in 1873, the chicken vendors were described in detail.

The “Chicken Vendors” came to characterize Gordonsville in the minds of travelers for decades. Gordonsville Fried Chicken and the story of the “chicken vendors” has been featured on restaurant menus as far away as California. The practice continued until the mid-1900s when regulations finally forced them to close down.

On June 15, 2002, a plaque honoring Gordonsville’s Legendary Chicken Vendors “Fried Chicken Capital of the World” was dedicated and recognized as an African American Memorial Site at the Civil War Museum at the Exchange Hotel.

 

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