Fire at Weaver’s Hot Dogs in London

Weaver's Hot Dogs Feb 2, 2015
London Fire Departments Fighting the Fire at Weaver’s Hot Dogs – London, Kentucky.
Photo by Willie Sawyers of the London Sentinel-Echo.

Fire engulfed a London, Kentucky landmark early yesterday morning. Weaver’s Hot Dogs had been operated by the Weaver family since 1940. In its original iteration, Weaver’s operated as a pool hall. Future plans for Weaver’s, and for the structure it occupied for decades, remain unknown. According to news reports, “Weaver’s was destroyed.”

Famous Chili Dogs

The Laurel County institution was most famous for its chili dogs.

According to family history, the current owner’s grandfather “purchased the chili [recipe] in the 1940s for $25 from a man in Corbin, Ky. who was on his way to New Mexico. [Weaver] took the recipe and tweaked it a little bit and made it his own.”

The following clip from KET highlights just how good those chili dogs were and gives a good perspective of how history played a role in the 70+ year old business. At one point, the location is even described as hosting a virtual history of London.

Several hundred hot dogs consumed each day alongside 90 pounds of made-daily chili. Wow! And a look at the menu revealed that Weaver’s was Kentucky Proud and that it also offered quite a bit more than hot dogs.

Alan Cornett, on his blog Eat Kentucky, noted that the Weaver’s experience was unexpected: a sidewalk sign for hot dogs leads to the expectation of “a bar stool and counter type steup, but Weaver’s, although casual, is a sit down, full-service restaurant.” Cornett concluded that Weaver’s to be “a gem of southeastern Kentucky eating.”

131 North Main Street

Weaver’s location is at 131 North Main Street, is part of the London Downtown Historic District and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register provides this description for 131 North Main:

The Kroger Company was founded in 1883 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and soon became one of the leading
grocery store chains in the upland south. The building is a 1-story 1-bay one-part commercial block
masonry building built in the period 1920-1929. The foundation is undetermined. Exterior walls are
replacement wood paneling. Flat roof clad in replacement rubberized/asphalt composite. While the
front facade has been altered the sides of the building and the rear are original brick. The massing
steps downward toward the rear and the cornice is topped by leaded metal coping.

Imagine just how many Londoners and visitors to the south central Kentucky town, alike, visited this building either during its long life as Weaver’s or before when Kroger occupied the space? Do you have memories of eating at Weaver’s? Share them in the comments! Do you remember when Kroger was on this part of Main Street?

Weaver’s expanded recently into the newer adjacent building (built in the 1930s) that once housed Golde’s Clothing Store.

A Community Landmark

Weaver’s Facebook page is already full of comments from patrons and friends alike mourning the loss, recalling good times, and hoping for a grand reopening:

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Bonnie’s comment of the community’s “strong connection to Weaver’s” speaks volumes of how important Weaver’s was and is to London, Kentucky. The desire for Weaver’s to reopen is strong (I certainly hope it does, because I’ve never gotten to try that chili dog!) and I hope that Weaver’s remains part of the character of downtown London, Kentucky. If it re-opened elsewhere, would Weaver’s be the same? 

Another video offers an unfiltered take on Weaver’s from its patrons, staff and owners:

Whispers in Washington

Word of Weaver’s and its long history have even reached the halls of Congress. In 2011, Senator Mitch McConnell rose to honor Clyde Brock (then 94 years old, Mr. Brock passed away in January 2012). Senator McConnell described Brock as “one of Kentucky’s inspiration treasures” and appreciated how Brock had “remembered for us the monumental events and cherished memories that helped shape his life.” Among those memories included in the Congressional Record were Brock’s college days at Sue Bennett College and his recollection of Weaver’s pool room where “you could get a hamburger and a bottle of pop there and it would cost about 15 cents.”

Prices have gone up, but the same order remained under $5.

And McConnell’s mention certainly wasn’t Weaver’s sole claim to fame. The photo-lined wall revealed many famed visitors including former Senator and Vice-President Alben Barkley.

But whether its customers walked the halls of power or the sidewalks of London, it seems like Weaver’s was a place that had a lasting impression on those who dined within.

I haven’t been there before, but I hope I’m there for the re-opening. Fingers crossed.

kernel: Eight New Kentucky National Register of Historic Places Sites

Livingston County Courthouse and Clerk’s Office
(Photo: Dr. Dianne O’Bryan, 2010)

In minutes released last week, the National Register of Historic Places has accepted eight Kentucky sites from the thirteen recommended by the Kentucky Heritage Council. Those approved include historic district, rural groceries, and civic buildings. Remarkably, three of the accepted sites were motels in the Bardstown area:

CALLOWAY COUNTY  (#11000792)

704 Vine St., Murray
LAUREL COUNTY (#11000793)
Main St. between W. 6th & W. 5th Sts., London
351 Court St., Smithland
NELSON COUNTY (#11000797)
321 W. Stephen Foster Ave., Bardstown
NELSON COUNTY (#11000799)
414 Stephen Foster Ave., Bardstown
NELSON COUNTY (#11000800)
530 N. 3rd St., Bardstown
TODD COUNTY (#11000801)
Roughly bounded by Ewing, Park & Cherry Sts., Guthrie
WARREN COUNTY (#11000802)
7286 Cemetery Rd., Bowling Green

Save the Pennington House

Pennington House, London, Ky.
Photo by Tom Eblen, Lexington H-L. Used c Permission.

Surface parking lots and parking garages are necessities – we have to park our vehicles so we can shop, eat, etc. (absent public transportation options … of which there are few in Kentucky). Downtown Lexington is filled with surface lots which always raises the question for me, “What used to be there?”

London, Kentucky – with its new courthouses – knows the answer to that question and has the opportunity to stop the destruction of the pre-Civil War Pennington House. The issue is before the Laurel County Fiscal Court: Should the county acquire the property for a surface lot? (The source of funds appears to be excess funds from the courthouse construction; the desire to spend comes from the “use it or lose it” mentality).

In the words of Realtor Chris Robinson, the answer is no. “Any community can have a gravel parking lot. Only London can have the Pennington House.” Although eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, the effort has never been made for the Pennington House. As a result, some of its story is more difficult to find. But it appears that this house has survived threats before. London experienced five large-scale fires in 1891, 1892, 1893, 1909 and 1910. In 1974, a tornado missed the house by 100 feet. But the threat of demolition for a parking lot may be the home’s greatest threat to date.  If you are from Laurel County, speak loudly to your local officials. Let’s do what we can to save this London treasure.

Sources: Tom Eblen (Lex. H-L); Tara Kaprowy (Sentinel Echo); Nita Johnson (Sentinel Echo)

Laurel County Courthouse – London, Ky.

Let me start by saying that the Kentucky Almanac led me astray on the Rockcastle County factoid. There appear to be a number of counties that are not named after people, i.e. Ohio and today’s entry, Laurel County.
Downtown London is really nice. Its very clean, and contains a nice mix of older and new buildings. London’s appreciation for aesthetics is really evident in the courthouse pictured above. It is the third courthouse to sit on this site, after a second was destroyed by fire. This Georgian-style courthouse was built in 1961, yet looks much, much older.

London is also home to a Federal building and courthouse, pictured above. The old Federal building is to the left, and a new Federal Courthouse fits in perfectly with the surroundings. Then, across the street sits. . .

This insanely huge judicial center. I don’t know if the massiveness of the building is really conveyed by this picture, but I can’t imagine that enough business is conducted in Laurel County to necessitate this thing. Maybe I’m wrong.

No Destination: Kentucky Fried Chicken

If you travel abroad and say that you are from Kentucky, the majority of people identify our home state with delicious, fried chicken. Colonel Harland David Sanders, a Colonel in the Order of Kentucky Colonels and which is not a military rank but rather a distinction for honored Kentuckians, moved from Indiana to Corbin, Kentucky in 1930 where a service station was opened. A lunchroom followed, and this was by continued expansion and growth of the Sander’s Cafe.

When the service station and cafe burned in 1939, Sanders rebuilt using a cafe-motel model. The Colonel operated the Sander’s Court and Cafe until the construction of I-75 took business away from the local roads. He auctioned the building and began to franchise his Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Today, the franchise is owned by Louisville-based Yum! Brands. Yum! also owns the old Court and Cafe and utilizes it as both an active franchise and a museum. Pictured above is a recreated kitchen from the days of the Court and Cafe. For more, check out Nate’s visit in January.

Spontaneous Sightseeing: Sanders Cafe: Corbin, Ky.

Last Thursday I happened to be in Corbin for a hearing. Corbin, interestingly enough, is one of few cities in Kentucky that is in two counties (Whitley and Knox). In fact, an unincorporated portion of Corbin is actually in a third county (Laurel), but due to state law, a city cannot be located in three counties.
I found Corbin to be notable because of its relative lack of a cohesive downtown area – probably because it isn’t a county seat, and lacks a true courthouse area and the traffic and businesses such a center brings. Anyway, I decided for some random reason to go through town on my way back home, and I literally stumbled upon the Sanders Cafe – the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken. I had yet to eat lunch, so I figured why not? So I followed my instincts and “ate where it all began.”
The Sanders Cafe is weird. Putting aside the fact that it is a KFC with a museum in it, the building itself is a bizarre blending of the past and the present. Imagine taking a full service KFC counter and those plastic booths they have and dumping it inside of a Cracker Barrel. This is sort of the feel of the place. There is also a fully accurate recreation of Colonel Sanders’ kitchen, and a mock up of what a room in the old hotel that the Colonel ran looked like.
As I ate my chicken sandwich and potato wedges, I began to realize that given its stature throughout the rest of the world, I was probably sitting in the most famous place in all of Kentucky. In a way, I guess this was sort of sad, but in another way I guess its better than what other states have as their claim to fame.
I guess its better than nothing to be known around the world for good food and hospitality – and pretty cool string ties.

No Destination: London

I intended to go to Powell County and to Stanton before returning home. But rather then turning in Livingston, I went straight. Oops. I discovered my mistake upon seeing the “Laurel County” sign.

The drive into London on US-25(S) is beautiful as you drive through the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains. I called a friend who now lives in London, hoping to stop in for a visit. As a result of my ill-timed phone call, I missed Camp Wildcat (which was the site of an 1861 Civil War skirmish). But that was OK as the plum tart was well worth it!

I will leave London to Nate and to the Kentucky 120 Project as the town was built around its Courthouses. The county courthouse looks older than it is. Even so, a new courthouse is under construction. There is an old federal courthouse, as well as a new one (pictured). Quite a judicial metropolis for a town of only 6,000 inhabitants.

I hope to visit Laurel County again to visit its non-London areas: the Cumberland Gap, the original KFC and the annual World Chicken Festival (which I missed by only two weeks!).