Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tea Room brought a bit of class to 1950's Chadron

by Larry Miller

When the November edition of the Golden Age Courier arrived last week, we immediately recognized the subject featured on the front:  Doell Tea Room.

Located at 376 Bordeaux Street (northeast corner of Fourth and Bordeaux), the Doell Tea Room was a large two-story home.  In the 1950's, the Northwestern Bell Telephone Office was situated across the street to the west.  The newer brick telephone office building reflected a revitalized and seemingly modern commercial activity.  The Doell home was more sedate, identified by a simple sign in the front yard announcing the Doell Tea Room.  Without the sign, it was another large and well-groomed house, but there was little else to distinguish it from other old and elegant homes in Chadron.

For those of us who were younger, the "Tea Room" sign was a bit of a puzzlement.  "What exactly is a tea room" I'm sure many of us wondered.  Alas, some of us would have to wait half a century to find out.

And as it happens, the Doell Tea Room was quite special. 

Its story was told by two of the Doell daughters, Carol and Ann.  Although the youngest of the three Doell girls, Ann has been able to provide considerable information about the business, which seems today something of an anachronism.

A 1950 wedding at Doell Tea Room in Chadron 
Carl and Emma Doell came to Chadron from eastern Nebraska.  The name "Doell" had long been associated with a grocery store in Norfolk operated by Doell relatives.  Daughter Ann said the move to Chadron came after Carl and Emma lost their small grocery store in Fremont during the Great Depression.  

Ann told us that her mother was a very outgoing person, and it wasn't long after arriving in Chadron that Emma -- in the 1940's -- opened a cafe on the east side of Second and Main, just a few doors north of the current post office.  Old-timers will remember it as being adjacent to the Newsy Nook on the south and O'Neill Photo on the north.

Emma Doell ran the Doell Tea Room
"Mom's sister and husband, Ann and Mark Patterson, were already living in Chadron with their son, Merrill," wrote Ann.  "I believe it was like a working man's cafe with a long counter only and daily specials.  Not sure how long she was at this location."

Some will remember the "Sandwich Shop" in this vicinity during the 1950s, and that may very well have been the same business once operated by Emma Doell.

"They were renting a small house from Ann and Mark on Maple St., and then they bought the big house on Bordeaux."

That larger house at 4th and Bordeaux was known as the "Richert" house, and Doells bought it from Mr. and Mrs. Harry Jolly in 1946. "Doell Tea Room" would host wedding receptions, sorority and fraternity dinners, bridge parties, monthly gatherings of the Business and Professional Women, and once in a while even poker parties!  Ann noted that "people would call and set a date with information on the number of people and then pick a menu."  She and her younger brother, Bob, were too young to remember a lot about the Tea Room, "but I do remember they had us out of the way in the kitchen with coloring books and story time on the radio," she said, recounting programs like Amos and Andy, Jack Benny, Gene Autry, the Lone Ranger, and others.

"Mom worked hard making all the dinners from scratch, and it was always good.  The kitchen always smelled good!  Her clover leaf rolls and pies were the best!  The steaks were grilled on the big wood stove in the kitchen.  The iron top would get sooooo hot!  We would all get to seating and would open doors and windows, no matter the weather."

"The hard times for her were when more people came than expected and she was expected to make things 'stretch.'  Not like now days with freezers and extra to pull things together."

"I asked mom once 'why the name Tea Room?'   She just say 'Why not?'   I guess then it was a common name, while now it would conjure up a women's club, cucumber sandwiches and such."

Installation of officers for the Chadron Business
and Professional Women (BPW)  -  April 1954
Ann's older sister, Carol Doell Brookins recalls that they had a big mangle machine in the kitchen, used for pressing the table cloths and napkins.  "Mom didn't let me do the table cloths, but I did get to do the napkins while I was studying school books."

She remembered, too, that the kitchen and dining room were connected with a swinging door.  The living room was also large and had a piano, which came in handy for the various programs.  The front hal, she said, had all the extra folding chairs, tables and coat racks.

"Back then," Carol recalled, "the house had only one bathroom.  Unfortunately for many, it was upstairs, which made it a real trek for bad knees."  

She noted that most of the gatherings were of women who played bridge and usually ate a salad and desert, or warm creamed chicken over home-made biscuits with fruit and a cookie.

"The wedding receptions were great!  Emma always made the mints in their colors, with mixed nuts, coffee and tea or punch.  They sometimes had champagne," said Carol.

Gov. Val Peterson (1947-53)
"One of the parties was for then Nebraska Governor Val Peterson.  A bunch of business and professional men met for a meeting.  I just heard a lot of talking and laughing.  When my sister Margery and I would enter the room, it would get quiet, and when we left they would maybe finish a joke.  They smoked big fat cigars and told jokes -- no liquor!  They had big thick steaks, baked potatoes, home-made pie and ice cream.  They were on happy bunch of men!"

"A couple of weeks later, my sister and I received a very nice letter from the Governor thanking us for everything.  I saw him a few years later and asked him about the dinner.  He said he remembered the steaks and the young girls who served the dinner."

The older Doell sisters, Carol and Margery, graduated from Chadron Prep in the 1950s.  Ann graduated from Chadron High School in 1962, and Bob graduated from CHS in 1963.  Emma Doell died in 1998.   The children are scattered across the country; Carol lives in Iowa, Margery in Virginia, Ann is in New Mexico, and Bob lives in Oregon. 

During the 1950's, the Doell Tea Room was an special meeting place for numerous organizations.  Daughter Carol says she doesn't remember exactly when or why the Tea Room closed its doors, but people continued to make requests for dinner tools, pies, and mints. 

"People really were wanting her to stay open."