From Days Past...The Hay Days of the Blue Goose Cafe
Blue Goose cafes, bars, restaurants were located throughout the United States in the 1930s. It took its name from an earlier time in railroad history. The railroad’s only one-of-a-kind steam engine was painted an unusual robin’s egg blue and silver, and was thus nicknamed the Blue Goose in the 1930’s.
In Starkville, the Blue Goose Cafe was located at 615 Gillespie Street just around the bend from the GM&O and the Illinois Central railroads. Being near the college, made it a favorite hangout for college students. Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Raines opened it in 1933.
It operated during the time of segregation. Notice there are two doors on the front of the photo. There are no signs but everyone somehow must have known which door to use. There was a solid wall between the two areas inside. Whites used the door on the left and African Americans used the door on the right. The doors on the south were used by carhops serving customers parked in their cars on the Gillespie Street side of the building.
The Blue Goose became only a memory when it was demolished in the 1970’s to make way for new streets and buildings as part of the city’s Urban Renewal Program. Memories of it will linger as long as there are MSU alumni of the 1930’s around and local residents who still remember the Blue Goose’s claim of the best hamburgers in town.
The memories of the Blue Goose belonged especially to the mystique of the shimmering Big Dance Era of the 1930s and the Mississippi State students who spent many romantic evenings in the café. Students would import their dates from as far as New Orleans for the big fall and spring dances, which were the main attraction of the semester and in between fraternity parties would hold their own dances…each trying to outdo the other.
The young ladies wore long; sweeping gowns then, softly contoured in feminine lines, and smelled of Evening in Paris perfume. The gentlemen wore tuxedos and Palmolive aftershave and presented corsages to their ladies. The dances would be held in the campus cafeteria, which was lauded as the largest campus cafeteria in the world. Decorating committees worked long into the night and all day on bright and fancy ornaments and every committee had as its goal to top the committee preceding it.
Such top national bands as Kay Kyser, “The Genial Gentleman from the South;” George Olsen and his “Music of Tomorrow”; Will Osborne, creator of “Slide Music”; Little Jack Little; Rita Rio and her All-Girl Orchestra; Jack Teagarden, “Troubadour of the Trombone”, and Horace Heidt and Dorothy Lamore, played at MSU’s big dances during the 30s.
Local and college bands played for the intermittent fraternity dances and a favorite for such affairs was “Mitt Evans and the Collegians.” Each lady would carry her “no-break book” with her in hopes many dashing young guys would sign it. No-breaks were special selections in which a moon-struck lad could dance a whole number with his lovely lass, assured no other ambitious guy would break in.
Many shared the splendor of those romantic evenings under starlit Southern skies, and they became a way of life for almost all Starkville. Local residents housed young ladies here for weekend dances. Mrs. Pearl Davis roomed girls for $2 a night in her home, which stood where Regions Bank makes its home on Main Street.
Alumni and old grads recall such places in the Hartness House, where some bands spent the night and the Hotel Chester where intermissions from the dances were spent with fondness. But the Blue Goose holds a special spot in the hearts of many because that was where the final hours of the evening dwindled away.
Three or four hundred sandwiches were made on dance night and kept hot all evening until students would pour into the Blue Goose, thirsty and tired from dancing the Big Apple or Bunny Hop, cheek-to-cheek and even the Charleston.
Sandwiches were made hours ahead of time because “if you didn’t, you would never get around to all the students and their dates,” said Mrs. Raines. Even with a number of carhops and eight girls working behind the counter, rush hour proved a strain on the small business.
On weeknights the Blue Goose would bake only three hams, but on weekends the orders mounted to six hams and even more sometimes when fraternities ordered them for special events.
Mrs. Raines said, “she could remember nights when there was standing room only in the little restaurant,” and on dance nights, she said, “you could look out the windows and view hundreds of cars, as far as eye could see” “Seems like we were all one big happy family then,” said Mrs. Raines.
State alumni laughingly recall those days, and never fail to mention that beer was legal here at that time and sold in the Blue Goose. Oktibbeha County became “dry” during a special election in 1937 when 821 voted to make the sale of beer illegal here and 421 voted to retain it.
For those who were a part of that age, when being young was to be alive, fresh and funny, there will always be a special place in memory for the Blue Goose.
Along with the Blue Goose, the Raines family has played a major role in the area of business in Starkville. To name some of the family connected businesses, Mr. Raines father owned a store, The Vernon Chesteens (Mrs. Doris Raines Chesteen, daughter ), University Motel, The Derby, Gas Island and others; V. J. Robinson (Mrs. Faye Raines Robinson, daughter), Western Auto; Joyce Raines Garnett (daughter), antique store; and J. B. Raines, (son), auto salvage. I am sure there are others but these were the ones the people I contacted named.
Visit the museum to see a beautiful painting of the Blue Goose on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday from 1 to 4 p.m.
Joe Phillips Remembers...
A 1938 MSU graduate who owned and operated the local radio station said people would ask him about the Blue Goose Café and he would tell them, “They made some excellent sandwiches and they were always tops and reputed to be the finest you could buy.” The big dances on campus were, “a touch of the Old South like down in Natchez during the Civil War.”
Jim Buck Ross Remembers...
The longtime State Agriculture Commissioner said, “the building was picturesque and had its own atmosphere.” Yes, it had great sandwiches and tasty drinks, and good music from a jukebox – but it had something more. It was the only café in town that burned the midnight oil, waiting to serve students after dances on the State campus. The Blue Goose Café was a part of making student life at Mississippi State enjoyable and fondly remembered.
Henry Meyer Remembers...
Part Owner of Starkville Daily News and later Journalism professor at MSU said, “The dances were such an attraction that some even risked the wrath of their parents to go to them.” Often I sneaked to State from Alabama where I was a student, just for an evening of dancing. On one such trip, a friend and I were stranded in Artesia having traveled on the old GM&O and paid someone $5 to take us to West Point where we dressed for the dance in a barber shop, paying the barber 25 cents to use his soap and water.
Lena Scurria Remembers...
Longtime City Clerk of Starkville said, “I remember seeing the girls in their long dresses but my father would not let me attend the gala events, and I always watched the more fortunate with a wistful eye.”
James L. Young, Sr. Remembers...
Mr. Young said, “I grew up in the “Needmore” area on Spring Street, so the Blue Goose was in my neighborhood.” I passed by it every day as I walked to school. I remember the inside counters and stools but no tables. My favorite food served there was a foot long hot dog, which was served with mustard, onions, relish and ketchup. I remember large crowds of African Americans who enjoyed going there to eat. Today, Mr. Young is Supervisor of District 5 of Oktibbeha County Mississippi and fondly remarked, “you know, the Blue Goose location is now in my district!”
Currie and Joyce Smith Remembers...
Longtime residents of Starkville said, “It was the place to go in Starkville!” When we were young, we would go there and eat and dance. They had a pinball machine inside and a jukebox. It was a busy place. You could park your car outside on the Gillespie Street side and have a carhop come take your order and bring it to you or you could go inside and enjoy the music, the pinball machine, and dancing on dance nights.
Currie said, “The Blue Goose burned twice during the 1940s.” When it was rebuilt the ceilings were made of 1x4 pine lumber. The wood was then scorched with a blowtorch making it a beautiful red-brown color. The outside was painted a beautiful blue. The Smith’s reminisced about the Raines family and that The Blue Goose was a family run business. Joyce spoke of Viola and Ishman Vann working there who were part of the family and Currie spoke of Troy Raines, who was the cook and said, “no one could cook like Troy.” Currie remembers their barbecues as the very best he has ever tasted to this very day. They didn’t use barbecue sauce…only the very best meat on a bun with lettuce and tomato and mayonnaise. Then, it was cut into half and a toothpick placed in each half and wrapped and served. He said, “I remember going there many times and buying a sack full.” We have very fond memories of many good times shared with many good friends at the Blue Goose!