CHRISTIANA – Due to the popular Miller’s Grocery, a country café, this tiny rural community’s legend grows.
In this undated photo, employees prepare pies at Miller's Grocery in Christiana, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of Miller's Grocery)
The legends born at Christiana may be bigger than the never-incorporated village itself.
For example, two American presidents, Ulysses S. Grant and Richard M. Nixon, likely knew of the Rutherford County community that developed in the late 1800s as a whistle stop on the old Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad line.
Retired military Col. James M. Grant, a cousin to the president, worked as chief engineer for the railroad construction project, including the Christiana Depot, now faded into the distant past.
How Christiana got its name is a sweet, sweet story.
“Longtime older Christiana residents told me this story,” said Miller’s Grocery co-owner Debbie Barner. “After the railroad was constructed, it was a big deal when trains would stop to load turkeys, sheep and chickens. Farm families from miles around, including Fosterville, Bell Buckle, Eagleville, Fairfield, Beech Grove and Deason, would conduct poultry and livestock drives to ship their animals to market.”
So popular was each new train’s arrival, legend has it young twin girls would appear at the side of the tracks, and faithfully wave at each train’s crew, Barner said.
“The twin girls grew so popular with the train crews, railroad officials decided to name the whistle stop Christiana after the twins, who were named Christy and Anna,” she explained.
That’s the kind of stuff from which folklore legends are born.
There’s another Christiana legend involving Nixon and the late Stanley Miller, who owned the original Miller’s Grocery.
Some of the locals reportedly wagered with Miller in the 1970s that he could not get a phone call through to the White House, so he dialed Washington, D.C., and left a message, asking Nixon to return the phone call to the “mayor” of Christiana.
And Nixon reportedly returned the phone call, later in the day. That’s a tale told decades ago by one of Miller’s descendants.
An interesting fact about that legend is that Christiana has never had a mayor.
Still today, the country café has many loyal customers.
“We come to eat here and fellowship each Tuesday,” said Truman L. Jones Jr., former sheriff of Rutherford County, who is a popular WGNS Radio weekday talk show personality in Murfreesboro.
“I’ll have catfish today,” said Truman’s wife, Jackie Truman, to server Adrian Parsons.
“I love meeting and serving the people,” Parsons remarked. “I’ve worked here more than a year now.”
“Miller’s Grocery is one of our favorite places to eat,” Murfreesboro resident Bill Kennedy added, while dining with his son, Sean.
“It’s a beautiful area – a nice, quiet serene setting,” Lisa Harrell said, as she forked an ample bite of chicken and dressing.
Lisa Harrell should know, for her and husband, James Harrell, an employee of Reeves-Sain Pharmacy in Murfreesboro, reside in Christiana.
“I always order Salisbury steak, with mashed potatoes and gravy, along with green beans,” noted frequent diner Bob Wright.
“I’m ordering a good old-fashioned cheeseburger today,” said his wife, Sheila Wright. “We always come to Miller’s Grocery to eat with friends.”
“I’ll have Salisbury steak, too,” Kent Huggins echoed at another table.
“Give me baked chicken, with Cajun spices,” Murfreesboro resident Jimmy Harris said.
Recently seen at Miller’s Grocery were Erica Salmons and her infant daughter, Scarlett, as they listened to “The Tennessee Waltz” performed by musicians Jeff Blaney and Shawn Supra.
“We play music here each Saturday night,” Supra said.
How Miller’s Grocery evolved from a rural store with two Amoco gas pumps as recent as the 1980s, into a regionally famous iconic eatery is a recipe from which present-day legends are created.
“When there was an auction back in the early-1990s to sell the store, after Miller had died, my husband and I came to bid on the store’s old meat and produce weight scales,” Barner explained. “My husband surprised me and bid on the entire store and property.”
“That’s how the idea for our restaurant was born,” co-owner Lara Phillips added, while extracting a piping hot chocolate pie out of the oven. “Today, we employ about 20 people here in Christiana.”
“Their desserts are to die for,” Regina Nelson proclaimed.
“The pork chops here are better than what my sweet mother used to make back home in Kentucky,” Smyrna preacher Dan Parker said. “But don’t tell Mother I said that.”
The eatery has evolved into a culinary legend since opening in 1996, after being featured on Nashville Public Television’s “Tennessee Crossroads” and showcased in magazines and newspapers too numerous to itemize.
And the legend grows.
“We’ve added a Miller’s Grocery mobile food-vending truck, appearing at Auburntown’s Red Apple Days, Woodbury’s Good Old Days, and we’re scheduled at the nationally famous Jack Daniel’s barbecue contest in October,” Phillips noted. “We’re excited to be expanding our menu throughout Middle Tennessee.”
Today, churches outnumber businesses in quaint and quiet Christiana, tucked serenely about a mile off of U.S. Highway 231 South in the southeast corner of Rutherford County, near the Bedford County line.
Congregations include God’s House of Restoration, formerly the Brandon View Baptist Church founded in 1909 by Rev. A.J. Brandon, Christiana Church of Christ where J.R. Pugh ministers, and Believers Faith Fellowship, led by the Rev. Jason Scales where folks go to define destiny and develop purpose.
The Christiana post office, across the railroad tracks from Miller’s Grocery, helps keep the pulse ticking in the small, but legendary, downtown business district.