A visit to Abbeville may remind you of
the movie It’s A Wonderful Life. While the druggist divide at the old-fashioned soda fountain at Huggin’ Molly’s is a replica from the film, the most striking similarity between Abbeville and Bedford Falls is the influence of a native son.
Like George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life, Jimmy Rane has had a tremendous influence on his hometown. Known nationally as Yella Fella in television commercials, the president and CEO of Great Southern Wood Preserving, Inc. has led the revitalization in the town.
Inspired by their father, Jimmy and his brother Greg grew Great Southern Wood into the largest producer of pressure-treated pine in the world. While the company has grown from a single facility to 11 plants across the Southeast and Midwest, Jimmy’s heart has remained in Abbeville.
Jimmy has fond childhood memories of growing up in the small town. Among his favorite memories is watching western movies at the Archie Theater on Saturday afternoons. After purchasing the building, he restored the façade of the theater to look as it did when he was growing up and plans to one day show classic films in the theater. At night, the marquee lights up.
When his company needed more corporate office space, Jimmy decided instead of constructing flashy new buildings he would renovate structures in town. A Standard Oil station from his childhood was converted into offices known as the “Wood Oil” building.
Don’t be fooled when you pull up to the vintage gas pumps that lend authenticity to the look of a gas station. An old-fashioned Coca Cola cooler holds drinks for employees. The vintage look continues on the interior with memorabilia from the 1950s.
A former attorney and a member of the Auburn University Board of Trustees, Jimmy has an interest in preserving more than wood. “Preserving history in educational ways is something I love to do,” he says.
Storefronts and other buildings in the town have been renovated. Windows display antiques and vintage items from his collection.
At Huggin’ Molly’s, the window is filled with jars of old-fashioned penny candy. Walking in the restaurant is like stepping back to a time when life was a slower pace. Jimmy desires today’s children to experience a glimpse of life in the 50s when he would stop by a drugstore after school for a Cherry Coke.
The restaurant is named after a local legend told to Jimmy and his friends growing up to assure they would be home before dark. “Huggin’ Molly was supposedly seven feet tall and as big around as a bale of cotton,” remembers Jimmy. “She’d walk the streets of Abbeville at night. If she saw you, she’d chase you down, give you a huge hug and scream in your ear.”
Originally, the restaurant was going to be strictly a soda fountain where children could sit on the red stools enjoying milk shakes while watching sandwiches being prepared. After deciding to add burgers to the menu, Huggin’ Molly’s soon grew into a full restaurant serving lunch and dinner, expanding into two other buildings.
Brick walls from the original 1906 businesses remain, and display vintage and antique signs, posters and other collectables.
The 1926 soda fountain fixtures were found in a drugstore in Pittsburgh. Three reproductions were constructed: the marble soda fountain, the back bar and the druggist divide, which was built to model Mr. Gower’s from the classic Jimmy Stewart movie.
The lunch menu is southern, offering fried green tomatoes, sweet potato fries, fried cheese biscuits served with caramelized onion butter, and assorted salads and sandwiches.
Two specialty sandwiches are featured. Mr. Tony’s Diplomat was Jimmy’s father’s favorite when he was in the restaurant business. The triple-decker sandwich layers turkey, ham, Swiss cheese and slaw grilled on rye bread.
The 431 Steak Sandwich was served at the former Lee’s Drive-in in Eufaula. Tenderized pork loin is breaded and deep-fried and served with lettuce and tomato on a bun.
Among the salad selections, the homemade salad plate offers a choice of old fashioned or chunky chicken salad served with Georgia Cracker Salad and a fruit cup.
Order a drink from the soda fountain or the standard sweet tea. Assorted desserts are available including Golly Molly and Molly’s Blonde Sister.
The dinner menu offers a variety of beef, seafood, chicken and local favorites such as fried quail with cheese grits. Seafood is purchased fresh from a local market. In keeping with the theme, a traditional 50s-style filet mignon is included.
“Huggin’ Molly’s has been a great surprise to me,” says Jimmy, who opened the restaurant in 2006. “I always knew it would be well-received, but I never realized that it might draw people from surrounding areas to Abbeville. We’ve had lots of church groups, civic clubs and other organizations come to Huggin Molly’s, and it’s always a treat to hear someone say how much they love taking a walk down memory lane when they’re here.”
One of the biggest attractions of the year is Yatta Abba Day, which will be held Saturday, May 8. The name Yatta Abba comes from the Creek Indians meaning “grove of dogwoods.” The name was adapted to name Abbie Creek, which flows nearby.
Along with artists and musicians, the event will offer storytellers and a cemetery walk with volunteers in period costumes portraying founding fathers and interesting characters from the past.
While spending the day in Abbeville, visit the Bethune-Kennedy House, the oldest structure in town, which was owned by a Confederate colonel. It currently houses the Chamber of Commerce.
The Methodist Episcopal Church, South was established in 1830 and is of interest with its wood craftsmanship.
Before returning home, stroll on Main Street to observe antiques in storefronts and sip a specialty milk shake on a swivel stool at the soda fountain. You just might see Jimmy Rane drive by in a 1957 Chevy.
For further information, call 334.585.7000 or visit the website www.hugginmollys.com.