New owner chosen for controversial Aunt Fanny’s Cabin

A cattle farm business submitted the winning bid for the former Aunt Fanny’s Cabin building and plans to move the structure to Carroll County by July 1.

During a Monday meeting, Smyrna City Council approved Ashley Limousin Farms’ proposal for relocation of the historic cabin, a former restaurant named after Fanny Williams, whose recipes helped to make the establishment famous for its Southern cooking.

Williams was a longtime servant of the Campbell family, the original owners of the restaurant. The former restaurant has been criticized for presenting stereotypes of Black people.

In a letter to the city, Jim Lane of Ashley Limousin, said the farm plans to honor Williams, who was a civil rights activist in her personal life, with a historic plaque.

Lane told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he will decide later how the restaurant building will be restored and memorialized. He’s considering opening a new restaurant in the space in which he would replicate some of Aunt Fanny’s menu items, he said.

Lane, 68, said he dined at the Smyrna restaurant in the late 1970s after moving to Georgia from Pennsylvania, and again in the mid-1980s.

“It was great cooking,” Lane said.

But, Lane said while “good,” “bad” and “ugly” issues surround the former restaurant, he didn’t take issue with it at the time.

“Maybe I perceive it differently from a lot of people,” the new cabin owner said. “I never perceived it as racial stereotyping. It was another way of doing business back then.”

Lane will pay nothing for the condemned building but will take on the expense of moving it from its current location, 2875 Atlanta Road. He did not share what the estimated cost would be.

“It was built by farmers and is distinct to the era,” he said. “It has unique architecture on the inside ... wood framework ... and back then instead of cement they used mud for the fireplaces.”

Lane was one of three bidders that met Smyrna’s criteria for acquiring the cabin. The two losing proposals were submitted by The Coalition to Save Aunt Fanny’s Cabin and Karen Shockley, owner of Whey to Go juice bars.

The coalition submitted two proposals. The original submission proposed moving the cabin to the Rose Garden community of Smyrna. The group’s second submission proposed keeping the cabin at its current location.

Shockley’s submission proposed moving the cabin to a property on Austell Powder Springs Road.

City Council approved the winning proposal in a 4-2 vote with Councilmembers Susan Wilkinson and Charles Welch casting opposing votes.

Wilkinson and Welch described the selection process as rushed and added that it did not include time to implement a scoring system to help officials decide on the best proposal.

At Wilkinson’s request, several people in attendance in support of Aunt Fanny’s Cabin remaining at its current location stood from their seats.

“How do we preserve history when the physical space is no longer there?” Wilkinson said.

In support of the cabin’s removal from the city, Councilman Tim Gould complained that after the Campbell family, subsequent owners of the restaurant continued to exploit Williams’ likeness for nearly 50 years after her death. Before the restaurant closed in 1992, it featured Black boys as servers who wore wooden menu boards around their necks. Framed slave advertisements reportedly decorated the walls.

After the cabin is removed, Smyrna plans to honor Williams’ accomplishments with a memorial that is being decided by a committee that includes Gould and community leaders.

As a civil rights activist, Williams spoke out against the Ku Klux Klan and helped to raise money to build the state’s first all-Black hospital in Marietta, as well as Atlanta’s Wheat Street Baptist Church where she was a member. She died in 1949.