A newspaper article in the November 25, 1905 issue of the Greensboro Daily News. The author is unknown. Accessed courtesy of Newspapers.com and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Greensboro Daily News, while not a source specific to Chapel Hill, was a newspaper operating in the surrounding area at the time in question. This specific excerpt is from November 25, 1905. The author begins the above article by responding to this comment from an unknown source: “fewer larger dinners were given now than formerly.” [1] The rest of the article is spent refuting this statement and showing that, in fact, the opposite trend is true. The author provides evidence to the contrary, that the higher tiers of society, those that have the means to throw opulent dinner parties, are doing so with increasing frequency and several changes to the norms of dining have followed suit.

The first change that the author notes is the increase in eating large dinners in peoples private homes and the increase in eating dinners in restaurants. The former is attributed to the fact that “few private dwellings included a good-sized dining room.” [1] It can be inferred that since both of these trends are on the rise and both eating in restaurants and having large dining rooms require material wealth and financial stability, that there is a marked increase in societal wealth occurring at this time. This increase in societal wealth is what sets the stage for an “age of decadence.”

In quoting a caterer, the author writes that dinner parties: “given by older generations of fashionables were Puritan in simplicity and as dull as a dictionary. The stately dinner is a thing of the past.” [1] This stands in stark contrast to the descriptions he later gives of modern dinners in which he notes a battle of dinner party opulence comparable to that of the arms race, a constant competition to see who could one-up the last person to have a dinner party to be fancier, more entertaining, and more extravagant. The author also notes that the membership of this tier, “the plutocrats” as he refers to them, is growing in size as more and more people found themselves newly wealthy. The author notes that specifically the newly rich were taking part in this trend. In speaking of these “newly rich” he says: “ Their dinners, it has come to pass, lead all the rest, not only in splendor of appointments, but in fun and gaiety.” [1]

It is also of note that as more of this wealth and prosperity proliferated in the North Carolina region, these dinner parties became so commonplace that the middle class, those that did not have the means to match the extravagance of the wealthy, began trying to keep pace with the splendor of the plutocratic meals. The article speaks of the members of this class with great disdain, saying: “Even among the very rich in these days the emulation to outdo one another in the splendor of their entertainments is amazing, but it is not nearly so serious, so pathetic, so surprising, as the endeavors of people of moderate means to keep up with the pace of the plutocrats.” [1] This quote allows the envisioning of the disparity of wealth and class status that was so prevalent at the time.

It can be assumed that these societal and economic trends and similar disparities of newly found wealth and old “blue blood” money were fairly uniform from Greensboro to Chapel Hill as they are so close in proximity. Thus, the trends in dining and dinner opulence likely followed. This article then gives us a fairly accurate description of what Chapel Hill’s food scene and the atmosphere surrounding private dinner parties was like at the time. The extravagance of these dinner parties, while mostly focused on entertainment and showmanship, also shifted heavier focus on dining as a whole and thus onto the food that was being served. The fine dining we enjoy in Chapel Hill today and the Chapel Hill food story as a whole may very well owe its beginnings to this culinary arms race.   

-Eron Lutterman


[1] “Greensboro Daily News.” 25 Nov. 1905. Accessed October 3, 2018. https://universityofnorthcarolinaatchapelhill.newspapers.com/image/63396596/?terms=Greensboro_Daily_News_Sat__Nov_25__1905