9-11 Exchange St.
Today: Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice parking lot
Yesterday: Exchange Restaurant, 1916-1920
On the menu: Thanksgiving dinner, 75 cents (Nov. 29, 1917)
W.H. Taylor presumably didn’t grow up celebrating Thanksgiving in London: It’s likely the Briton didn’t even encounter the holiday until he gave up his job at a London dry goods shop for a role in an American production of "When Knighthood Was in Flower," a tremendously popular play about Mary Tudor.
But Taylor didn’t stint on Thanksgiving at the Exchange Restaurant. Around 1904, Taylor traded acting for a hospitality career in Charleston, assigning the name “Exchange” to a succession of ever-bigger venues. The last of them opened on Thanksgiving Day, 1918, with a prix-fixe turkey dinner.
Although no menu survives, Taylor the previous year had charged 75 cents for a meal featuring vermicelli soup, beet salad, oyster dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, steamed rice, candied yams and pumpkin pie, as well as the starring roast turkey. Yet in 1918, the biggest draw may have been Metz’s Orchestra.
Taylor was fond of entertainment. Over the years, he exhibited a rare spiny lobster and hosted the Charleston Symphony Trio. Still, the Exchange’s most consistent offering was music to dance by, which for many years was considered an integral part of celebrating Thanksgiving.
Decades before Thanksgiving was observed in the South, New Englanders were attending Thanksgiving Balls. As James W. Baker writes in "Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday," throughout the 19th century, “Thanksgiving was one of the few extended periods of leisure in the New England calendar ... men used the time to go hunting, gambling or gather in taverns, while women bought new outfits and met the menfolk at the numerous balls and dance parties.”
The emergence of the family meal as a focus of the holiday didn’t slow Americans’ dancing feet. “Who ever heard of Thanksgiving without a dance?” one character asks another in a short story published in 1921 by The Young Woman’s Journal.
“Pooh!” her friend responds. “What is there to be thankful for without a dance?”
In Charleston, at least some of that dancing was done at Exchange Restaurant. On Thanksgiving 1917, before the restaurant relocated to larger quarters, Adelina Taylor invited 17 fellow teens — seven girls, 10 boys — to join her there.
“Refreshments were served during the evening, and dancing was kept up until the early hours of the morning,” The News and Courier reported.
— Hanna Raskin