The Gaines Ridge Dinner Club in Camden, Wilcox County, is located in a historic home built by Rev. Ebenezer Hearn, who became known as the “Father of Methodism” in Alabama. Since 1985, the house has been a restaurant and event venue known for its black-bottom pie.
Gaines Ridge Dinner Club The “Hearn Home” was constructed in 1837 for the Rev. Ebenezer Hearn and his wife Mary Walker Hearn. Ebenezer was a soldier in both the War of 1812 and the Creek War who served under Andrew Jackson before becoming the first Methodist minister assigned to the Alabama Territory by the Methodist Tennessee Conference. Hearn preached his first sermon in the territory in April 1818 and then traveled throughout the territory establishing and organizing churches in Shelby, St. Clair, Jefferson, Tuscaloosa, and Cotaco (present-day Morgan) Counties. For his efforts, Hearn came to be known as the “Father of Methodism” in Alabama for founding more Methodist churches in the state than any other person. In 1822, he married Mary Walker, and they eventually settled in their new home in Camden in 1837. The county was named for his former comrade Lt. Joseph Wilcox, who was killed in the Creek War in 1814. Mary Hearn died in 1858 and Ebenezer died in 1862; both are buried in Camden Cemetery.
The house is a modified two-story I-frame structure with a hall and parlor plan and a Federal-style interior. After Ebenezer’s death, the home passed through several owners until it was bought by David John Fail Jr. and his wife Elizabeth Newsom Fail in 1898. The Hearn Home stayed in the Fail family and was remodeled in the early twentieth century with the addition of the four columns currently fronting the structure and transformation of the original small stooped one-story porch into its current form. The original separate kitchen was rolled on logs and connected to the home in 1941. Shortly after World War II, the home was rented to individuals outside of the family but eventually sat empty and fell into disrepair.
Gaines Ridge Dinner Club Interior In 1985, Fail family descendants Betty Gaines Kennedy and her sister Haden restored the house, converting it into a restaurant and event venue that seats approximately 100 guests in five separate dining rooms. Haden co-owned the restaurant for only its first year of operation. Catering to large groups as well as individual dinner guests, the restaurant was named the “Gaines Ridge Dinner Club” after their family last name. They are related to George Strother Gaines and Gen. Edmund Pendleton Gaines, two brothers who were important figures in Alabama’s territorial period and for decades after. The restored building includes large windows, hardwood flooring, and fireplaces and is decorated with “old time” artifacts including an oxen yoke, washboard, glass bottles, farming implements, quilts, and more. A back porch and patio allow guests to eat outside and the adjoining grounds are used for large gatherings including wedding receptions and class reunions.
The Gaines Ridge Dinner Club serves traditional southern cuisine and is best known for its black-bottom pie, which was listed on the Alabama Tourism Department’s list of “100 Alabama Dishes to Eat Before You Die.” The Deep South confection typically includes layers of chocolate custard, rum custard, and whipped cream and is featured by renowned author and Mobile native Eugene Walter in his American Cooking: Southern Style (1971) in the Time-Life Foods of the World Series. The restaurant does not advertise but instead relies upon word of mouth and notice by publications such as those from the Alabama Tourism Department and media outlets. In 2019, Kennedy turned over operation of the restaurant to her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson.
The business is located at 933 Alabama Rout 10. It is open Thursday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. and accepts reservations for other evenings for private events. Nearby are Gee’s Bend Ferry, Gee’s Bend Quilt Mural Trail and Quilters’ Collective, Wilcox Female Institute, Snow Hill Institute, and the Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center.