1932 - 1967
Graham’s Rib Station, located on the corner of Chestnut Expressway and Washington Avenue, became a gathering place for Springfield’s Black community and out-of-towners traveling along Route 66. Soon after opening in 1932, owners James and Zelma Graham began catering events and selling bottles of barbeque sauce in local stores, making their signature recipe a well-known version of the regional staple.
In the mid-1940s, they opened the Wishing Well, a set of cabins arranged in a half circle behind the restaurant. Before desegregation, practically all Black entertainers who stopped in Springfield to perform at places like Half-A-Hill or the Shrine Mosque stayed at the Wishing Well. Performers Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey, and Little Richard were among some of the most notable. Prior to the opening of the Wishing Well, the Grahams helped the entertainers find rooms in neighborhood homes, as they were barred from staying in Springfield hotels.
Although the original Graham’s Rib Station was torn down during a widening of Chestnut Expressway, the Grahams erected a new building on the remainder of the same lot. James Graham passed away in 1957. Zelma ran Graham’s Rib Station until the restaurant finally shut its doors in 1967. After closing the restaurant, Zelma retained ownership of the building and the Wishing Well and continued selling Graham’s Barbeque Sauce.
Categories: Business & Economy
Date: 1932 - 1967
Subject: African Americans; United States Highway 66; Restaurants
Contributing Institution: History Museum on the Square
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Photographer: Ben Divin