The Hearty Fried Chicken Dinner That Helped Build Knott's Berry Farm

Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, California is often overshadowed by its proximity to the world-renowned Disneyland, but for generations of Angelenos, it's an iconic symbol of childhood joy. Today, Knott's Berry Farm stretches over 160 acres, featuring roller coasters, miniature railroads, and a wealth of whirling rides that you definitely shouldn't try right after eating. Of course, it's not a good amusement park if it doesn't offer a wealth of delicious and definitely not nutritious, treats, and Knott's answers the call with cookie sandwiches, Mexican-style hot dogs, and deep-fried cinnamon buns topped with boysenberry glaze (via Delish).

This carnivalesque landscape is a far, far cry from the park's origins. Originally, Knott's Berry Farm was exactly that: a berry farm. According to the park's website, it all started in 1920 when Walter Knott and his cousin Jim Preston leased the land to start a berry farm. It proved to be a very successful endeavor and Knott was able to buy the land outright in 1927, naming it "Knott's Berry Place" (doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?). At this time, Knott's greatest claim to fame was partnering with a berry breeder named Boysen to sell the world's very first boysenberries (per the Orange County Historical Society). 

So, how could this land go from conventional farm to roller coaster heaven? The answer is fried chicken.

Cordelia Knott, fried chicken queen

When Walter Knott married Cordelia Hornaday in 1911, neither could have guessed that the union would be the best financial decision of their life. Per the Orange County Historical Society, when the Knotts bought their farm, they built a berry market on the land with a "tea room" attached. The tea room was connected to the Knotts' family kitchen, where Cordelia would whip up sandwiches, ice cream, pies, and jams to draw even more business to the place, but it was her "Special Southern Chicken Dinner" that proved to be the main draw. The Orange County Historical Society notes that the restaurant sold 265,000 chicken dinners in its first year of operation.

The fried chicken was so popular that the Knotts had to expand their tea room from 20 seats to 40, to 70, then to 350 (via Knott's Berry Farm). Even then, customers often had to wait hours for a bite of Cordelia's chicken. To keep the people entertained as they waited, Walter started building roadside attractions around the property, including a rock garden and waterfall, antique music boxes, and a fake volcano. Walter took this further and further until the 1940s when the iconic Ghost Town was built. The next decade would see Knott partner with Wendell "Bud" Hurlbut, a designer of amusement park rides, and the rest is history. 

Though it's unrecognizable from the original berry farm, the park continues to honor its roots with its annual Boysenberry Food and Wine Festival.