Back before urban sprawl turned Orange County into a concrete jungle, the county was known for its produce. One of the many family farms that struggled to make ends meet in the “Great Depression” was owned by Walter and Cordelia Knott. While times were pretty tough, the location of the Knott family farm alongside State Route 39 made it a popular stop for the thousands of folks who drove down to the Orange County beaches for a nice day out. Unfortunately, selling jams, jellies and fruit was not enough to sustain the farm, so Mr. Knott convinced his wife to open up her kitchen and sell her delicious chicken dinners to the weary travelers who passed the farm each day. Mrs. Knott served her first chicken dinners in June of 1934.
Word soon spread far and wide that Mrs. Knott’s chicken dinners were something special. Soon thousands of people trekked out to “Knott’s Berry Place” to see what all the fuss was about and they were all treated to the same delicious dinners and warm customer service. In fact, the restaurant was so successful people often had to endure long waits to get a table. In order to deal with these crowds, Mr. Knott began building what would eventually become Knott’s Berry Farm. The theme park might now overshadow Mrs. Knott’s Fried Chicken, but the delicious chicken dinners still attract millions of guests a year who order the same fried chicken that Mrs. Knott first served 80 years ago. It’s hard to believe, but a simple plate of fried chicken not only saved the Knott family farm, but allowed it to grow into the huge theme park that it is today.
Marion Knott was born on the farm and quickly began helping her parents by selling rhubarb at the fruit stand. When the chicken restaurant opened, she was tasked with being a waitress and helping her mother in the kitchen. Her interests, however, were with the budding ghost town her father was constructing outside the restaurant. As the ghost town grew, she became involved in its operations. It was her prodding that convinced her parents to put a fence around the park and expand its offerings. She actively oversaw many of the park's expansions up until it was sold to Cedar Fair in the 1990's.
So why would we mention a competing park on a Disney website? The two Walts- Disney and Knott- never saw themselves as competitors. Mr. Knott knew that DISNEYLAND would attract people from around the world who might want to visit his ghost town. Mr. Disney knew that his guests would want to experience more of Southern California's attractions and thus the two attractions would have a symbiotic relationship. The loss of Ms. Knott is the loss of yet another tie to the glory days of vintage Orange County. Marion Knott and her family made history and the world will be forever grateful that they dared to dream big.