The Evolution of American Diners

Diners are quintessentially American. They represent affordable dining for the working class, mobility, entrepreneurship, and mass production. Diners have evolved over the decades to accommodate our trends and tastes, from tableside juke boxes to Greek-American cuisine.

The earliest diners were lunch carts pulled by horses. Entrepreneurs parked them outside factories to feed hungry workers as they came on and off shift. Many stayed open 24-hours to accommodate all shifts. Walter Scott began the first lunch cart/wagon service in Providence, Rhode Island in 1872.

Photo by Michael Kleen

Casey’s Diner, at 36 South Avenue in Natick, Massachusetts, is a rare 1922 Worcester model and possibly the oldest continually operating diner the United States. Like many early diner owners, Fred Casey began as a food cart salesman. He purchased this ten-stool diner in 1927 and originally located it on Washington Street. It moved to its current location in 1977. Diners in the 1920s were primarily made of wood.

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Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown, New York

This magnificent fort at the mouth of the Niagara River preserves the scene of several battles, including a 20-day siege during the French and Indian War.

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The Battle of Fort Niagara was fought from July 6 to July 26, 1759 between French forces under the command of Captain Pierre Pouchot and British forces under the command of Brig. Gen. John Prideaux and their American Indian allies at the confluence of Lake Ontario and the Niagara River during the French and Indian War. The 20-day siege ended in British victory and French capitulation after French reinforcements were scattered at the Battle of La Belle-Famille.

In early July 1759, Brig. Gen. John Prideaux marched approximately 3,500 British and Iroquois forces along Lake Ontario to Fort Niagara, floated a battery of artillery across the Niagara River to Montreal Point, and began to lay siege. Captain Pierre Pouchot had sent away most of his troops, so he had about 520 French regulars, militia, and Seneca Iroquois allies on hand to defend the fort. Unfortunately for him, many of his Seneca allies deserted when the British arrived.

To make matters worse, the British ambushed and destroyed a relief column under the command of Col. François-Marie Le Marchand de Lignery at La Belle-Famille on July 24. Pouchot sent an officer to British lines to meet the wounded Lignery and confirm reports of the ambush. Seeing little hope, he surrendered on July 26.

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29 Diner in Fairfax, Virginia

The 29 Diner, at 10536 Fairfax Blvd in Fairfax, Virginia, is a 1947 Mountain View, and its original owners were D.T. “Bill” and Elvira “Curly” Glascock. It was known as the Tastee 29 Diner in 1992 when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. A former waitress and her husband, Ginger and Fredy Guevara, purchased the diner in the 1990s and restored its original name. They owned it until 2014, when it was bought by John Wood. Despite advertising “24 hour” service, its hours vary throughout the week. You gotta try their BBQ!

Diner Resources

Unfortunately, Just Mercy Was Based on a True Story

This film about one of the most egregious modern cases of racism and injustice mostly sticks to the facts.

One thing I didn’t like about Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (2018) was that it invented events to make its antagonists more menacing than they really were. It’s a habit in Hollywood to insert or amplify racism in historical films, which is weird because there are plenty of actual historical examples of racism to make movies about.

Case in point: Just Mercy (2019), written by Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham and directed by Cretton, based on the book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Just Mercy follows the case of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who was wrongly convicted of the 1986 murder of a white woman in Monroeville, Alabama and sent to death row. Years later, attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) successfully appealed McMillian’s conviction and won his freedom.

McMillian, who was having a very public affair with a white woman named Karen Kelly, was hosting a fish fry at his home with his wife, Minnie (Karan Kendrick), surrounded by about a dozen witnesses, when the murder occurred. Despite this, Sheriff Tom Tate (Michael Harding) arrested him for the crime. And despite not yet being convicted, he was sent to death row while awaiting trial.

Judge Robert E. Lee Key, Jr. (yes, that was actually his name) moved the trial to a different county where it would have a majority white jury. The judge overrode the jury’s decision of life imprisonment and imposed the death penalty. McMillian sat on Alabama’s death row from 1988 to 1993, when the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled he had been wrongfully convicted.

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Sunset Park Motel

Sunset Park Motel
The Sunset Park Motel, at 71 Demars Blvd in Tupper Lake, New York, is a classic motor inn catering to vacationing families in the Adirondacks. It is conveniently located near The Wild Center, Raquette Pond, and the Raquette River. Seven to ten million tourists flock to this picturesque region annually to enjoy hunting, camping, boating, and fishing in the summer, skiing and snowboarding in winter, and to see the beautiful autumn colors in the fall.

Fort Henry National Historic Site in Kingston, Ontario

Built for a war with the U.S. that never came, this nineteenth century relic is a treasure of Canadian military history.

The War of 1812 left relations between the United States and Great Britain at an all-time low. Raids along the Saint Lawrence River were common during the war, and Kingston, Ontario in what was then Upper Canada was seen as potentially vulnerable. The British eyed Point Henry as an ideal place for what became known as the “Citadel of Upper Canada”.

Early in the war, British Canadians erected a blockhouse and artillery battery on Point Henry to help defend Kingston and its naval dockyards. They continued fortifying it throughout the war, calling it Fort Henry after Henry Hamilton, one-time Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Quebec and Governor of Bermuda.

After the War of 1812, the British saw a need to strengthen their defenses around Kingston and Rideau Canal, which connects the Canadian capitol to Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River. Between 1832 and 1836, they built a more permanent stone fort in place of the old wooden one.

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