Hotel Oneida

Hotel Oneida
Hotel Oneida, at Main Street and Lenox Avenue in Oneida, New York, opened in 1927 and was a fixture of downtown Oneida for decades. It became an apartment building in 1982, sold at public auction in 2009 for a mere $25,000. By 2017, the town council received so many complaints about the decaying building, they threatened to tear it down. It was still standing when I drove by in the summer of 2018.

Fort Magruder and the Battle of Williamsburg

A small monument and a few wayside markers are all that remind passersby that two Civil War armies once fought here.

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The Battle of Williamsburg was fought on May 5, 1862 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan and Confederate forces commanded by Maj. Gen. James Longstreet outside Williamsburg, Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was tactically a draw, with the Confederate army withdrawing toward Richmond during the night.

In the spring of 1862, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan took his massive 120,000-man Army of the Potomac by boat and landed at Fort Monroe near Hampton Roads. He planned to march up the Virginia Peninsula and capture the Confederate capitol of Richmond, bringing a swift end to the war. Standing in his way was Confederate Brig. Gen. John B. Magruder, a series of small forts and defensive works, and 11,000 men. Magruder’s elaborate showmanship and deceptive tactics delayed the Union army for nearly 30 days.

The delay bought time for Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston to arrive with reinforcements. Their combined force of 57,000 was still no match for McClellan, so Johnston decided to withdraw to the defenses around Richmond. A force of 32,000 commanded by Maj. Gen. James Longstreet was left to defend Fort Magruder, southeast of Williamsburg, and cover the withdrawal.

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Diners of New York

New Jersey is often described as the diner capital of the United States, but in my opinion, New York out paces it by far. You won’t find such a large concentration of classic diners anywhere else. In 1895, Patrick J. Tierney, who coined the term “diner”, began a lunch wagon business that grew so fast it inspired him to begin manufacturing the mobile restaurants himself in his hometown of New Rochelle, New York. Two of his former employees went on to create the iconic diner manufacturers Fodero Dining Car Company and the Kullman Dining Car Company.

The DeRaffele Manufacturing Company took over the Tierney factory in New Rochelle in 1933 and continues to operate there to the present day. Two other New York-based diner builders were the Orleans Manufacturing Company in Albion, New York (only built three diners) and Ward & Dickinson in Silver Creek, New York. Ward & Dickinson operated from 1923 to 1940.

The Red Robin Diner, at 268 Main Street, is a classic Mountain View-style diner that originally opened in neighboring Binghamton in 1950 and moved to its present location in 1959. The 35-ton diner took two hours to move. Chris and Pat Anagnostakos ran the business for 37 years until retirement.

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Capture of Fort Niagara during the War of 1812

A daring British night attack during the War of 1812 quickly secured this old French fort at the mouth of the Niagara River.

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The Second Battle of Fort Niagara was fought on December 19, 1813 between British forces commanded by Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond and American forces commanded by Captain Nathaniel Leonard at the mouth of the Niagara River near Youngstown, New York during the War of 1812. The British night attack was successful, and the fort remained in British hands for the remainder of the war.

On December 10, 1813, U.S. Brigadier General George McClure decided to abandon Fort George on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, which the United States had captured in May. His troops burned the nearby village of Newark to the ground before retreating across the river. Filled with thoughts of revenge, British forces seized the initiative.

On the night of December 19, approximately 562 British regulars commanded by Colonel John Murray crossed the Niagara River under cover of darkness, about three miles south of Fort Niagara. They captured some American sentries who had been warming themselves by a fire, and obtained the watch’s challenge and password. From there, a British soldier feigning a Southern accent gained entry to the fort, and British troops rushed in.

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O'Mahony Diners

Jerry and Daniel O’Mahony founded the Jerry O’Mahony Diner Company in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1917, sparking a renaissance of New Jersey diner manufacturing. It operated until 1952, churning out around 2,000 prefabricated restaurants. An offshoot called Mahony Diners, Inc. built four more diners before closing in the late 1950s.

“A modern Jerry O’Mahony dining car is more than just a casual eating place, – it’s the kind of place that people enthuse about and return to frequently,” a 1943 company advertisement promised.

Despite being one of the oldest and most prolific diner manufacturers in the country, only a few dozen O’Mahony diners remain. I’ve visited O’Mahonys in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia. O’Mahony diners have a simple, rectangular design with a ridged stainless steel exterior. Most have single-door, centrally located entrances.

Photo by Michael Kleen

Triangle Diner, at 27 W. Gerrard Street in Winchester, Virginia, is a 1948 O’Mahony with a stainless steel exterior and a storied history. Though currently closed, the Triangle Diner employed future country music star Patsy Cline in the early 1950s. Unlike many diners, it has sat at the same intersection since it opened. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.

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A Trip to the Library of Congress

I’ve always loved libraries, from my days as a kid browsing the shelves after school, to being fascinated with my grandpa’s old books, to my college years and beyond, so the Library of Congress was one of the first places I wanted to visit when I moved to this area. What I didn’t realize was how it is just as much a museum as a functional library.

Unfortunately, the library’s oldest collection of books has been devastated by fire several times, first in 1814 and again in 1851. The second fire ruined many of the over 6,000 books Thomas Jefferson personally donated. An ongoing exhibition of Jefferson’s library in the main Thomas Jefferson Building shows 2,000 original volumes, as well as thousands of replacements and indicates which books are still missing. Other exhibits include a display on women’s suffrage, Rosa Parks, and comic book art. You can even see a copy of the Gutenberg Bible.

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