Diners Through the Decades: 1920s

The earliest diners were lunch carts pulled by horses that stayed open 24-hours to accommodate factory workers coming off shifts. Walter Scott began the first lunch cart/wagon service in Providence, Rhode Island in 1872. Patrick J. Tierney followed in 1895, Worcester Lunch Car Company in 1906, Jerry O’Mahony in 1917, Silk City in 1926, and Kullman Dining Car Company in 1927. By the end of the decade, most of the major diner manufacturers were established.

These restaurants are called diners because they resembled railroad dining cars. Many were manufactured with wheels and pulled to their locations on railroads, since railroads connected the nation’s factories before the automobile took off. 1920s diners tended to be small and made of wood. Only a few still exist.

Photo by Michael Kleen

Casey’s Diner, at 36 South Avenue in Natick, Massachusetts, is a rare 1922 Worcester model. 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 was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

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Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park in Leesburg, Virginia

A small park and cemetery memorializes one of the most lopsided and controversial battles of the American Civil War.

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The Battle of Ball’s Bluff was fought on October 21, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Brig. Gen. Charles P. Stone and Col. Edward D. Baker and Confederate forces commanded by Col. Nathan “Shanks” Evans near Leesburg, Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was a humiliating defeat for Union forces, including the loss of a U.S. Senator, and led Congress to establish the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.

After the First Battle of Bull Run ended notions of a quick Union victory, President Abraham Lincoln authorized Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan to form the Army of the Potomac and plan another advance into Virginia. Leesburg, Virginia was a strategic town on the Potomac River, so McClellan ordered Brig. Gen. George A. McCall to investigate Confederate troop movements in the area. McClellan was under the impression that Confederate Col. Nathan “Shanks” Evans had abandoned Leesburg, when in fact his withdrawal was temporary.

On the night of October 20, 1861, Col. Charles Devens of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry sent a patrol across the Potomac River to recon the area. A jittery officer sent word that he had seen a Confederate camp, so Devens sent a raiding party of 300 men across the river the next morning. Though there was no camp, Colonel and U.S. Senator Edward Dickinson Baker, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, ordered more Union troops to reinforce the 15th Massachusetts.

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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!

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Green-Wood Cemetery in New York City

Green-Wood Cemetery, at 500 25th Street in Brooklyn, New York City, was founded in 1838 as a rural cemetery, providing a garden-like resting place in the heart of the city for over 600,000 former residents. Its Gothic revival gates, designed by Richard M. Upjohn, were designated a New York City Landmark in 1966, and the cemetery itself was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. The Battle of Brooklyn was partially fought on (what became) its 478 acres.

Lady Lola Montez

Eliza Rosanna Gilbert (1921-1861), also known as “Lola Montez”, was an Irish performer who gained worldwide fame as a “Spanish dancer”. She was once mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who made her Countess of Landsfeld, but fled to the United States in 1848 after Ludwig’s abdication. After a scandalous tour in Australia, she returned to the US, where she died of syphilis.

The Goddess Minerva

This bronze statue to the Roman goddess Minerva, designed by Frederick Wellington Ruckstuhl, stands on Battle Hill over the Altar of Liberty, her arm outstretched to salute the distant Statue of Liberty across lower New York Harbor. She was unveiled in 1920 on the 144th anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn, a key piece of which was fought on that very hill. Charles M. Higgins (1854-1929), an Irish-American ink merchant, erected the statue outside his family’s tomb.

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Triangle Diner in Winchester, Virginia

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 Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum

As part of our trip to West Virginia last month, my wife and I stopped by the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, a destination that’s been on my bucket list for a while. Yes, it’s appeared on just about every paranormal-themed TV show, but it has an interesting history dating back to the Civil War as well.

Welcome Home

Designed by Baltimore architect Richard Snowden Andrews in Gothic and Tudor Revival styles, construction on the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum began in 1858. In 1861, the Civil War’s outbreak interrupted construction on Virginia’s new asylum as Union troops seized its construction funds from a local bank (totaling nearly $30,000.00 in gold) and used them to help fund a pro-Union Virginia government in Wheeling. It opened in 1864, though construction wasn’t fully completed until nearly 20 years later.

The Institution

During the mid-twentieth century, it was notoriously overcrowded and closed in 1994. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. After sitting abandoned for several years, it opened for tours as a museum and it slowly being restored.

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The Battle of Trenton, New Jersey

George Washington’s daring raid across the icy Delaware River revived his battered army’s spirits and prevented total disaster for the Patriot cause. Today, the Capitol of New Jersey commemorates Washington’s 1776 victory.

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The Battle of Trenton was fought on December 26, 1776 between American forces commanded by General George Washington, Major Generals Nathanael Greene and John Sullivan, and Brig. Gen. Hugh Mercer, and British forces commanded by Col. Johann Rahl in Trenton, New Jersey during the American Revolutionary War. The battle was an American victory and a much-needed boost to Patriot morale.

After a string of defeats around southeastern New York and Long Island, George Washington’s army withdrew across the Delaware River to lick its wounds. Washington was joined by several other prominent American commanders, who needed a victory to hold together their ragtag band of militia over the winter. The victorious British commander, Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis, spread his army along the east bank of the Delaware to await the spring.

Washington decided to attack an isolated contingent of approximately 1,500 Hessian mercenaries camped at Trenton. A driving snowstorm prevented some of his plan from being implemented, but Washington crossed the icy Delaware under cover of darkness with 2,400 men. The Hessians, thinking victory was at hand, had spent Christmas celebrating and hadn’t provided proper security. As a result, they were caught off guard in the town streets.

After a running battle, Hessian Col. Johann Rahl made several attempts to organize his men and counter attack, but was mortally wounded. The remaining Hessians surrendered. Relatively light American casualties sweetened Washington’s victory. The Patriots lost only four killed and eight wounded to the Hessians’ 40 killed, 66 wounded, and 918 captured.

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