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The diner at the corner of Main and Portage, a history mystery solved

BeeLines

July 4, 2012
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian (westfieldhistorian@fairpoint.net) , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Recently, several historian clients sent the Westfield Historian a link for a photo for sale on eBay that was identified as "Circa 1912 Photograph Lunch Diner Portage Main St Viaduct Westfield New York."

Immediately the link was clicked and, sure enough, there was a diner with the very recognizable, fairly newly-constructed viaduct in the background. The diner itself displayed an unusual "front" or end facing North Portage, and a covered "patio" along the south side facing West Main and the viaduct. This covered patio was likely a waiting area for travelers taking the B&LE Trolley which ran between Buffalo, N.Y., and Erie Pa., crossing the viaduct in Westfield.

The December 1912 Sanborn Map of Westfield shows a structure with this exact "footprint" that was another diner history mystery until the "find" of the photo.

Article Photos

Submitted photo
This photograph found on eBay regarding a diner in Westfield helped solve a history mystery.

The north side of the diner or lunch car seemed to show the drop-off of the creek cliff, with a tall foundation on which the diner was mounted. A tiny portion of the old B&LE and JW&NW trolley station also seemed to be visible down the slope, which made sense as that is just where it was located in the early 1900s.

From 1829 until 1884, the site of the 1912 diner/lunch car, was the location of the famous Westfield House - an inn or hotel and stage coach stop on the road between Buffalo and Erie. A major fire started when a horse kicked over a lantern in the stables behind the hotel, wiping out not only the Westfield House, but also some other small buildings and businesses along North Portage. It did not reach the 1873 first fire hall, which in 1924 became the southern portion of the Portage Inn. Also burned was much of the "McClurg block" of buildings and businesses on the southwest corner of Main and Portage where Dr. C.E. Welch built the Welch Office building in 1910. Several small wooden buildings housing various businesses were built along the west side of North Portage during the years between 1884 and 1916, including the 1912 lunch room/diner.

In 1912, the Closson Lunch Wagon Company relocated from Glens Falls, N.Y., to Westfield, brought here by Dr. C.E. Welch. They set up manufacturing in what had previously been the United States Canning Company factory located about where Growers' Co-op factory is in 2012. Since an article in the April 23, 1913 Westfield Republican indicates the Closson factory had just sold its first lunch car to someone in Jamestown, it is unlikely the 1912 lunch room diner was a Closson, unless they had brought some from the Glens Falls factory.

Fact Box

Marybelle Beigh is the current Public Historian for the Town and Village of Westfield. Her office is located at 3 East Main Street in Westfield, N.Y, 14787 - inside Parkview Ice Cream Parlor. Her scheduled office hours are Monday through Friday 9 to 11 a.m.; other hours by appointment.

Beigh can be reached at westfieldhistorian@fairpoint.net or by calling 326-2457 (office), 326-6171 (home) or 397-9254 (cell).

Discussions with diner historian Mike Engle have suggested one or two other possibilities for the source of the 1912 lunch car diner. Earl B. Richardson, who started manufacturing dining cars in Silver Creek in 1921, had been living in Westfield, N.Y., since about 1900 and continued to live here until his death in 1925. Richardson had taken a lunch wagon that he had built to the Silver Creek Old Home Week in 1909, so it is possible he also had built more lunch wagons and the 1912 lunch room diner may have been one of those. A second possibility is someone had taken a trolley car and set it up as a lunch room diner, and possibly had obtained the interior lunch car equipment and furnishings from Closson.

Despite all the speculations, in a July 1913 Westfield Republican there was another short notice that the little restaurant on the northwest corner of Main and Portage had been purchased and was being run by Misses Mary Morton and Belle Anderson.

"Miss Morton comes from Jamestown and has experience in this line of business."

And now there is photographic evidence for the existence of the earliest known diner in Westfield.

However, another diner history mystery remains. Photographic evidence of the Bancroft Lunch Car which was advertised as "always ready with Quick Lunch" in the WHS Class Book for 1916, Fred Wedge, Proprietor. "Quick Lunch" was the name of one model of Closson Lunch Wagons. And the Westfield Republican of April 21, 1915 provides the following notice, "Glenn Bancroft has purchased a lunch wagon and has it located near the B. & L. E. trolley station, and is now ready to serve the public."

Could this be the same lunch room diner from 1912?

 
 
 

 

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