Diner historian Richard J.S. Gutman at Rockingham Library

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – Born during World War II, a beloved hometown Vermont institution, Worcester Lunch Car #771, a.k.a. the Miss Bellows Falls Diner, is coming back to life. Celebrate the history of the diner, listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation National Register, on Tuesday, Sept. 19, at 7 p.m., at the Rockingham Free Public Library. Diner historian Richard J. S. Gutman will be the guest speaker.

Gutman is the author of “American Diner Then and Now.” In an illustrated lecture, Gutman will trace the evolution of these everyday eateries built by the Worcester Lunch Car Company, of which the Miss Bellows Falls is a prime example.

The forebears of diners were horse-drawn lunch wagons that first plied the streets 150 years ago in the industrial towns of the northeast, very much the food trucks of their day. As factories emerged to produce the restaurants-on-wheels, the Worcester Lunch Car and Carriage Manufacturing Co. was founded in 1906, and became our region’s preeminent builder.

In the words of Charles P. Gemme, designer of all 651 of their diners, “Why, you couldn’t go into a town in New England without seeing a Worcester Lunch Car!”

Charlie Hunter, Bellows Falls resident, artist, and board member of Rockingham For Progress, contacted Gutman for advice on the Miss Bellows Falls diner restoration project. “I was first introduced to Richard Gutman when I was a teenager and a fan of photo-realist diner painter John Baeder in the 1970s. Baeder often referenced Gutman’s book, “American Diner,” and when it was reprinted, I snapped up a copy. A few years ago, when I started to post to Instagram for my art business, I saw that Richard Gutman had a vigorous presence there, and started following him. When Rockingham For Progress started working on the Miss Bellows Falls project, we knew we needed a diner expert in our corner, and I reached out to him.”

A succession of owners kept the diner alive until the pandemic began. In 2020, the building was shuttered, and three years later, had fallen into disrepair. Rockingham For Progress, a nonprofit formed in 2016 to promote progressive economic development and appreciation of the historic and cultural value of Bellows Falls, undertook the challenge of restoring The Miss Bellows Falls Diner to its original working condition. This is the second of three informational programs about the project. The 7 p.m. public events are free, and will be held in the third-floor function room at 65 Westminster Street, Bellows Falls. Registration is not necessary, and the room is accessible via elevator. Programs will be recorded and made available for later viewing. For more information, visit www.rockinghamforprogress.org.

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