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A Tour of Charleston Diners Through Vintage Photographs

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 10th, 2015

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.

During this busy time of year people often choose the convenience of eating out to save time, and the diner has always been there as an option for those with challenging schedules.  Having emerged in the late 1800s, diners are now attracting interest as a historical phenomenon as evidenced by the considerable attention given the topic by publishers in recent decades.  There are now many books that survey the subject photographically by region with some related historical narrative.  A variety of genres are represented in this publishing effort, including children’s books, cook books, mysteries, travel diaries, and even a dictionary (entitled The Diner’s Dictionary:  Word Origins of Food and Drink by John Ayto). 

 

The West Virginia and Regional History Center, through its digitization efforts, has uncovered images documenting a slice of this history as well.  Discovered in the Gravely and Moore photograph collection, they show various restaurants in the city of Charleston, West Virginia.

 

One such eatery is the Sherman Restaurant located downtown:

 

Inside of Sherman Restaurant, Charleston, West Virginia, ca. 1938-1945

Sherman Restaurant, Charleston, WV, ca. 1938-1945.  (Click picture for enlargment.)

(Photograph from A&M Collection 2523, WVRHC.)

 

The following advertising from 1938 hints at the Sherman’s menu:

 

Sherman Restaurant add from a directory

Facsimile from a Charleston business directory, 1938.

(Directory from book collection, WVRHC.)

 

Another local diner was part of a chain of stores operated by Blossom Dairy:

 

Inside of Blossom Super Dairy Store, Charleston, West Virginia, ca. 1930s-1950s

“Blossom Super Dairy Store,” Charleston, WV, ca. 1930s-1950s.  (Click picture for enlargment.)

(Photograph from A&M Collection 2523, WVRHC.)

 

The Blossom Dairy Company opened for business in 1927, and managed several stores in Kanawha County.  Recently, the Charleston Gazette-Mail of 9 November 2015 reported on efforts to reopen the Quarrier Street store.

 

Another local restaurant documented by the Gravely and Moore collection was located in the Diamond Department Store of Charleston:

 

Inside of Luncheonette on the Street Floor of the Diamond Department Store, Charleston, West Virginia, ca. 1940s-1960s

Luncheonette on Street Floor of Diamond Dept. Store, ca. 1940s-1960s.  (Click picture for enlargement.)

(Photograph from A&M Collection 2523, WVRHC.)

 

This eating establishment has a place in civil rights history.  Having barred African-Americans from its Luncheonette and fifth floor Cafeteria for years, a boycott and sit-down protest led the way to integration on 3 May 1960.

 

In addition to downtown restaurants and department store cafeterias there are roadside diners, such as Winns Restaurant.  This photograph captures opening day:

 

Opening crowd, Winns Restaurant, 13 October 1957

Opening crowd, Winns Restaurant, 13 October 1957.  (Click picture for enlargment.)

(Photograph from A&M Collection 2523, WVRHC.)

 

The Gravely and Moore collection includes much interesting visual documentary evidence of Charleston history, and has provided source material for a series of blogs.

 

For another blog post on Charleston food history, see:

Historical Photographs of a Charleston Restaurant that Became an Empire.

 

For other history blog posts based on the Gravely and Moore collection, see:

Digitized Negatives Reveal Charleston Business History

Demolished Movie Palace

Bygone Era of Travel Revealed in Recently Digitized Negatives

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