A talk by Christopher Dobbs, Executive Director of the Connecticut River Museum
With its stainless-steel siding, streamlined exterior, and colorful neon signage, the classic roadside diner is as quintessentially American as the apple pie on its menu. Whether you sit on a stool at the counter or lounge in one of the vinyl-upholstered booths, you can’t help but feel nostalgic for a simpler time, a sense of optimism, or the joy of the open road. But how did these iconic restaurants come to look like they do?
In a talk sponsored by the Middlesex County Historical Society, the Connecticut River Museum’s executive director Christopher Dobbs will tell the story of the American diner’s form and function. His presentation, “The Architecture of the American Diner: From Wagon-Wheels to Stainless Steel” will take place at 7:00 p.m., on Tuesday, April 24 in the Hubbard Room at Russell Library, 123 Broad Street, Middletown, Conn. The talk is free and everyone is welcome to drop in and take a seat.
Dobbs says scholars and greasy-spoon aficionados point out four essential characteristics that differentiate an authentic diner from other inexpensive eateries. First, the diner’s structure is usually prefabricated and hauled to the site. Second, the diner must have a counter and stools. Third, it must offer “home cooking” at reasonable prices. And lastly, the cooking should take place behind the counter.
A fifth defining element that has been neglected has been identified by Dobbs. “The diner in its historic sense,” he says, “is aesthetically bound to transportation. Its form and design have drawn upon popular transportation styles and period décor to become a recognizable fixture in the urban landscape. Wagons, Pullman cars, streamliner trains, even rockets have served as the models for diner design. As modes of transportation have evolved, the look and feel of the American diner has progressed on a parallel track.”
Dobbs has more than 20 years’ experience in historical museum work, having served as the director of the Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society and as associate director of education at Mystic Seaport. He holds an M.A. in Museum Studies from the State University of New York’s Cooperstown Graduate Program and a B.A. in American History from Indiana University in Bloomington.
The Russell Library is handicap accessible. For further
information, contact the Historical Society at 860-346- 0746.