Zac McDorrThe old fashioned diner, or lunch wagon, has been a common sight in New England for over a hundred years. The earliest were horse-drawn lunch carts. Later, converted rail cars were used.

By the early 20th century, diners were pre-fabricated, much like mobile homes are today. They were delivered around the country by train, so they needed to be long and narrow to fit on a flat car.

Two of Maine’s early diner entrepreneurs were brothers Frank and Jack Conroy. They opened a lunch wagon in Sanford as early as 1914, and by 1924 they had a second location in town. Each brother ran one diner, but they were both called “Jack’s Lunch.”

The men’s father, John Conroy, had owned lunch wagons in Bangor and in Lynn, Massachusetts, so it’s no surprise that Frank and Jack would follow him into the business. Jack and his father owned a restaurant in Bath together (the Star Restaurant) from 1917 to 1920.

The Conroys expanded their diner service to Bath, Boothbay Harbor, Portland, and Old Orchard Beach. In Bath, they took over a tiny building on Center Street that had been a diner since 1916. It started as the Stacy Brother’s Lunch, then was Bill’s Lunch, and finally Jack’s Lunch in 1923.

Unlike their earlier horse-drawn carts, the Bath location was a fixed building, though still extremely small. It featured 10 stools and no tables. It was popular for sandwiches and for the homemade pies Jack’s wife and mother baked.

Jack’s Lunch was open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., which seems like odd hours for a “lunch” establishment.
Running a restaurant is hard work, and eventually Jack found a better opportunity.

After installing a cigarette vending machine for his employees, he discovered that it provided easy money. Jack started his own vending machine business after that, and gave up the lunch business.

The tiny building on Center Street remained a diner for several years until it was torn down in 1950.

Fortunately, the Miss Brunswick, Miss Wiscasset, Moody’s and other diners are still around when you just have to have a piece of chocolate cream pie.

Source: “Lost Diners and Roadside Restaurants,” by Will Anderson, 2001

 

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