From Humble Beginnings to Mainstream American Culture - The Incredible Journey of the Lunch Wagon

In recent years, food trucks have been all the rage. Turn on the Food Network or The Travel Channel with any frequency and you’re bound to come across a show about them. While the idea of food trucks may seem pretty novel, the concept is one that goes back over a century. During the boom of the manufacturing age in the late 19th century, factory workers needed hearty, affordable meals at all hours of the day. To answer the demand, small wagons were converted into moveable restaurants. The “lunch wagon” was born.

 
Courtesy of    The Chapman Museum   , from the 1897-98 Glens Falls Business Directory.

Courtesy of The Chapman Museum, from the 1897-98 Glens Falls Business Directory.

 

The very first lunch wagon is credited to Walter Scott in 1872, Providence, Rhode Island. But did you realize that Glens Falls played a part in this early food revolution? In 1897, Albert Closson of Glens Falls, built his first lunch wagon. Closson named his wagon the “Crystal Palace” and from 1895-1900 it was located on Fountain Square (the site of the roundabout today). By 1905, he had patented his design and went into full production at his home on Second St. Numerous local lunch wagons were of his design, including two in Whitehall and two in Glens Falls, the “Kenmore” and the “Ondawa”.

 
Courtesy of    The Chapman Museum   , from the 1916 Glens Falls Business Directory.

Courtesy of The Chapman Museum, from the 1916 Glens Falls Business Directory.

 

During his years in business, Closson built approximately 50 wagons. In 1912, he sold his patent and formed a stock company called The Closson Wagon Company. The newly organized firm relocated to Westfield, NY. Though officially retired, Closson maintained stock in the company and seemed to stay involved by acting as a consultant and making sales trips. Unfortunately, the company went bankrupt in 1916.

Between 1895 and 1930, there were collectively at least 14 lunch wagons in use throughout Glens Falls. They could be found on South St., Park St., Warren, Ridge and even Glenwood Ave.

One story of an early Ward and Dickinson lunch wagon is particularly amazing. A 1927 version that was in use here in Glens Falls, was purchased by Will and Grace Tario in 1932. The couple had it moved to Port Henry via rail car to Ticonderoga and then pulled by horse team the rest of the way. It reopened on Labor Day in 1933. Remarkably, this lunch wagon is still in operation! It is known today as Foote’s Port Henry Diner, and has been recognized for its historical significance. In 2000, it won an Adirondack Architectural Heritage Award. Many of the original features are intact, including the wooden wheels, marble counter tops and wooden cabinetry.

So, the next time you want to have a meal with a side of history, check out Foote’s Port Henry Diner. It’s definitely a bucket-list worthy adventure, and a tasty one at that.

 
Glens Falls NY Living
 
 
Jillian Mulder, Chapman Museum, Glens Falls NY
 

Jillian Mulder has been the curator at the Chapman Historical Museum for the past eleven years. She had previously worked for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation at the Crown Point State Historic Site. Her background is in both the fine arts and history. Jillian enjoys photographing old advertising signage and visiting diners, movie theaters, and roadside attractions (and documenting them on her Instagram account @followthebreadcrumbs2). She is passionate about documenting America’s cultural landscape before it vanishes; and wishes she could earn a living by taste testing ice cream at every stand from Upstate New York to New England.