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Meeting Miss Lorraine

So last time, I had just gone to “Beans and Buns,” a cafe in Pawtuxet, R.I. I had gotten coffee and some muffins and was headed back to Patty’s house with the paper cups in one of those cardboard carriers you get at coffee shops and the pastries in a bag.


I wasn’t quite sure my purchases were a good idea. I didn’t know what Patty had planned for breakfast or what she and Martha might have decided about the day. But, when I arrived at the house (only missing it once. I was half way to Narragansett Blvd., which is to say, to the River) before I realized my mistake. Sounds like a lot, but given the fact that I have all the directional sense of your average cherry stone clam, for me...it was a triumph.


Anyway, I arrived and offered my coffee and pastries and they were gladly received. The coffee was drunk quickly (even by Patty who, I think, is more of a tea drinker), and, if the muffins weren’t consumed in a rush, they were munched over the passage of time before we left. A nibble here and nibble there, and thus the even mighty empire...or, the mighty muffin...falls.


I asked what the plan might be. Patty explained we were going to go for breakfast at a diner in the area--specifically, the Miss Lorraine Diner (https://www.misslorrainediner.com/). I’m a great fan of diners, by the way. They seem cool and sleek and antique, the very embodiment of the Art Deco style of the 1930s. (1)



The Miss Lorraine Diner


It’s sad to think they are vanishing from the scene, but there are a few still about. They tend to show up as the front part of larger restaurants. What happens is that the original Diner, which was little more than an Airstream trailer with a grill, has gradually expanded from the back, with room after room being added, until finally the Diner itself is little more than a facade on the front of a conventional building.


That’s fine. And I’ve been to several of that sort that I’ve really loved--like the Rosebud in Davis Square in Somerville, MA (https://www.rosebudkitchen.com/), where we used to go on a regular basis back when we lived in New England.


So I was pleased with the idea that we were going to a diner I’d not met before. Patty explained that it was, indeed, an old fashioned original diner of the art deco sort...but it had been moved to a new location. (2) Specifically, it *had* been in Hartford, Connecticut, where it opened in 1941 as Donwell’s Diner. It was successful there for many a year, but then, of course, time passed and it ceased to be viable in that location. So, it moved about a bit (the old school diners were, after all, meant to be mobile), taking up new locations in a variety of New England towns, and picking up new owners along the way, of course.


Sadly, Diners faded from view in the 1960s. They simply couldn’t compete with fast food restaurants. Or, maybe, people just got bored with them. Whatever...this particular Diner finally closed for good around 1997. Again, it passed around from owner to owner for a while, until, finally, the current owner-- Jonathan Savage-- discovered it in storage facility. He bought it and moved it to Pawtucket, R.I. He and his company then restored it and made it the front section (again) of a new restaurant, the “Miss Lorraine Diner.” (3)


The name “Lorraine?” That comes from the new location. As you probably know, Providence, Pawtucket, and surrounding areas were originally industrial centers. They were Mill Towns. From here came all sorts of manufactured goods -- and, in particular, clothing and cloth goods. (In fact, that’s how Martha’s maternal grandparents met. They were both Scots immigrants who came to work in the clothing mills of New England. I’ve heard that, later, they...or at least Martha’s grandmother... wondered at the wisdom of leaving “the bright lights of Glasgow” for the chilly climes of Little Rhody. Don’t know if ’tis true. But, it’s a good story, and at this late date, mere veracity hardly matters.)


Anyway, one of those mills was The Lorraine Manufacturing Company which made “woolens and worsteds.” It did well for decades and employed thousands of well-paid New Englanders. Then, in the 1950s, the clothing industry went in search of lower wages, non-union labor, and higher profits...first to the American South (where my own mother’s family benefited, for a time) and then overseas. It’s a story that’s been told over and over again about American industry, and sometimes I do worry about it a bit.


But, when the Lorraine Mills closed, they left behind an enormous structure--its old factory on Mineral Spring Ave. This could have decayed away into nothing, as have abandoned factories throughout New England, New York, New Jersey, and the whole Rust Belt. But, the city and local developers acted to prevent this. They acquired the building and are trying to repurpose it. Their idea is (I think) to turn it into a mixed-use facility, with an artist colony, and inexpensive office space for new and innovative small businesses. (4)


Right now, it seems to be working. But, frankly, I really don’t know about its future. I’ve seen a lot of these experiments -- the effort to go “from Mills to Martinis” -- and sometimes they are glowing successes. Other times... no.


But, it was in the front of the Lorraine building that the Diner had been placed and re-christened “the Miss Lorraine.” And we were on our way there.


We didn’t know it...but we were about to experience several adventures--some good, some less so, and one very... very... bad.


More to come.



As usual, this has nothing to do with the story. I just happened to like it. It’s a picture of Martha in a restaurant (I think in Santa Fe). If you look in the mirror, you can see her besotted husband with his camera phone.



Notes:


1. For more on the Diner and its aesthetic, see this wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diner


2. I’ve cribbed this material from the Diner’s own page, which is here: https://www.misslorrainediner.com/. I should note, however, that there seems to be some confusion about who owned the diner and where. A subsequent news report (see Note 3) below, gives a somewhat different account of its origins and travels.


3. For the history of the Diner, I rely chiefly on this article, “Miss Lorraine Diner in Pawtucket nationally recognized for its historical significance,” by NBC 10 NEWSSaturday, November 6th 2021, https://turnto10.com/news/local/miss-lorraine-diner-in-pawtucket-gains-federal-recognition


4. Lorraine Manufacturing Company, Business records, 1868 - 1954, Rhode Island Historical Society, Manuscript Collections, https://www.rihs.org/mssinv/Mss006sg18.htm


Also, for more information on the Mills’ current incarnation, see here: https://pawtucketri.com/news/local-spotlight-lorraine-mills



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~mjt



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