Miss BF

Miss Bellows Falls Diner

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BELLOWS FALLS — The iconic Miss Bellows Falls Diner has been awarded a $100,000 historic preservation grant from the Preservation Trust of Vermont, a financial boost to local plans to buy the diner, restore it and reopen it.

A local group, Rockingham for Progress, Inc. has a purchase and sales agreement to buy the 1940s Worcester Lunch Car Co. diner from its owner, part of an ambitious $500,000-plus plan to restore the barrel-roofed diner and reassert its place in the Bellows Falls village dynamic.

Charlie Hunter, a local artist who is a member of Rockingham for Progress, said Monday that a closing on the purchase of the diner from Brian McAllister of Westminster is set for next month.

He said that the Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization Grant from the Preservation Trust would be an enormous help to the project.

Hunter said that he, Jeff Dunbar, and Bonnie North have been working since December to save the diner, restore it and keep it a vital cog in the Bellows Falls scene. He said a “unobtrusive” fund raising effort had quickly raised $100,000.

Hunter said that many historic diners are being purchased, and moved, and in some cases, made into personal “man caves.”

The intention of Rockingham for Progress is to keep the diner open and a vital part of the community.

“We’ve raised enough to buy the diner,” Hunter said. The diner has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1983.

The total scope of the project isn’t known yet, he said, but it is clear the diner is suffering from 40 years of deferred maintenance and is starting to bow. He said the kitchen and bathroom additions to the diner weren’t even built on a foundation, but on the ground.

The diner has been closed for more than three years, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and several potential purchasers who planned to keep the diner open have fallen through.

He said he got involved because there were plans that would have taken it out of food service.

Bonnie North, the president of Rockingham for Progress, said in a prepared statement:

“The Miss Bellows Falls Diner — the great, egalitarian gathering place of Bellows Falls Village and Rockingham for nearly 80 years, has suffered in the last couple decades from a gradual and heartbreaking decline. Bringing her back to life as a community supported enterprise is the goal of Rockingham for Progress.

{span}”A loving renewal and renovation is not far away,” North said.{/span}

{span}”Remarkably, the original interior and exterior are virtually entirely intact, with a marble counter, a dozen stools and five four-person oak booths, for a total seating capacity of 32. The role of a diner is to serve wholesome, comforting and affordable food to resident and visitor alike, to be a gathering place where class lines are erased,” she said.{/span}

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“The restoration of the Miss Bellows Falls Diner, which sits as a crucial link between the northern and southern portions of downtown Bellows Falls, will ripple far beyond the four walls of the diner itself, as residents take pride in an important local institution revived and visitors experience a historic and emblematic American diner, productive and in its original condition,” North added.

“Rockingham for Progress is deeply grateful to the Preservation Trust of Vermont for their generous support and encouragement.”

Ben Doyle, president of the Preservation Trust of Vermont, said the diner project is exciting, and the $100,000 given to it is part of $650,000 that the trust gave out to various historic preservation projects around the state.

He said that Hunter was able to contact one of the country’s foremost experts in diners to consult on the project.

Hunter said he owned Richard J.S. Gutman’s book, “American Diner,” and got ahold of him.

He said Rockingham for Progress is using the non-profit model because it makes the project eligible for grants. Ultimately, Rockingham for Progress would lease out the diner to be operated.

“We’ll be working closely with Preservation Trust for the next two years,” said Hunter, who added that there will be additional fund raising cycles. He said the total cost of the purchase and restoration would be “at least a half a million dollars.”

“Working with Richard JS Gutman, America’s foremost diner expert, Rockingham for Progress will use the grant funds exclusively for the restoration of the historic dining car. Both the exterior and interior will be repaired and restored, including the marble counter, tilework, built-in coolers, stools, oak booths, fixtures, signage and stained-glass filigrees on the windows,” the Preservation Trust said in a prepared statement.

Rockingham For Progress was founded in 2016 in order to further an expansive vision for the future of Bellows Falls and the Town of Rockingham. “When complete, the Miss Bellows Falls will provide steady employment to staff, will be returned to the tax rolls as a productive cog in the downtown matrix, and will fill an important gap in downtown restaurant offerings,” said the release.

“The Preservation Trust of Vermont, in partnership with the National Parks Service, is excited to support projects like the Miss Bellows Falls that will help preserve and revitalize Vermont’s rural communities,” said Doyle. “We congratulate the community champions who are leading this work and thank Senator Sanders, Senator Welch, and Congresswoman Balint for their support of this wonderful program. We would also like to acknowledge former Senator Leahy, for his work in establishing this important national program and proposing that it be named after his good friend, and former PTV president, the late Paul Bruhn.”

The Miss Bellows Falls project and the Bruhn Historic Revitalization Grant program are supported by the Historic Preservation Fund administered by the National Park Service. Additional recipients of the Bruhn Historic Revitalization subgrants include the Braintree Hill Meetinghouse, the Fletcher Free Library in Ludlow, the New Haven Junction Depot, the Gray Building in Northfield, Pittsford Village Farm, and the HH Mower General Store in Sheldon. The grants range from $50,000 to $100,000 and will be used toward structural repairs, roof replacement, window restoration, exterior work, restoration of significant interior finishes, and code improvements, the trust said.

In addition to North, Dunbar and Hunter, other board members of Rockingham for Progress are Susan Macneil and Doug Anarino.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.