We base many of our memories on food; not just what we ate (and how it tasted), but also where, and with whom.   Restaurants are often an important part of our memory banks, and when an old favorite closes its doors, it can trigger reminscences both good and bad.  We recently had a call from a woman who just could not remember the name of “the restaurant on Rockville Pike with the giant salad bar,” and it was driving her and her friends crazy.  (Staff memories, rather than our collections, solved that one: it was Phineas.)  Online, there are many forums and blogs dedicated to “do you remember” this restaurant, or that neighborhood cafe.  Next time you need to start a  conversation with a long-time county resident, ask if he or she remembers, say, Farrell’s, or Rickshaw, or the Anchor Inn.

How do museums reflect those memories?  Thankfully, restaurants contain more than just food.  (Although we do have a few once-edible items in our collections.)  Here are some of the material remnants that we use to help preserve, and bring back, memories of restaurants past.


Photographs.  Late 1960s interior and exterior views of Mr. T’s On the Pike, located on N. Washington Street in Rockville.  George W. Johnson (seated) opened his general store in 1918; over the years it evolved into a well-known tavern and restaurant, which he operated until his death in 1971.  The office building at right, in the street view, is still standing, but Mr. T’s was eventually torn down and is now the site of Hickman’s Exxon (another long-time Rockville establishment, but we’re talking about restaurants today, not service stations).  Photo of Mr. T’s donated by Charles Brewer.


Postcards and advertisements.  This circa 1940 postcard advertises Sunnyside View, a roadside all-in-one convenience stop on Route 240 (now Route 355) near Clarksburg.  The illustration includes a helpful sign, “LUNCH,” on the cheerful yellow building, and the text on the back informs us that Sunnyside offered travelers “Rooms – Cabins – Chicken Dinners – Steak – Ham – Lunch – Home Cooking.”  Postcard donated by Tim Parker.

064280aHere’s a more recent postcard, circa 1980, advertising Emperor Ming Cuisine & Cocktails in Rockville.  The images on the front show the interior and exterior of the restaurant; the text on the reverse does not provide details on the menu, but it does tell us that it opened in 1972, and was owned and managed by Irene K.Y. Wong.  Postcard donated by Carol Cummings.

Servingware.  The Cabin John Bridge Hotel, on what’s now MacArthur Boulevard in Cabin John, was Montgomery County’s ‘destination dining’ experience at the turn of the last century.  Started in the late 19th century by German immigrants Joseph and Rosa Bobinger, and eventually taken over by their sons, the Hotel boasted well-appointed dining rooms, and had its own china pattern featuring an image of the namesake Bridge.  (In fact there were two similar patterns; pieces marked simply “Cabin John Bridge Hotel” are earlier, and pieces featuring an entwined “BB” are later.)  Patrons came from far (thanks to the trolley) and near to enjoy fine dining in Cabin John. All things come to an end, however; the Hotel closed in 1926, and burned to the ground in the early 1930s.  Many surviving examples of the Hotel’s china, including the broken serving dish above, have been found in the yards of homes built in the area after the Hotel’s demise.  We have several different pieces – some whole, some not – in our collections, but as an almost-archaeologist I rather enjoy the broken dishes dug up while gardening, and chose this option for today’s post.  Serving dish donated by Carolyn Bryant.


Souvenirs and promotional items.  Here’s a small ceramic coffee mug, given to Boy Scout leaders from the National Capital Area Council who attended the 1974 Round-Up.  The front features the BSA logo and the motto “Prepare for Life ’74;” the back includes the sponsor’s logo: Gino’s, a restaurant chain started in Baltimore in the late 1950s.  This particular mug belonged to Jim Douglas, Cubmaster for Cub Scout Pack 782 in Wheaton Woods.  I’ve seen references to a Gino’s restaurant on Georgia Avenue in Wheaton, near present-day Glenmont Metro Station; can any blog readers confirm or deny that this was the same chain?  Mug donated by Patricia Douglas.


Menus.  All the items above are well and good, but what about the food that was served at these restaurants?  Menus are one of the clearest ways to get at the actual dining experiences of the past, short of cranking up your time machine.  We have a few menus in the artifact and archival collections; for example, here’s the “Junior Dinner” (“for children under 12 years”) on offer at Hot Shoppes* on Sunday, September 26, 1943:

Hot Shoppes childrens menu 1943Chicken Noodle Soup or Chilled Papaya Juice.  ~  Chopped Sirloin Steak, Hot Shoppes Style, 55 cents. Old Fashioned Chicken Pot Pie, Toast Cube Crust, 55 cents. Baked Swordfish Steak, Mushroom Sauce, 55 cents. ~  Yellow Squash; Celery Cabbage with Russian Dressing; Tomato and Eggplant; Garden Salad Bowl; Potatoes Hashed in Cream; Green Snap Beans. Rolls and Butter. ~ DESSERTS: Orange Layer Cake; Fresh Fruit Sherbet; Hot Fudge Cake Square with Whipped Cream; Fresh Apple Sauce with Whipped Cream and Cake Fingers.  ~  A&W Root Beer, Milk or Lemonade.

*Unfortunately the menu does not indicate a specific Hot Shoppes restaurant, but it may have come from the Bethesda restaurant.  Menu donor unknown.

…And now it’s your turn, blog readers.  I’ve no doubt left out your favorite local restaurant (not on purpose, I promise!) and the memories therein. So, help out the Historical Society and fill our comment section with restaurant reminiscences!

P.S. Fans of menus and historic meals – don’t miss the New York Public Library’s crowdsourced menu transcription project.



October’s Postcard Wednesday features the Cabin John Bridge, but I’m not really going to talk about the bridge, awesome though it may be.  Instead, take note of the front of this card – see the message crammed into the margin at the top?  (Remember to click on images to enlarge them!)

“Dear M. I arrived safe and am better. Love to all, your Son Wm.”

William sent this card to his mother in December, 1906. Before 1907, the US Government decided that post cards (it was two words, then) could have only the address and stamp on the reverse.  To emphasize this point, most cards from 1898 to 1906 say something like “This side is for the address” on the back, to keep all that tempting white space from being filled up with greetings and gossip. 

The bit about “Authorized by Act of Congress, May 19, 1898” refers to exactly that: an act that authorized the printing of “private mailing cards,” which could be mailed for one cent.  Before that, cards were either issued by the government (1 cent postage) or as privately printed “souvenir cards” (2 cents postage).  A later regulation in 1901 mandated the words “Post Card” on the reverse; government-issued cards were “Postal Cards.” 

This seems a trifle overcomplicated, but it does make it easier to date unsent cards.  Our Cabin John Bridge example here is conveniently postmarked twice: in Washington, DC on December 11, 1906 and in Dickerson, Md on December 12, 1906.  Presumably William Harris arrived safely in DC, bought a local-scenery* postcard, and sent it off to his mother, who received the good news the next day.  Mrs. A.S. Harris is almost certainly Mary Bridget Taylor Harris (1846-1932), wife of Abraham Simmons Harris (1834-1907) and mother of William (born 1870).  The added “Mt. Ephraim” in the address refers, most likely, to Abraham’s brother’s home Mount Ephraim, which still stands at the corner of Mt. Ephraim and Harris Roads in Dickerson.  Though the history of the house doesn’t make it quite clear who was living there in 1906, perhaps Mary was staying there with relatives for the holiday season.

But wait, there’s more postcard-regulation fun to be had.  Here’s another version of the same card, this one postmarked 1909.

Now we’re allowed to write messages on the reverse!  This is a “divided-back” card, made legal on March 1, 1907.  (Some postcards from the transitional period include “message goes here”-type instructions for bemused correspondents.)  Undivided- vs. divided-back is one of the easiest ways to at least approximately date an unpostmarked card. 

As for this card’s message, it at first seems a little cryptic (even setting aside the peculiar handwriting).  It was postmarked in Washington, DC on April 19, 1909, and addressed to Mrs. A.K. Ritter Stone, Geneva, Ohio.  “Monday morning. You have been good to me – and I knew it this morning when every one is in their fine cloths.  Emily A.”  Huh; an inside joke?  Hard to tell.  However, through the magic of searchable US Census records, I found Anna K. R. Stone in the 1910 census.  Mrs. Stone lived with her husband Eugene and her mother Mary Ritter in Geneva, Ohio.  She was a dressmaker.  I think this card must be from a satisfied customer, visiting D.C. for whatever reason and pleased that her dressmaker has done her proud.

Want more on postcard history? There are lots of helpful sites – postcard collectors are a dedicated bunch – but this one, put together by the Center of Southwest Studies, is pretty straightfoward.

* The Cabin John Bridge – built in the 1860s to carry the Washington Aqueduct over Cabin John Creek, and until 1903 the longest single-span stone arch in the world – is solidly within Montgomery County’s borders, but it was definitely a Sight worth seeing for DC visitors.  Some postcard captons (including the 1909 one shown here) even attempt to claim it for DC.  (Very rude!)

9 Froude CircleThis little house, made of corrugated cardboard, is a miniature version (probably to scale) of the maker’s home in Cabin John Gardens.  It (the model) was built around 1947 by Robert Moeller, a mechanical engineer at the David Taylor Model Basin, now part of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, off MacArthur Boulevard in Cabin John. 

Both Cabin John Gardens and the nearby Carver Road development were built during World War II as “temporary” housing for employees of the Model Basin.  Cabin John Gardens was built on the site of the old Cabin John Hotel (which had burned down in the 1930s), and consisted of 100 small, one-story houses.  Another 20 houses were built some distance away for African American employees; this neighborhood is called Carver Road.  Both neighborhoods still exist, despite the supposed temporary nature of the homes.  The Gardens is now a co-op, as the residents banded together to buy the land in the late 1950s when the government planned to raze the site.  Many of the homes in the Gardens have been remodeled and enlarged over the decades, but the bones of the little 1940s wartime houses are still there. 

Mr. Moeller constructed this little model of his home, 9 Froude Circle, for his own entertainment.  The highest part of the roof reaches 7 3/4″ high, and the footprint is about 15″ by 13″.  The roof lifts off to reveal the floor plan of the house, complete with built-in fixtures in the kitchen; removable furniture, also made of cardboard, can be placed inside.  The only part Mr. Moeller didn’t make is the little bottle-brush Christmas tree. 


Full disclosure from your curator/blogger: my father’s family also lived in a Cabin John Gardens home on Froude Circle, although a little later (and their house was of slightly different design).  This is part of the reason for my personal affection for Mr. Moeller’s little model house.   But how can anyone not love it?  It’s a tiny version of his house!  With a cardboard stove!  If you would like to see 9 Froude Circle in (miniature) person, it will be included in our upcoming [now current] exhibit “The Surburban Ideal: Domestic Architecture in Montgomery County” at the Waters House History Center, Germantown [on display through June 26th, 2010].