Posted by: dinerhotline | February 23, 2011

A look back at the Park Street Diner – Ayer, Mass.

Here is a diner that never should have disappeared. This was a 1950’s vintage DeRaffele Diner, one of only 3 known to be delivered to Massachusetts (not counting the Corner Lunch which was a Musi re-do of a similar model DeRaffele). This was the Park Street Diner located in downtown Ayer, Mass. It was also one of the largest diners in the Bay State and had plenty of business, probably because of its proximity to Fort Devens. In fact it was open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year!

I ate at this diner quite a few times over the years, in fact some of those visits predated the start of my officially documenting diners with photos. It was always pretty startling to round the corner of Rte. 2A and see this huge stainless steel covered diner sitting on the corner, especially since most of the diners in this area of Massachusetts were much smaller Worcester Lunch Cars! Dick Gutman has a photo in his book, American Diner Then & Now showing the earlier incarnation of this diner, a very rare Barriere Diner!

The Park Street Diner closed  in late 1985 if I recall correctly. It was bought by Carlton Blackwell, a former Mayor of Fitchburg. Ironically, when I researched just now to get Mr. Blackwell’s name right, I found he had passed away on my last birthday (May 25, 2010). When the diner closed, I recall reading that Mr. Blackwell said the day of the diner had passed and that he was renovating the building to become a different restaurant called “Ryan’s Roast” which featured roast beef and other meats.

So, after an auction  the diner was started to be renovated. Before all the stainless steel and enameled striped exterior was destroyed, Dan Scully, one of the original members of the Society for Commercial Archeology was able to secure the rights to remove the exterior covering which to my knowledge, he still has. In fact Dan loaned 2 or 3 sections including window trim which became a huge part of the landmark exhibit, American Diner Then & Now that was curated by Dick Gutman at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Mass. back in 1995. They were used at the entrance to the exhibit.

Above you can see the diner building after the stainless exterior was removed. It was being enlarged to become Ryan’s Roast. This restaurant did not last too long, maybe 1.5 to 2 years at the most. After it closed, it became a bank and is currently still being used as a bank. See below….

Here is an image from Google Street view showing the building as it currently is…. a Sovereign Bank branch. It looks to be even more modified since I shot my photo, the entryway is larger now!

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Responses

  1. Wow … I love the font used on the rood signage. So sad that I never had the chance to see it in person :(

  2. [...] information I came upon a website about old diners; this feature in particular is about the old Park Street Diner.  It reminded me of a simpler time.  For some of you it’s something you never heard of, for [...]

  3. Hello! I found it! The Park Street Diner was one place I used to visit every weekend when I was stationed at Ft. Devens which would have been from of September of 1970 to April of 1971. After which I was shipped out to Ft. Myer, VA where I stayed until I got out of the service.

    I was too young to drink liquor, and couldn’t go drinking with my buddies, so the diner became my home away from home, so to speak. I can remember it like it was yesterday. Friendly folks always made me feel at home. Got to know some of the townsfolk, and even a young woman who used to go there that I got friendly with. I’m having trouble remembering her name, but I will eventually. She lived walking-distance from the diner, which many folks in the town also did.

    I even contacted someone from your city government, a Mr. Shaun Suhoski, when I was trying to find information about the Town of Ayer, and how it is today. You might say I was on an internet pilgrimage looking for people and places I used to know who remain very dear to me to this day. Mr. Suhoski was very helpful and sent me information and answered my questions happily. When I asked him about the diner, he only said it was now a bank.

    I was only 17-18 years old during this time. There were some other places I was trying to find out about, too. One of them was the little USO in the town near the diner. I vaguely recall everything about the town. But I would love to go back there some day for a visit. The Park Street Diner will always be a pleasant memory since it was the first place I would head to when I left the post, now called “Devens”, and enjoy many visits.

    I hope my letter here will be the beginning of many talks I would like to have about the Diner and it’s people, and the Town of Ayer, MA. Whoever reads this, please feel free to contact me at any time. I would love to hear from anyone who shares this time and place for the memory it provides me in a very memorable time of my life!

    I haven’t logged in, so I will have to become a member. I hope I don’t lose this letter trying. If it does get through, I will leave my Email address here for anyone interested in contacting me.
    Email address: hhanley007@comcast.net

    Thank you for being there! Sincerely, Harold J. Hanley

    • Hi Harold. I just was reading that you were at that Park St. Diner in the 70s. Did you by chance know Adi Ogden back then? She worked there at the diner.

      • Hello, Roy. And thanks for your reply.

        I’m sorry to say I didn’t know any names of the ones working there at the diner. Now I wish I would have gotten to know some of them.

        The only name I could think of was one woman who used to come in as a customer. She was like me, I guess. Just went to the diner to enjoy the company and go back home. And her name I believe was Lena. I’ve asked if anyone remembers her, and so far no one has responded.

        I’m a bit embarrassed because I wish I could share some names with some of those like yourself, who responds. But I wish the diner was still there. Even though I left Ft. Devens in 1971.

        Was this Adi you mentioned family to you?

        Harold hanley

      • By the way, Roy…are you still in the Town of Ayer?

  4. Hello again.
    I just tried to click “like” but it prompted for a log in and website.
    Can anyone show me how to get into this site if required?

    Thank you.

    Harold Hanley

    • Thanks. I think I just climbed aboard.

  5. I was checking to see if anyone commented on my post for this precious memory of mine.
    By the way, I think I do remember the name of the young lady I used to see in the Park Street Diner when I would come in during the weekends. Her name was Lena. And Lena lived a short distance away from the Diner, as I’m sure most others did who lived in the town of Ayer, MA.
    Would that ever be something if someone else who knew Lena would respond.
    I will not soon forget all the wonderful people of the town, and how meeting together at the diner was the thing to do for so many!

  6. I vividly remember the Park Street Diner.I was stationed at Fort Devens from April 1960 until November 1960. I used to go there every Tuesday night after having attended the dances at the USO. I met my wife at the USO and we would spend a great deal of time at the diner. Sorry to see that it’s gone.

    • I have good memories of this diner. I spent a lot of fun times there with my friends. I was stationed at Fort Devens from 1970-1973. I would love to go back one day. This brings back great times. Does anyone remember The Mohawk Club along the Mohawk Trail? Lots of fun and many crazy nights. Just curious????““““

  7. Hello, Richard. Thank you for responding.

    You’re the first one since I first posted my “memory message.”

    1960, huh? Wow. You must have been at Ft. Devens, too. I got there 10 years after you. I was there from Sept. of 1970 to April 0f 71.

    Only as recently as Sept. of 2011, I was in contact with Mr. Shaun Suhoski, who is an Ayer town official. He contacted me after I sent an Email to the Town of Ayer asking a few questions and explaining just who I was. I told him that I used to visit Ayer when I was stationed at the Fort. Shaun was helpful by responding to an ex-soldier at the Fort, and even sent me some brochures and maps. It was he who told me the Diner was now a bank, and that Ft. Devens is now “Devens Center”; no longer a military facility. There was a cleaners along Main St. called Esquire he said was still there.

    Shaun told me the USO also was history, sad to say. Meeting your future wife there is quite memorable, too, for you as her. Was she from the Town of Ayer?

    You know, it’s funny how you don’t appreciate so many things in life as much as you do until years later and it becomes a memory. I was flooded with these memories when I realized the internet was able to put me back in contact, not only with the town, but some of it’s people, as well. I was looking for anyone who would listen to me as I tried to share something that will always be a part of me. I longed to go home when I was in the service, as many do. And now I want to go back and visit a very small town that is now providing me with a world of those memories.

    So Richard, I am very proud to know there is someone else out there who shares a little of the same. I’ll bet you stir up the cloud of thoughts maybe even more than I do, especially by meeting your wife during it all. It will always be yours and hers to keep. I know mine is.

    Hopefully we can chat again here. I look forward to it. Even if you weren’t “Richard Dawson”!! LOL

    Take care, and Happy belated New Years to you and yours!!

    Harold Hanley from Chicago.

    • No, my wife wasn’t from Ayr. She was from Watertown. She and abunch of her friends would drive to Ayer every Tuesday night and I would meet her there and later go to the Park Street Diner and stay there until she and her friends had to go home. I do remember the Mohawk clug, the Little Klub and as well as the Wigwam. the last time I at Ft. Devens was in late 69. My wife and I hosted a couple of soldiers for Christmas. I drove from Watertown to Devens, pick them up and then drove them back to the base late Christmas night. My grwon daughter now lives just a few miles from Ayer.

      Rick Dawson
      Seattle

      • Thanks for your reply, Rick.

        Yes, we do have some great memories of Ayer and Ft. Devens. You’re a bit luckier in that you have some contact with your daughter living out that way. You may even get out there once in a while.

        I didn’t get to Watertown. I used to hear that city announced at the bus station in Boston. Looking back now, I wished I had got to all those towns for some more pleasant memories of all of it.

        What town does your daughter live? Maybe it’s one of the towns I did get to,maybe just passing through. I remember being in Groton, Harvard, Concord, Ayer; that’s about all off the top of my head.

        I’ve been online with a discussion group from Ayer. Those from the town, or anyone ever connected with their town. They were glad that someone from Chicago took the time to reach out to them. They’re on Facebook. Look for “I’m from Ayer….”

        They spoke of a movie filmed about a murder case that happened in their town some years ago. It shows the town of Ayer in a couple of spots. It’s a good movie anyway you look at it, and would recommend it to anyone. It’s called “Conviction” and I bought it in Blu-ray from Amazon for less than $10.00. They told me I’d love it, and I did.

        Here’s a link: http://www.amazon.com/Conviction-Blu-ray-Hilary-Swank/dp/B004EQAVHS/ref=sr_1_4?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1395113744&sr=1-4&keywords=conviction

        Can’t go wrong. I sent this link to their Facebook site and a whole bunch of them ordered it. There’s also regular DVD if you don’t have Blu-ray.

        Better go now. Thanks again for your reach-out, Rick. Write back if you get a chance.

        Harold Hanley
        Chicago

  8. I met my first wife in Ayer. She was Mary Sparks and served Pizza and Beer at the Nashoba Club. She was from Louuisville, KY and for some reason I never found out why she appeared in Ayer, MA. Anyway, I married her in 1959, adopted her two kids, had 3 more in 4 years and then the Army reassignd me away from Fort Devens in 1963. I always characterize my stay in Massachusetts, as the five years I wanted for summer to come. It was always too cold to go swimming. Needless to say, I spent most of my time at the Nashoba Club, bypassing the Park Street Diner and the Cellar Bar on the way.

    • Hello, James. I’m sorry that I’m just getting your reply now. I never got an Email about your reply.
      So I see you have some great memories of the Park St. Diner and Ayer, too. That’s great.
      I have a few of this great little town, too. So I’m very glad we’re finding each other in this new site I was just told about by Kimberley Whitman who contacted me.
      “I’m from Ayer, and I remember…” is a Facebook site where over 300 members share their memories.
      I look forward to many a nice discussion here.
      So you were about 10 years ahead of me at Ft. Devens..well, I’ll bet it was just as memorable. After basic training, I thought Devens was quiet and peaceful, most of the time. Finding a wife and all those things you did there…I wouldn’t be too surprised if you were still there.
      But I look forward to the new site and maybe we can pick up on this over there.
      Again, thank you so much for responding to my earlier message.

      Harold Hanley

  9. Anyone who has great memories of Ayer, there is a group with over 300 members on Facebook named “I’m from Ayer,MA and I remember …” Please check it out and join.

    • Hello here too, Kim. Glad you found me.
      I put in my request to join this new group. I expect they’ll reply soon.
      I look forward to some good memorable discussions here.
      Talk with you soon!

    • Yes I was stationed at Fort Devens from 1970-1973. After the army my boyfriend and I lived and worked in Ayer and around. Do you remember the Mohawk Club on the Mohawk Trail. Lots of good times. Lots of good memories.

      Em

  10. Hello Harold. We also lived in Ayer during 1962 to 1965. In fact the diner was a real treat for us because every payday, which was once a month, we would go to the diner for one of their lobster rolls. My husband was stationed at Fort Devens and was an instructor at the USASATC&S. We recently went back to Devens and Ayer and were heartbroken to see everything gone. The diner didn’t look like anything we remembered. It was a bank with no character. I must say though, the house we lived in was still there and so was the building that was the USO. We looked all over Ayer, Shirley, and Devens for a map of Fort Devens from the 60’s, but had no luck. A lot of buildings were missing and unfortunatley we did not take many pictures at the time we lived there.

    Dee and Otto

    • Hello, Dee. Nice to hear from you.
      I guess it would be sad to see so much gone. The last time I was there was in 71′. I’ve written to Ayer city hall and got a response from Shaun Suhoski who filled me in on what’s what in recent years.
      Ft. Devens is now Devens Center. Did you have a chance to see just what Devens Center really is?
      Mr. Suhoski told me about the bank where the Park Street Diner was. And the USO building, as I remember, was sort of off the street and back in there, wasn’t it? I didn’t go there much, but I thought it was great they had one there. Speaks well of the town to have had one.
      I also got a reply from Dale Wilson who also lived off-post. I’ll paste his letter to me and see if his building was close to where you lived. Here it is:

      It is really nice to take a look at Ft. Devens and the Ayer area. We lived near the Library, and can see the apartment building where we live. Thebuilding is away from the Library toward the back gate, there were two building on the left hand side of the road that backed up to a small pond. One of the building is now torn down but the one which we lived in is still there. I would love to go up there for a long week end, but I would sadly miss that the Park Street Diner is now gone, and it seems there is a Firehouse now where Tom’s Pizza use to stand. Man to do it over again would be nice. Times were tough for my wife and I while we lived in Ayer but we wouldn’t trade it for anything. I loved Ft. Devens and everything about the area…. Great memories.

      Thanks Harold and Kim

      P.S. Harold if you went to town from the back gate you walked by our apartment building, neat.

      Kim Whitman is who Dale is referring to here. Kim’s mother started a Facebook chat group for the Town of Ayer called “I’m from Ayer and I do remember..” You might find some old friends and some new ones, too. Check it out.
      Kim also sent me a postcard show of old and more recent photos of Ayer that you might find interesting. Check this out, too: http://www.cardcow.com/viewall/67037/

      This is getting to be more fun all the time. Take my Email address and save it if you want to contact me: hhanley007@comcast.net

      Hope to talk to you soon!

      Harold Hanley

    • Hello, Otto.
      I’m replying to your letter here once more. I just ran across it again and I wondered if you ever watched the home movie that was made at Ft. Devens that I left a link for. So I thought I would reply to you with the link right here. Maybe it will heal some of the heartbreak you mentioned in your letter.
      Don’t feel bad. I would have felt the same way. Some of this movie is rough, but I hope it helps you have the pleasant memories you looked for when you returned to the Fort, and didn’t see again.
      So here you are: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKrq8tafZoU

  11. Here’s another one you might find interesting. God ahead and click on it:

  12. Wow, the Park St. Diner. Best food in Ayer for a hungery young GI.
    We would all meet there after going to the clubs. Lets see, there was the shell club, The mohawk club and I think one called the wagon wheel. That was over thirty years ago. I have to say it was my favorite duty station. Ayer was a great little town. Thanks for having this web site.

  13. Hello, John. I posted the Park St. Diner stuff and the Ft. Devens things you see above. The Park St. Diner was my home away from home just like you say it was yours. I was at Devens from 1970-71 in the ASA. You, too? I was too young to drink in the bars at that time. So I would go in and do my things and stop at the diner. I had an exciting life then if I didn’t take the bus into Boston.
    If you’re interested, there’s a Facebook discussion group I belong to now with people from Ayer, MA. It’s called “I’m from Ayer and I remember”. Just do search on Facebook and introduce yourself, tell them you know me, tell them your were at Devens. Then have some fun telling them your memories. I’m having a ball with them.
    Write me back some time. My Email address is hhanley007@comcast.net

  14. Oh yes, I forgot to leave my name. Harold Hanley from Chicago.

  15. I grew up and Ayer and am still a resident of this town. I am currently a third grade teacher and I am teaching my class about the history of Ayer. I came across this web site as I was researching old buildings that use to exist in Ayer. My favorite story about the Park St. diner involves me and a time when I was about 9 years old. My father told me to meet him there after my CCD class at St. Mary’s one Saturday morning. I walked in and sat down in a booth by myself. I ordered my favorite a grilled English muffin and a cup of hot chocolate. My father still had not arrived. Then I heard the fire whistle blow. My father was a voluteer fireman at the time. He never met me at the diner as he was attending the fire. I begin to panic because I didn’t have a dime on me. The waitress brought the little ticket stub (bill) that said I owed 35 cents. I must have sat there for an hour wondering what to do. I decided I needed to go to the cash registered and tell them I didn’t have any money. Just then Harold Allen (a customer who was friends with my dad) stepped up and said, ” Let me get that for you.” I thanked him and flew out of the diner.
    That was a great place and an awesome landmark. Too bad it was torn down.

    • Hello, Beth. A nice story. One you’ll always remember.

      As you can see, I posted the things above that I remember about the diner when I was at Ft. Devens. I’m glad you took the time to reply.

      When I found out the diner was gone, I felt a bit empty because it meant so much at the time. Like my home away from home, I never passed up a chance to stop in. I was treated well by everyone. I wish I could remember some names to share, but I don’t think I knew many of their names.

      I also have since joined the “I’m from Ayer…..” group on Facebook. Were you aware of this group? I’m trying to recall coming across your name there, but all I’m drawing are blanks. If you’d like to check it out, here’s a link for the group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/205532096170977/

      I haven’t posted much there lately, but in the beginning I was busy explaining who I was and what my connection was. It was a lot of fun. I even posted a link for purchase of the movie that was made a few years ago about an incident that occurred in Ayer which, I’m sure you’re aware of. All of this is in my earlier posts.

      So it was nice chatting with you. Nice to meet another one of Ayer’s great citizens. Please feel free to respond whenever you like. And here’s my Email address, too, if you’d like it: hhanley007@comcast.net

  16. Great site. I grew up in Fitchburg but went to the Mohawk, Shell Club, and Wagon Wheel many times in the 70s. Ft Devens shut down around 1996. Great memories of “The 2A Circuit”. The Park Street Diner was a great place along with the Nashoba Pizza (behind the Post Office). Thanks for posting.

    • Thanks for your reply. Yes, fond memories, indeed. I agree the diner should have stayed and not be shut down. But what can you do?
      Thanks for sharing, ZNeil.

      Harold Hanley

  17. Hi Harold, yes that was my mom. She worked there for many years. We lived in Shirley in the 60s. And dad was stationed there at Devens. They’ve both passed on. But I recall my childhood days there in Ayer and Shilrey. I miss those days. And how people were so nice then. I’ve just turned 60 and hope to take a trip back home soon. That will always be my home. Thanks Harold, God Bless


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