Back in October of 1986, Steve Repucci and I were road tripping, driving down U.S. Rte. 11 from Harrisburg, PA toward Knoxville, TN. Our ultimate destination was Nashville to visit John Baeder. When I had helped John Baeder move a huge portion of his belongings from New York City to Nashville back in 1983, we had driven I-81 south from Pennsylvania to Tennessee. I noticed that U.S. Rte. 11 was parallel to the highway. So I decided back then that if I ever made the same trip in the future, I would certainly take Rte. 11, as the old road was calling me!
When Steve and I were driving through Virginia we found that at a certain point, Rte. 11 ended up on I-81 for a number of miles. Being that we were trying to avoid being on the Interstate, we attempted to follow backroads hoping for an old alignment for Rte. 11. Well, we never found an old alignment and ended up getting pretty far afield from Rte. 11 and I-81. So at a certain point I told Steve we needed to get back on track. Steve is one of the best navigators with a map (besides me) and started finding a reasonable route back toward where we needed to be.
I recall we ended up taking a right hand turn heading north into downtown Hillsville, VA where shortly on the right we saw the Hillsville Diner. We were amazed as we had no idea it existed and being that we were basically there by happenstance, it was a delight to stumble upon! It was as I remember, a Saturday afternoon and the diner was not open for business but I did get some decent photos before we went on our way.
The Hillsville Diner is a 1920’s vintage Jerry O’Mahony diner and was originally called the Mount Airy Diner (its first location was in that North Carolina city). In fact legend has it that a young Andy Griffith had patronized the diner when it was in Mount Airy (his hometown).
My story sort of comes full circle as I received an email from John Baeder a few days ago asking what I knew about this diner a new friend of his (Tony Craig of Virginia) was telling him about, (he sent me the link here…)
http://www.virginia.org/site/description.asp?AttrID=33467 a webpage from Virginia.org that mentions the diner. There are a couple of mistakes, one that the diner was built by the Mahoney Streetcar Company (actually Jerry O’Mahony Dining Car Builders) and second that it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (it is actually a contributing part of the Historic District it is located in, not individually listed).
I told John that I first saw it on my way down to visit him in 1986. He also sent this photo that his friend Tony was able to obtain. I assume this was when it was operating at its first location (the building next door is different and the name on the diner in this shot says Mount Airy).
According to John, Tony Craig raves about the Hillsville Diner, says they have the best pancakes he’s ever had! Hopefully someday I can get back to this diner when it is open and check out those pancakes myself. Also, I have 2 friends who live in Floyd, VA which is really close by to Hillsville and we could meet there for a meal, who knows?