The Great Lunch Wagon Controversy of 1897

February 2nd, 2018

By Alice Askins, Education Coordinator at Rose Hill Mansion

Geneva Advertiser, March 10, 1896, Village Board meeting report:

President Herendeen reported two applications for the privilege of running a lunch wagon on the street in the night, in which to serve hot coffee, milk, lunches, but without intoxicating beverages . . . .  One of these was from an Ithaca man, and the other was from J. J. Gaines, who was present at the meeting to explain what he wanted to do.  He was willing to pay a license fee of $50 a year and any reasonable amount of rent . . . to stand his lunch wagon in some public place.  Some discussion was provoked, Mr. Moore saying it would injure the business of those who paid rent for rooms in which to carry on that line of business.  Mr. Humphrey said that such wagons were maintained in several large cities and villages, and usually were not opened until all other lunch houses were closed.  Mr. Gaines said that this was the case exactly, that his wagon would not be brought out before eight or nine o’clock in the evening, and stay out as long as there was any business to do.  Finally Mr. Hofmann moved that the license be granted, it was seconded by Mr. Schnirel, and the ayes and noes being called was supported by Messrs. Herendeen, Humphrey, Hofmann, Schnirel, 4, Moore no, and it was declared carried.

Geneva Daily Times, April 1, 1896 (How Mr. Gaines and/or a man from Ithaca became Mr. Bosworth of Cortland is not explained):

NEW LUNCH WAGON.  It Begun [sic] Operations in Geneva Last Night.

W. Bostworth [sic], of Cortland, opened his new lunch wagon on the corner of Seneca and Exchange streets last night. It proved quite an attraction, and many people visited it out of curiosity as much as anything else. A delegation of Geneva citizens composed of hotel men, lawyers, newspapermen and merchants filled the handsome car at . . .  midnight, and got a cup of hot coffee which they all pronounced delicious.

Daily Times, May 26, 1897:

AS TO NIGHT-LUNCH.   . . . the village board of trustees last night considered a somewhat novel petition . . . related to the removal of the night-lunch wagon from the corner of Exchange and Seneca streets.  The petition asking for the removal was signed by some of Geneva’s representative men, some of whom conduct saloons and some of whom who do not.   . . .

Arguments galore might be raised in favor of allowing the lunch cart to remain . . . On the other hand, there are many who claim the wagon should be removed at once.  The question . . . has arisen in many other cities and . . . has not been satisfactorily settled in several.  Saloon men . . . are maintaining in Geneva, that they should be protected because they pay rent, as against the poor night-lunch provider, who pays none.

Those who favor the continuance of night lunch . . . will doubtless maintain, however, that many of the youth of Geneva, who would otherwise patronize the saloon, at present patronize the lunch wagon.  This divergence for many of the young men from the paths of vice . . . has been highly gratifying to those opposed to the saloon.  . . .

Geneva Daily Gazette, May 28, 1897:

THERE are some people who occasionally sign petitions without reading them, and we hope that such was the case with reference to the petition to revoke the license of Mr. A. W. Bostworth [sic], the proprietor of the “Owl” lunch wagon, which stands on the bank corner, foot of Seneca street.  The petition purported to be a plea of a few liquor dealers and restaurant keepers in the neighborhood, who claimed that Mr. Bosworth was injuring their business, and that as they had to pay heavy liquor licenses their trade should not be diverted by the lunch wagon.  What an idea!  Why, the total receipts of the wagon per night will not amount to more than five or six dollars.  But aside from this, the wagon should be permitted to remain for several good reasons.  First it is a protection to the banks against safe blowers and bank robbers, and Mr. Ver Planck informs us that the owner of the lunch wagon sought and readily gained his permission to locate it there.  Again, Mr. Bosworth should have . . . the earnest support of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of Geneva.  . . . Lastly, Mr. Bostworth has a license, which was renewed this year without protest, and he as well as other people who pay license to carry on business should receive full protection.  We hope this petition will be buried out of sight at the next meeting of the Board . . . To the credit of most of the liquor dealers of Geneva we are able to state that but four or five signed the petition.  None of them do business on Seneca street.

Daily Times, May 29, 1897:

A CITIZEN’S OPINION.  . . .  To the Editor . . . In your valuable paper of Wednesday you published the report on the trustees anti-lunch-wagon bill  . . . After a talk with the proprietor I learned he pays $1,000 for a lunch wagon, the rent of his house, and $50 a year in advance for his license.  Still the people look upon him as an outsider.  . . . Many cities have lunch wagons. . .  No disturbances ever occur there.  . . . A SUBSCRIBER.

Advertiser, June 1, 1897:

The Lunch Wagon Again.  Mr. H. L. SUYDAM writes a long communication in which he takes exception to . . . the location of the lunch wagon nearly in front of his place of business [the International Hotel on Exchange Street] . . . his reasons being that its screechy doors, its boisterous crowds, many of whom stop there after the saloons and poker shops are closed . . . [make the] night . . . unrestful until two, three and sometimes nearly four o’clock in the morning.  It is annoying to him and . . . the guests of his house.  He says if the lunch wagon is a protection to the banks and other business places, then have it moved around on Seneca street . . . and give him a rest.

Daily Times, June 2, 1897 – Village Board meeting report – Mr. Suydam addressed them:

Hiram L. Suydam then asked permission to enter a protest against the night lunch wagon.  . . . Mr. Suydam stated that he had been on the ground for 57 years, during which time he had paid in taxes from $50 to $250 a year.  The door of the wagon runs on rollers and rattles all night, from 9 o’clock until 8 o’clock in the morning . . . The liquor stores now close at midnight and people in leaving them meet at the lunch wagon to talk over their deeds . . . Trustee Hawkins called for the village attorney’s report upon this matter.  Mr. Wyckoff said that he had given it consideration.  Upon his suggestion it was put over for another week.

Daily Times, June 7, 1897:

LUNCH WAGONS.   Rev. Dr. A. W. Broadway Talks About Them.  BEST MEN FAVOR IT.  . . . IT DOESN’T SCARE HORSES.  Last evening, at the First Methodist church Rev. Dr. A. W. Broadway delivered an interesting sermon upon the all absorbing topic of the day, “Shall the Night Lunch Wagon Go?”  “. . . In the argument against the lunch wagon they say it is liable to scare the horses, because it has the colored glass windows and makes a strange sight . . . The street cars are brilliantly illuminated at night and swing through the streets at no slow rate of speed.  I wonder if they do not scare horses?  . . .    if I were a wife and my husband was a merchant down town and had to be there until 10 or 11 o’clock at night, and if he wanted a lunch, where would I want him to go for it, into the lunch wagon or into a restaurant, where liquor is sold?  I would say go to the wagon . . . Mothers, wives, fathers, neighbors and friends stand by the lunch wagon!  The attack is purely a selfish one.”

Daily Times, June 9, 1897 – Village Board meeting report:

OFF THE EARTH.  Fate of Mr. Lunch Man Hangs In the Balance.  IS HE A NUISANCE? . . .  A number of spectators were present, undoubtedly because the lunch wagon question was to be brought up.   . . . Clerk Nares read an opinion of the village attorney, A. R. Wyckoff  . . . Mr. Wyckoff says:  “I am of the opinion that . . . the board of trustees has not the right to remove the lunch wagon from the place where it is located, under the unexpired license heretofore granted.  But I am also of the opinion that if . . . this wagon [has] . . . become a nuisance, the board has the right to revoke the license.”  Clerk Nares also read two statements from Thomas Welch . . . of the International hotel, and Hiram Armstrong, a boarder at the hotel.  [Both complained about the racket.]  . . . Trustee Hofmann said that [the wagon] had not been proven . . . a nuisance.  . . . Trustee Hawkins was on his feet in a second and said that he thought there was proof that the wagon was a nuisance.  He considered the statements of Mr. Welch and Mr. Armstrong sufficient proof, besides what Mr. Suydam had already said, and that there were plenty of other places to go to.  For instance, further south, on Exhange street . . . Mr. Hawkins said he could get 200 business men to sign a petition to have the wagon removed from its present location.  Trustee Hofmann said that he could get 1000 names, of good citizens, on a petition to have the wagon remain where it is.  A committee consisting of Trustees Hofmann, Hawkins and Flynn was appointed to make investigations. 

Advertiser, June 15, 1897 – Village Board meeting report:

Then came on a heap of talk about the lunch wagon.  . . . There was quite a discussion between Trustees Hofmann and Hawkins as to what constituted a nuisance, and when this was getting pretty warm, Mr. Sperry moved that it be referred to another committee to report at the next meeting . . . Getting right down to the brass of it, an all night lunch wagon is not needed here, for there should be no one stirring (except the police) in our streets after midnight.

Daily Gazette, June 18, 1897:

. . .  the writer of the above has not investigated this subject.  The lunch wagon has been found to be a convenience by many people.  As to the statement that “there should be no one stirring in our streets after midnight except the police,” well, that might answer for a hamlet . . . but will not hold good in a city of 11,000 or 12,000 population, especially where there are four lines of railroads with trains arriving here at all hours of the night.

Daily Times, June 16, 1897:

At a meeting held last evening . . . the board of trustees took final action in the lunch wagon matter.  In accordance with the wishes of the populace the wagon will be allowed to remain in the business portion of the city . . . the trustees made a sort of compromise, granting the request of Mr. Suydam, and at the same time allowing the wagon to remain at a point convenient to all who wish to patronize it.  A resolution ordering the wagon removed around the corner was adopted.  . . . Trustees Hawkins and Flynn . . . opposed the lunch wagon.  The former was strongly opposed and left the meeting rooms as a consequence of the final disposal of the matter.  It would appear that Trustee Hawkins is unwilling to abide by the will of [the] people.

Daily Gazette, June 18, 1897 – another account of the same meeting:

Trustee Hawkins made a strong fight to have the wagon removed to another location.  He said those who favored the lunch wagon remaining in its present position took great risk; that some collision or accident might result which would cost the taxpayers $15,000 or $20,000, and that the restaurant keepers in the neighborhood should be protected from such unfair competition.  . . . The change of location was then put to a vote, which resulted ayes 4, nays 2.  Thus the question was settled and the wagon will be located on Seneca street.

Daily Times, June 18, 1897:

Now that the lunch-wagon question is settled, another subject of discussion must be hatched up for the trustees.

The question, however, was not completely settled. In the fall there was some agitation to have the Owl moved again (across the intersection,) and when another man applied to the Board in 1898 for permission to open a second lunch wagon, the trustees hesitated.  One can see why they might have been reluctant to re-open the whole issue, but eventually they granted permission.  It is interesting that in all the arguments advanced against the lunch wagon, nobody ever suggested immediate danger to life and property.  The wagons had gasoline stoves, and in the next couple of years, both of them exploded.  Fortunately no one was badly hurt in either incident, and both proprietors converted to gas   In a sense, we have still not settled the lunch wagon question.  Now they are food trucks, and some cities are still debating them.

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One response to “The Great Lunch Wagon Controversy of 1897”

  1. Beverly Lords (Utah) says:

    I really enjoyed this article all the way from Utah. I wish for arch one of your bloggers would do something on the Irish that immigrated during the famine 1847-48 and settled in Geneva.

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