Friday, February 23, 2007

Dick Skinner's Restaurant

Everyone who has spent any time in Orlando and joined in conversations about Orlando’s heyday has heard of the Dick Skinner Restaurant. And, when you speak of the Dick Skinner Restaurant you are really talking about George Delbert "Dick" Skinner and his mother Patience Skinner who were the owners and proprietors of the restaurant for many years. 1

The Dick Skinner Restaurant forms a background for the well known “Bear Trainer” photo published on this website. Dick Skinner is shown in this photo with coat, tie and cap standing on the left in the group of men.

As is shown in the bear trainer photo Dick’s restaurant was actually a large wagon. This wagon was originally located in Burnsville and had been operated as a restaurant by William Sleeth on Depot Street near the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Depot. Mr. Sleeth sold the wagon restaurant to Dick Skinner around 1913 who had the wagon brought to Orlando. The restaurant wagon was sited on the western side of the Oldaker Mercantile Company store building which later would become Charlie Knight's Store . The wagon restaurant was approximately 6 to 8 feet from the adjoining store building and for a long time was recognized as an independent standing building. Sometime later a shed roof attached to the adjoining store building was built over the wagon. The porch of the Charlie Knight store building was extended across the front of the restaurant. To many, the restaurant then appeared to be a part of the larger adjoining store building.

Pictured are Dick and hs mother Patience.

The significance of the crossing of the Coal and Coke with the Baltimore & Ohio railroads in Orlando cannot be overstated. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had many connections from the north and east and west but its southern terminus in West Virginia was Richwood. If a B & O train passenger wanted to go to Charleston, it would be necessary to transfer to the Coal & Coke line in Orlando. The transfer would not have been feasible in Burnsville because the distance between the B & O depot and the Coal and Coke depot was nearly a mile. Therefore Orlando was an important station for both railroads whose trains in those days were generally full of passengers, the number of which could be in the hundreds daily. Because of the time it took to unload luggage and entrain passengers the Orlando stop was close to an hour long. Thus the need for restaurants was clear. Consequently the Orlando restaurants were busy with railroad passengers, especially the trains coming into the station around lunch time.

Dick Skinner, perhaps the earliest entrepreneur in the restaurant trade in Orlando, had an efficient and convenient location. Dick’s restaurant building was narrow with a long counter and stools. The kitchen was in the rear of the restaurant toward Oil Creek in a small addition to the trailer. Dick served the standard fare of food of the day; nothing fancy, but quick. Coleman Jeffries, an old time resident of Orlando, was interviewed for the pictorial history of Lewis County by the author Joy Gilchrest. Jeffries related that Dick Skinner “liked to ask customers who ordered pie what kind they wanted when all he ever had was apple.”

Early on, Dick’s mother Patience helped in the restaurant, working behind the counter and his brother Marcellus Earl worked with him, too. Marcellus moved to West on to go into business for himself, Patience slowed down, and others came to work at the restaurant. including sister Lelah Skinner and niece Edith (daughter of Dick's brother Gideon C.). Of course with the large number of patrons all coming at once for food, service was quite hectic. Other known employees of Dick Skinner’s restaurant were Vada Henline, Nellie Foster and Ethel Blake.

Dick and his mother Patience lived in rooms over Charlie Knight's store untill Patience died in 1931. By the mid 1930s Dick had retired from the restaurant trade and moved to a shack up Three Lick. He died there in 1961 at the age of 92.

Railroad technology brought a good trade to Orlando but automobile technology brought an end to it. With the completion of U. S. Route 19 to Charleston in the early 1930s rail passenger traffic began dwindling as more and more people bought automobiles and began driving north and south instead of taking the train. Polar Henline and his wife Vada reopened the restaurant but were unable to make it successful. The restaurant closed for good in the late 1930s.

1. Patience Skinner’s maiden name was Duvall. She was a daughter of William and Frankie Jane (Mathews) Duvall who lived on upper Oil Creek. Patience was born in 1846. She married Jackson Skinner, son of Alexander and Phebe (Conrad) Skinner. One of the children of Jackson and Patience (Duvall) Skinner was George Delbert Skinner who was born in 1868 and, who, all his life was known as “Dick.”
For more on Patience see the Aug '06 entry An Heirloom from Patience Duvall
For more on Dick see the Sept. '06 entry It Was The Eggs That Killed Uncle Dick

comment 1. David Parmer
On a cold day in March 1932, Estaline (Posey) Riffle of Clover Fork dropped into Dick Skinner’s Restaurant to warm up a bit. Estaline went over to the gas stove and stood near it to take the chill off. As was the fashion of the day Estaline was wearing a long woolen dress. Standing a little too long next to the fire, Estaline’s dress caught afire. The only person present to help Estaline was Lelah Skinner, who was operating the restaurant during the absence of her brother, the proprietor Dick Skinner. The two ladies were not successful in putting out the blaze before it inflicted grievous burns on Estaline. Estaline was rushed to the City Hospital in Weston where she died the following day. She was buried in the Wooddell Cemetery on Clover Fork.

Estaline was christened Mary Estaline and was the daughter of Isaac and Amanda (Blake) Posey. She was the wife of Abe Riffle. She was aged 67 at the time of her death.
Click on the thumbnail to the right to see her death certificate.

comment 2 Donna Gloff
When I was growing up in the 1950s and '6s in Detroit, my father would ask Ma a couple times a week, "What kind of apple pie you got for desert?" Now I know Pop was remembering Uncle Dick's place in Orlando where apple pie was the only desert that was ever on the menu.

Comment 3. Donna Gloff
Pappy's granddaughter Barbara Skinner Joseph, says Earl/Pappy went on to open his own establishment, Brunswick Pool Room, in Weston in 1921. Another of Patience's boys, Edmund (might she have meant Edwin Glen?), was with him for the first couple years. In the years that followed, Pappy's son Lawrence, and then Lawrence's son Larry, worked in the business. The poolroom was a fixture in Weston for 40 years. In 1961 father and son closed the poolroom and son, with Pappy's support, opened Skinner's Grill, which is still in operation operated by Pappy's grandson Larry with the support of his dad Lawrence.2 To the left is a recent picture of their restaurant in Weston.

Comment 4. Donna Gloff
My grandmother, Edith Skinner, who later married Oras Stutler worked at Uncle Dick's in the 19-teens. That's where she fell in love for the first time. When I was in my teens grandma told me how she had been head-over-heels crazy about a fellow, but Uncle Dick and some of the others broke them up by telling her something awful about her beau. Grandma never told me her suitor's name, or what her family had against him.

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