Tag Archives: Plainfield Diner

An Oasis Along Indiana’s Historic U.S. 40

After having lunch at the Oasis Diner in Plainfield, Indiana, on U.S. 40, I had a first-hand look at a detail that historians have long touted. People were shorter and thinner in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The fact became clear when I sat in one of the Oasis booths, which represent the look and feel of the 1950’s.

Plainfield Diner

The diner made its first appearance in 1954 when it was shipped by railway to its central Indiana home on the west side of town. It continued to operate there until 2008. The restaurant sat vacant for a few years. Then current owners Doug Huff and Don Sector got involved. After about three years of planning, the duo moved the diner to 405 W. Main Street. They renovated, kept the 1950’s vibe and created an inviting façade. Oasis reopened in 2015.
Today diners might find some of the seating a bit confining. For those seeking a roomy seat, chairs and tables in the back are accommodating. But be sure not to miss the opportunity to have a good-sized lunch or breakfast here. The retro look makes the experience worthwhile.
The Oasis is one of only five original diners on U.S., also known as the National Road, through Indiana. In fact, Indiana Landmarks had listed the diner as one of 10 most endangered Indiana Buildings in 2010.

Meals served here seem like the typical foods found at a grill—hamburgers, bacon and eggs, and more. Our meal consisted of a wedge salad, BLT and Reuben sandwich. All choices were amply provided. My desire for bacon and fresh vegetables was satisfied. The Reuben consumed by my dining partner was fine, although he had hoped for a little better.
Come for the food, and you’ll have a good-sized meal. But I think that the experience is the main attraction. Here you can have a taste of traveling in the 1950’s. Diners like the Oasis were once plentiful, particularly along the National Road.

Although the first diner was created in 1872, it wasn’t until after World War II in 1946 that they began to spread across the county. They were considered attractive small business opportunities. Many were prefabricated, similar to the Oasis. Often times the style was long and narrow and designed to allow road or rail transportation to the eatery’s location. A service counter spreads nearly across the length with stools for seating. Some, like the Oasis, have a row of booths against the front wall and at one end. The décor was selected to copy elements of rail dining cars. Plus, many diner owners chose to expand a little by adding space to the back of the original building.

By the 1970’s, however, franchise fast-food restaurants became the trend and overwhelmed the competition of diners.

Today, the sight of the railway-simulated diner is rare in Indiana. For those in central Indiana, however, a retro diner is easy to find at 405 West Main Street, on the historic U.S. 40 in Plainfield.

Indiana’s Historic National Road Part 4

This installment continues our tour along Indiana’s Historic National Road ten miles west of Indianapolis where in the middle of Plainfield, the Van Buren Elm marker is on the south side of the street in the Western Yearly Meeting Park just west of where S.R. 267 turns north. Local legend says that in 1842, President Martin Van Buren’s stagecoach was overturned because of tree roots in the road. Ironically, Van Buren had recently vetoed a bill for federal funds to pay for improvements to the National Road.

A couple of blocks west, turn left (south) on Vine Street and go three blocks to the Terre Haute, Indianapolis, & Eastern Interurban Station built in 1907, at 410 S. Vine Street. Interurban trains were a popular form of transportation in the early 20th century until the automobile became popular. Then go west one block on Buchanan to Center Street and turn right (north) to return to the National Road.

You’ll find the Plainfield’s Oasis Diner on West Main Street. It serves ‘50s fare, including a pork tenderloin and pie of the day. What a great restoration effort.

Oasis Diner
Oasis Diner

Located on the border of Hendricks and Putnam counties on the south side of the road is Rising Hall Estate. Melville F. McHaffie built the Italianate home in 1872. The farm has served as a race horse breeding and training facility.

Putnam County has three original road sections. One section is at the southwest corner of where County Road 400 E meets the National Road. A brick road can be seen in front of the dilapidated Cedar Crest Motel. The bricks were placed between concrete curbing to keep them in place. Livestock sometimes graze in front of the motel.

At County Road 35 E, follow the Historic National Road marker to the north where the old road veers off behind the Walker Motel. This one mile section becomes County Road 550 S and goes over a reinforced concrete arch bridge over Deer Creek. Just south of the bridge, there is evidence of earlier structures that pioneers used to cross the creek.

In western Putnam County, follow the Historic National Road marker at County Road 700 W and turn right (north) for another section of original road and a concrete bridge over Big Walnut Creek.

Clay County Courthouse
Clay County Courthouse

Follow U.S. 40 into Brazil, which grew from a stage-line relay station to the county seat. The town’s historic district showcases examples of 19th and early 20th century architecture. On the north side of the road, the Clay County Historical Society Museum occupies the former post office.

On Brazil’s west side, go straight on S.R. 340 (W. National Road) where U.S. 40 veers left. This is an approximately six-mile section of concrete road that represents the highway before the four-lane improvement in the late 1930s

About a ¼ mile west of the traffic signal in East Glenn, on the south side of the road is the Twigg Rest Park. The park was one of the first “rest stops” along the road during the early days of auto travel. A little further west at the southwest corner of N. Hunt Street and the National Road is the Clabber Girl billboard.

Across the road at the west end of the Rose-Hulman Institute’s baseball and soccer complex is a 1930s cottage style gas station that was relocated to this site, which now serves as a snack bar. In the early 20th century, filling stations resembled cottages and homes.

Clabber Girl Museum
Clabber Girl Museum

At 9th and Wabash is the Clabber Girl Museum & General Store, which depicts the varied business interests of Hulman & Company. In addition to his Terre Haute company, Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr., grandson of the company founder, purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in November 1945 and made numerous changes to build the event known as the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Visitors to the museum will see an actual Indy racecar on display, as well as other memorabilia from the famous speedway.

Stay on Wabash to experience the National Road through downtown. The Saratoga Restaurant on the corner of 5th and Wabash has served travelers since 1942. At 3rd Street in front of the Vigo County courthouse, turn right (north) on U.S. 41 and then immediately left (west) on U.S. 40.

On Terre Haute’s west end, The Paul Dresser and Theodore Dreiser Memorial Bridges span the Wabash River. Paul Dresser was a Broadway star and song writer who composed “On the Banks of the Wabash,” which became Indiana’s state song in 1913. Theodore Dreiser was a well-known writer in the early 20th century. In 1916, Dreiser’s “A Hoosier Holiday,” chronicled a two-week automobile trip from New York City to Warsaw, Indiana. The book is probably a forerunner of the American road novel.

The National Road continues through West Terre Haute and finally merges with I-70 west before exiting the state.

After traveling the National Road, I believe you’ll have a better idea of what it was like trekking cross country in the first half of the 20th century. This ends our journey across Indiana’s Historic National Road. Enjoy the drive.

Links to other parts of Indiana’s Historic National Road

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.