Friday, December 30, 2016

Farewell to the Pufferbelly

I first saw this building almost seventy years ago, when I arrived by train in Kent, Ohio, to attend Kent State University. I came here because of the reputation of the art department. At the time I lived in Springfield, Ohio, and no one down there had heard of Kent State, and I had never set foot in the town until I got off the train.  That trip was to become quite familiar over the next four years, years when the superhighways were non-existent, and railroads were standard settings for travel.
The building dates from the late 19th century and served the Erie Railroad system for many decades. My children and I traveled to Corning, N.Y.on that line to visit my sister, and on the trip back to Kent   on the very last trip of the Phoebe Snow, one of its finest Erie  trains. Kent was a railroad town employing many workers at the roundhouse and freight yards, and the car shops. All that ended by the 1970s, and the train station sat empty for many years, until the late 70s, when a group of railroad and history buffs decided to save it from the wrecking ball. They raised funds, volunteered their labor and gradually restored the building to its original beautiful red brick self. At some point the Kent Historical Society, which has spearheaded the restoration purchased it.
The ground floor waiting room and office. area was remodeled and turned into the Pufferbelly restaurant which opened in 1981 in time for the Christmas holidays. My children and I ate lunch there the first week it was open. It was beautifully decorated for Christmas. Suspended from the ceiling are an Amish buggy and a canoe, and during the holidays they are filled with brightly wrapped boxes, and there is a very tall Chtistmas tree with silver garlands and lights. One night there is a brass band playing carols, which while festive , makes conversation impossible.
I have had dinner there once a week for years with friends. I have had lunch there frequently with my lady friends. We celebrated my 80 th birthday there and when family members come to Kent, that's where we take them. It's not fancy, but the food is varied and good. We had our annual Christmas lunch there last week, and I had my last dinner there with friends last night. Tomorrow is the last day that the Pufferbelly will exist.
The Historical Society decided that they need more money, so they have tripled the rent, making it beyond the ability of the current tenant to continue. The new management will completely remake the interior, tearing out the different levels of seating. It will become an upscale Italian restaurant with white table cloths and valet parking. Shave many Italian eateries around here, mostly for Casual dining, so I assume this one will focus on different Italian regional cuisine to be unique.
I shall miss my Pufferbelly, with its charming host, experienced servers, antiques ( all of which are up for auction) old photos of 19th century Kent and special steam locomotives, the canoe and the buggy.
We are all sad about this.

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