by Jennifer Noel, photography by Phil Grout
It’s 7 a.m. on a Thursday morning. Standing outside the North Fifth Street Diner, one can hear the laughter resonate through the door. This door isn’t just another entrance to a restaurant, but rather a passage to home-cooked meals, warm conversation, and long-standing nicknames. But that’s to be expected in McSherrystown, Pennsylvania, where everyone is treated like family.
Inside the small establishment, the mixture of coffee and syrup fills the air and the patrons around the lunch counter, which serves at the meeting place and heart of the restaurant, smile as their morning brew is topped off.
Owner Bill “Bud” Smith, 75, and McSherrystown resident since 1962, can be found sitting on a stool conversing with the morning “regulars,” pausing in conversation to thank customers before they leave. Whether these early risers are heading to work or easing into another hard-earned day of retirement, a common thread runs among all of them: they have just enjoyed the McSherrystown experience.
The North Fifth Street Diner is aptly named for its location on North Fifth Street, a “simple” title, as described by Smith.
“We are known for our family atmosphere and the camaraderie that you always experience here,” explained Smith. “And of course the chip beef and gravy,” he added with a smile.
For some patrons, one meal a day at the diner isn’t enough. Many customers frequent the restaurant, which is open daily from 5 a.m. till 2 p.m., for both breakfast and lunch.
Local legend, Lawrence “Gump” Bolin, 92, has resided in McSherrystown his entire life, and visits the diner at least twice daily. If Bolin doesn’t show at his normal time, restaurant employees pay him a house visit.
Walking from the counter, Bolin uses a cane handcrafted by another McSherrystown resident, which is a unique as his story.
Bolin, a decorated World War II veteran, serving in all five major battles of the war in France, has also spent a majority of his life as a painter. The major landmarks of McSherrystown often serve as his subjects, including a painting of Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish, located on North 3rd Street, which hangs behind the counter in the diner.
His paintings are also stationed across the United States.
“He has a river named after him, the St. Lawrence,” joked Smith. “He’s famous.”
Bolin replied only with a head shake and a grin.
Bolin embodies the residential longevity that is often seen among McSherrystown residents.
“This area is like God’s country, we’re lucky here,” explained Bolin. “When I returned home from the war, it was like coming out of hell into heaven.”
Bolin is also a member of the three social clubs located in McSherrystown, which include the Knights of Columbus, the Moose Lodge, and the Home Association, of which Bolin is the oldest member. All three clubs give generously to local schools and other organizations.
When asked to describe McSherrystown, Bolin simply replied, “my home.”
“McSherrystown has friendly and honest people,” agreed Smith. “I like meeting new people,” quickly correcting himself to say, “meeting new friends.”
Small Town Living
McSherrystown could be considered the quintessential small town, spanning about 1 square mile with just over 3,000 residents, and also appropriately use the famous lyrics from opening to television show Cheers, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” as its motto.
What originally began as a 300 acre land purchase by Patrick McSherry and Christian Hoover in 1763 has blossomed into close-knit and enduring community.
According to McSherrystown historian, Dan Greenholt, 78, in his book People of McSherrystown from 1763-2013, which records 10,000 names of residents who lived in the town through 250 years, generations of families remain close to their McSherrystown roots.
Just one example of the familiarity shared among residents is that everyone who frequents the North Fifth Street Diner has a mug that is brought from their own home and used only by them while dining there.
Mayor Anthony Weaver attributes the pride residents have in their community to this type of camaraderie.
“The best part of living in McSherrystown is that the town is close to major cities and events and you can still have the small town feel of neighbors and small schools,” said Weaver.
Mayor Weaver, who has also been a life-long resident for 60 years, is an alumnus of both Annunciation B.V.M. School, located on North Street, and Delone Catholic High School, located on South Oxford Avenue. He served as a McSherrystown police officer for over 27 years and has enjoyed the position of mayor for seven years.
“I tell families about the advantages of our school districts and private education choices,” explained Mayor Weaver. “If they have children, I tell them of the excellent recreational programs offered in McSherrystown.”
John Sherdel Jr., who currently lives in McSherrystown and serves as a physical education teacher at Delone Catholic High School, enjoys raising a family in a “safe community that watches out for each other.”
His three children attend Annunication B.V.M. school and one of his sons played for the McSherrystown Lions youth football team, another honored local tradition. Other recreation programs are hosted at the McSherrystown Recreation Park each summer.
It seems appropriate that the slogan on the roadside sign upon entering the town is simple: “You’ll like McSherrystown, a good place to visit and live.”
Residents and community members alike have no doubt their town will leave an impression. Just ask Gump.
Fast (& Fun) Facts (Sidebar)
- After the Civil War, McSherrystown was known for cigar making, with over 12 factories dedicated to production.
- The local Boy Scout troop holds a tree lighting ceremony each holiday season before they begin selling Christmas trees.
- On a Friday night for a “big” game, over 1,200 fans support the Delone Catholic Squires’ football team.
- A yarn shop, Creative Ewe, can be found on North Fifth Street.
- The Academy for Media Production (AMP), located on Main Street, specializes in audio, photo, and video production education.
- A time capsule was compiled for the town’s 250th Anniversary which included two published books about McSherrystown, a black cigar, and $1 bill, among other items.
- Fresh seafood, especially crabs, can be found each season at Hustler’s Steamed Crabs, a short distance from the local bike shop, Trimsport Cycle, and Neiderer’s Pool, a local public swimming pool.
- Each summer, Delone Catholic High School holds a carnival, complete with a Ferris wheel.