James Stoughton found inspiration when watching cars pass through Jennerstown on the Lincoln Highway.
At age 17, the young farmer already was tired of going into a barn at 5 a.m. every morning to milk cows. He wanted something different.
It was 1927.
The coast-to-coast road, still in its infancy, had been dedicated 100 years ago this month, on Oct. 31, 1913. It was changing the way Americans viewed their country. Cars were becoming more common. Tourism was growing. People could now conveniently go from New York to California at their own pace, stopping wherever and whenever they felt like.
Stoughton realized all of those travelers, far from kitchens at home, needed to eat.
So, he and his sister, Louise Maust, opened an outdoor sandwich shop on their family property, located on what was then Route 219 (now Route 985), about a quarter-mile away from the Lincoln Highway.
Today, his business, which started as a small shop known for its chicken salad sandwiches and angel food cake, has grown into one of the most recognized dining and entertainment establishments in Somerset County, Green Gables Restaurant and Mountain Playhouse.
“It would not have grown up as it did without being so close to the Lincoln Highway before the turnpike was built,” said his daughter, Teresa Stoughton Marafino, co-owner of Green Gables.
Expansion happened quickly.
In 1928, the business won a cash prize in a contest for roadside stands, sponsored by the Rockefeller family. The money was used to construct an actual restaurant. Later, in 1939, a theater was added with the wood coming from an abandoned gristmill that was taken down and rebuilt, log by log. A fire destroyed the studio barn on New Year’s Day 1962. Stoughton hired an architect, Teresa Mullane, to design a new banquet hall. In the process of working together, they fell in love and soon married.
The current establishment, located in a peaceful, rustic setting, offers fine cuisine made from many local products for both daily diners and reception guests.
Stoughton’s paintings decorate the walls. And the Mountain Playhouse keeps alive his love of the theater.
“There are so many chains that don’t necessarily have an identity that’s tied to a specific place,” said Green Gables co-owner Mary Louise Stoughton, James Stoughton’s daughter. “This business has the opportunity to be extremely authentic because it is tied to our family with a great story.”
Susan Kroft, Green Gables’ executive chef, said, “I think, as soon as I walked into this building, I was just amazed by how organic it felt. It feels like it grew right out of the soil and it couldn’t exist any other place other than right here.”
Throughout the years, the restaurant has kept a special connection with the Lincoln Highway.
Marafino previously served on the board of directors for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, a local nonprofit organization that promotes businesses and attractions on and near the historic road.
“It was about making sure we were part of the economic development portion of it,” Marafino said. “Heritage tourism is valid, and that’s why we’re here every day. But, if we band together and talk about the history of the Lincoln Highway, that will attract more people to come here. It’s a win-win situation where you not only get to expound about the history and people and learn about all of it and how cool it was and how many centuries it goes back to George Washington walking across this property in 1758, but it’s the economic side of it; that businesses don’t stay here if you don’t have enough customers.”
Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.