by Eric Stearley
For Bonnie Reed, Hoosier Point was more than a landmark. It was her work. It was a “jumpin’ truck stop,” and a restaurant full of memories. Above all, it was a gathering place.
“Everybody gathered at Hoosier Point,” said Reed. “It was like a big family.”
Part of what made it like a family for Reed was the fact that much of her family worked in or near the diner. She was employed at the restaurant on multiple occasions. Her husband managed the filling station next door. Her brother and daughter each managed the restaurant at different times. Reed’s father, Fred Hamilton, owned a garage across the road where he worked as a mechanic much of his life.
“It was a home away from home,” said Reed.
On Monday, Oct. 28, the SCS Environmental Contracting excavator engine was fired up and the walls of the historic structure came crashing down.
The landmark was built by Manuel and Ruth Leach in 1958. Half of the building was their home, while the other half housed their business, Leach’s Ice House. The building housed the couple and their two sons, Steve and Donald, for four years. Manuel eventually sold the building to National Oil & Gas, who leased it to every restaurant owner since. The company owned the building for more than five decades and made the final decision to have it demolished after a kitchen fire this past summer.
Hoosier Point started as a truck stop and restaurant, located in the middle of what is now the intersection of US 24 and State Road 13. It was opened by Cliff Stouder, brother of Wally Stouder, Penguin Point founder and namesake to the Big Wally burger. Reed worked for Stouder as a waitress. She remembers sitting in the old Hoosier Point, looking out the window toward Leach’s, and hearing “that’s where the new restaurant is going.”
In 1961, Hoosier Point moved into the former Leach’s Ice House. A few months later, Stouder sold the restaurant to Bud Chain. In those days, the diner had a Friday special, and patrons could get fish, fries, coleslaw and a drink for $1.
In the following years, the iconic roadside restaurant changed ownership several times and was owned by Willard Johnson, during which time Reed’s brother, Thomas Hamilton, was the manager. It was later sold to Hubert Baker, followed by Oakley Phillips. In 1977, former Wabash County Sheriff Bill Wheatley took over the lease.
Bill’s wife Esta has fond memories of the place.
“It was a big part of our life,” said Esta. “We met a lot of wonderful people through the years. People would bring their babies by from the hospital to share the good news. It was the meeting place.”
After working in a factory for 10 years, Reed went back to work for Wheatley at Hoosier Point. In 1980, Jo Kerr started as a waitress. During her 17 years at the roadside stop, she also cooked and even took on some managerial duties. As a close friend, Kerr remembers when the Wheatleys decided to buy the restaurant.
“Bill looked at Esta and said ‘you wanna buy a restaurant?’ and well, he bought it!” said Kerr.
When Wheatley sold the restaurant in the fall of ’97, Kerr’s time at the restaurant came to an end as well, but the restaurant stayed in familiar hands. Bud Chain’s daughter, Glenda, took over ownership for a brief period of time. While the price of a fish dinner had changed since her father’s time, the gathering place retained its family atmosphere. A few years later, Bonnie Reed’s daughter, Linda Ritter, bought the restaurant that her mother referred to as her “home away from home.”
After the turn of the century, the name of the restaurant changed along with the ownership. Hoosier Point became Nick’s Café until 2004, when it was taken over by Joe Clary and became Joe’s Diner. Though the name on the sign changed, it was rare to hear the landmark restaurant referred to as anything but Hoosier Point.
In January of 2007, Trent and Diane Miller took over the lease, keeping the Joe’s Diner name. They operated the diner until July 19, 2013 when a fire brought an end to 52 years of community in the building that began as a home for the Leach family. Three and a half months later, all that remains of the community hot spot is a single gas line, which will be removed in the coming weeks.
“We assessed rebuilding costs versus our claim and demolition costs, and we just elected to demolish it,” said National Oil & Gas Vice President Trout Moser. “For now it’s going to remain a parking lot. We needed more truck parking anyway.”
Millers moved their business into the former Jim Dandy/Wabash Gardens building on Manchester Avenue, opening Not Your Average Joe’s in the fall. Patrons can start ordering from their extensive menu at 6 a.m. each morning. The new restaurant, which includes a full bar, serves dinner as late as 8 p.m. six days a week, closing the doors at 3 p.m. on Sundays. Perhaps Not Your Average Joe’s will be able to pick up where Joe’s Diner left off, but for many, no restaurant will ever take the place of the old Hoosier Point.
“Everybody came in and everyone knew everyone,” said Kerr. “It was just a gathering place, you know.”
“It was a great time in our life and we’re thankful to everyone for that,” said Wheatley.
The empty lot has undoubtedly turned some heads and caused a few double takes. For those who grew up always knowing that corner for its home-cooked food and welcoming atmosphere, the hole in the landscape at 13 and 24 is, perhaps, a good metaphor for the feelings of those who knew it best.
“Everybody gathered at Hoosier Point,” said Reed. “A lot of good memories, a lot of good people. I just hate to see it go.”