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Howard Johnson's had roots in area, says Milton historian

Posted by L. Kim Tan  March 15, 2011 10:41 AM

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The Dedham Historical Society will be hosting a lecture on Howard Johnson and his orange-roofed restaurant empire that had roots in Dedham.

Anthony Sammarco, a history professor at Urban College in Boston, will be giving a lecture with slides that illustrate the history of Howard Johnson restaurants. The lecture will be held on March 24 at 7:30 p.m.

Sammarco, a Milton resident, said he has been working on a history of Howard Johnson for the past year and a half.

Sammarco said that the Howard Johnson’s restaurant on Route 1 at Route 28 in Dedham was one of the very first restaurants that opened. It was special because while the other restaurants were colonial revivals in structure, the Dedham location was art deco, which made it look different from the others but it still had the signature orange roof.

“It was an important part of Route 1 because people going north and south had to drive by it,” said Sammarco. “All of the [Howard Johnson’s] restaurants catered to automobile traffic and were on main roads.”

Sammarco said that Howard Johnson’s restaurants were an aspect of American culture that appealed to a wide audience.

“A lot of people always thought of Howard Johnson’s as a reliable stand-by for dining,” said Sammarco in an interview. “In a way it’s part of American culture and history.”

He said that the advertisements that he will show demonstrate that Howard Johnson’s were for many different kinds of people.

“They had marketing that approached the entire socio-economic scale that truly made it accessible to everyone,” said Sammarco.

Howard Johnson’s franchises were located down the eastern-seaboard from Maine to Florida. Johnson is credited with being the first to franchise restaurants.

“He is known as the father of the franchise industry which offered a person the ability to buy the name Howard Johnson,” said Sammarco.

He said the architecture of the restaurants always looked similar and the franchise owners had to buy the food, which was prepared in Milton and Brockton and then distributed.
Sammarco is a local historian and has published 62 books. In 2009, he published a book on the Baker Chocolate Co., which was located near Dorchester, near the Milton border.

Tickets to the lecture are $5 or free for Dedham Historical Society members.

Sarah Favot can be reached at

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