Walk down memory lane: Van Brookhoven debuts new history tour

By on April 27, 2016
The inaugural Historic Lititz Walking Tour was a collection of history enthusiasts with varied backgrounds. (Front, left to right) chocolatier Kathy Blankenbiller, tour guide Cory Van Brookhoven, Chris Bradley of New Zealand, retired teacher Betty Narkiewicz, (back row, l-r) Lititz couple Tris and Paul Griffin, retired school principal Joe Narkiewicz, and New Zealander Grant Bradley.

The inaugural Historic Lititz Walking Tour was a collection of history enthusiasts with varied backgrounds. (Front, left to right) chocolatier Kathy Blankenbiller, tour guide Cory Van Brookhoven, Chris Bradley of New Zealand, retired teacher Betty Narkiewicz, (back row, l-r) Lititz couple Tris and Paul Griffin, retired school principal Joe Narkiewicz, and New Zealander Grant Bradley.

On a bright spring morning, Cory Van Brookhoven took eight time travelers back to mid-18th century Lititz, where they stopped by the home of the town “bleeder” and learned about the rivalry over the tallest building in town.

The first-ever tour for Van Brookhoven’s new Historic Lititz Walking Tours made a bit of history itself, with a packed house and made-to-order weather.

Van Brookhoven, an outgoing authority on local history, is an ideal person for guiding tourists into the past. The third-generation Lititz historian and president of the Lititz Historical Foundation knows a lot about the town where he was born and raised.

His grandfather was Robert “Sketch” Mearig, a World War II veteran and a mail carrier for the Lititz Post Office for 32 years. He knew everyone and everything about Lititz, and was a local historian and lifetime collector of Lititz memorabilia.

Throughout his childhood, Van Brookhoven heard stories about Lititz, and has become a go-to guy for questions on Lititz and Warwick Township history. He is the author of “Warwick Township, Lancaster County” and writes a blog about Lititz history.

So, he decided to start his own historic walking tour, modeled after the walking tours in downtown Lancaster. It looked like the idea would be a success. His first tour at 10 a.m. on April 21 had a retired teacher, retired school principal, local artist and his wife, talented chocolate sculptor, newspaper reporter, and visitors from New Zealand and London.

A few had lived in Lititz for a long time and knew all about General Sutter and his quest to regain his wealth lost in the California Gold Rush while he settled in Lititz. They knew about the Moravian Church that founded Lititz in 1756. They knew about pretzels and chocolate and the 4th of July in Lititz Springs Park.

For at least two of them, Lititz was a whole new experience, and everyone was intrigued by the fascinating historical tidbits and anecdotes that Van Brookhoven shared as their personal guide.

“I decided not to wear a historic outfit, because it is too warm today,” said Van Brookhoven, who was donning khaki shorts and comfortable walking shoes.

Good walking shoes are critical to the walking tour, which starts at the Lititz Train Station and Visitors Center in Lititz Springs Park and meanders south on Broad Street, then east on East Main Street to the Sturgis Pretzel House. It takes about 45 minutes from start to finish, ending with a visit to the pretzel house to get pretzels.

This type of tour is something Van Brookhoven has always wanted to do.

“After working in the corporate world for almost 15 years, I wanted a change of scenery, and to do something that took me out from behind a cubicle,” he said. “I wanted to do something that combined my love of Lititz and its history with the love of meeting new people from all walks of life.”

As Van Brookhoven noted, Lititz is a popular tourist destination in Lancaster County that was recognized as a Distinctive Destination by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2009, and then was named America’s Coolest Small Town in 2013.

“I wanted to focus on history, of course, but to also let people know about the 70 or so local independently-owned eateries and shops in Lititz. It’s a great blend of old and new,” he said.

The old Lititz Theatre thrived on East Main Street for nearly three decades, but was demolished in 1973 after being idle for about eight years. The Sturgis Hotel building where the movie house was located is now home to Spill Cafe and Teddy Bear Emporium.

The old Lititz Theatre thrived on East Main Street for nearly three decades, but was demolished in 1973 after being idle for about eight years. The Sturgis Hotel building where the movie house was located is now home to Spill Cafe and Teddy Bear Emporium.

He also wanted to tailor the walking tour for people of all ages and all experiences. Some long-time and life-time residents will be just as fascinated as those who have never been to Lititz.

“Tourists and Lititz residents should enjoy the tour,” he said. “And they are encouraged to ask questions.”

Chances are that Van Brookhoven will know the answers, or at least, know just where to get them.

As Van Brookhoven guided his group of time-travelers, he told them about the General Sutter Inn, which moved from another location on East Main Street to its current spot on the square in 1764. It was originally known as the Lititz Springs Hotel.

“Back in the 1960s, there were plans to tear it down and put up a gas station,” he explained to the group, which was horrified by the thought. “Thank goodness it was saved.”

The Roebuck fountain was also saved, and can now be seen in the Sutter’s courtyard. Peter Roebuck donated money to have the fountain installed in 1895 on Lititz Square. Then the landmark fountain was hit by a car and removed. The fountain vanished for a time and showed up in an antiques store near Strasburg.

The old Lititz Theatre thrived on East Main Street for nearly three decades, but was demolished in 1973 after being idle for about eight years. The Sturgis Hotel building where the movie house was located is now home to Spill Cafe and Teddy Bear Emporium. The rear of the building, which extended to North Lane to house the theatre, was removed to make way for much-needed downtown parking.

The old Lititz Theatre thrived on East Main Street for nearly three decades, but was demolished in 1973 after being idle for about eight years. The Sturgis Hotel building where the movie house was located is now home to Spill Cafe and Teddy Bear Emporium. The rear of the building, which extended to North Lane to house the theatre, was removed to make way for much-needed downtown parking.

“It was rescued, purchased and brought back to Lititz by resident Ada Leed,” related Van Brookhoven, adding that it sits just a few yards away from its original spot, safely out of danger from cars and trucks.

Along the way, Van Brookhoven showed the tour group the brick home that Sutter settled in back in 1871. It put Sutter closer to Washington, D.C., as he tried to settle his claims. Sutter’s granddaughters attended Linden Hall, just a couple blocks to the east. Built for $10,000, Sutter’s home was the first in Lititz to have indoor plumbing.

Other stops on the tour included the grand 1900s brick Rudy Hall built by Miles Rudy, the 1762 William Werner house where the town “bleeder” and tooth drawer lived, and the 1757 Dr. Frederick Otto house that was the first drug store in Lancaster County.

The Christian Hall house was owned by the Lititz clockmaker. The John Phillips house was built in 1769 and has been restored to show its original log construction.

April 21 was a beautiful day to debut a new history-themed walking tour. The Miles H. Rudy hall (brick building) was constructed in 1900 as a multi-purpose community building, which included an early movie theatre. It is now the home of JoBoy's Brewpub and Restaurant.

April 21 was a beautiful day to debut a new history-themed walking tour. The Miles H. Rudy hall (brick building) was constructed in 1900 as a multi-purpose community building, which included an early movie theatre. It is now the home of JoBoy’s Brewpub and Restaurant.

It turns out the first real pretzel baker was at 69 E. Main St., where Julius Sturgis was an apprentice. That’s more than a block west of the current Sturgis Pretzel Bakery. In 1861, Sturgis became the first commercial pretzel bakery in the U.S., located in the 1784 Peter Kreider house.

Van Brookhoven told his tour group about the widow’s walk at Sunnyside College for Girls, which was built to be higher than the widow’s walk at Linden Hall. Then Linden Hall built two widow’s walks, both higher and better than Sunnyside.

“That building was built in 1757 by John George Klein, and it was used as a dwelling for ministers,” Van Brookhoven said, adding that later it was the Zum Anker hotel, and was in front of organ builder David Tannerberg’s shop.

Van Brookhoven was the only person on the tour who could pronounce “Leichenkapellchen.” That was the Moravian Church’s corpse house, where recently-deceased church members were kept until burial. He was also the only one who knew that the stunning Moravian Church was not the original 1787 building.

Sadly, the church steeple burned down in 1956 as the town was renovating the church for Lititz’ 200th anniversary. A spark from a blow torch ignited the roof, and that part of the church had to be rebuilt in 1957.

Miles H. Rudy died less than four years after his dream was completed. He was 35.

Miles H. Rudy died less than four years after his dream was completed. He was 35.

Asked what his favorite building in Lititz was, Van Brookhoven admitted he was quite fond of the Rudy building and the Pilgerhaus.

“As a lover of going to the movies, I would have given anything to see a movie in the old theatre,” he said, adding that he is also quite partial to the Johannes Mueller and Schropp houses.

Those on the tour gave Van Brookhoven’s first walk glowing reviews, calling it “fascinating,” “informative” and “fun.” The couple from London labeled it as “brilliant!” All said they would enjoy taking the tour again.

“It never ceases to fascinate me how people from all around the world visit Lititz, but I’m glad they do,” Van Brookhoven said.

Historic Lititz Walking Tours are available on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Cost is $8 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, and free for children under six. Tours can be booked in advance at www.lititzwalkingtours.com, or people can show up at the Lititz Welcome Center. Those who book online, get a 15% discount through May 7, with the coupon code “Lititz.”

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the Record Express. She welcomes reader feedback at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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