Etched in stone Are the secrets of an American inventor buried in a Lititz basement?

By on July 2, 2013


CORY VAN BROOKHOVEN Record Express Correspondent

, Staff Writer

My historical vignette this month is the third and final installment of my “Lititz’s Hidden Treasures” series, focusing on John Henry Rauch.

Born in 1729, he eventually came to America and settled in Lititz. A blacksmith by trade, he ran this successful business for many years. In 1771, a man named William Henry of Lancaster created a screw auger prototype. The next year, Rauch, working with William Henry, helped perfect this new tool that made the boring of holes into wood easier and more accurate. For its time, the screw auger was a marvel of the future.

Right away, the screw auger was a smashing success. It was sold exclusively in only two places: at Rauch’s “smithy” business right here in Lititz; and also in William Henry’s store in Lancaster, until 1776. After this date, Henry moved on to other projects, but Rauch continued to forge these tools on his own. Although both men profited very favorably on this business venture, unfortunately, neither are fully credited with introducing the screw auger into a much larger American market. It has been determined that William Henry sent the pattern for this new invention to England at one point to be patented; however, neither he nor Rauch were ever given the full recognition they deserved.

Thankfully, various historical publications focusing on the history of Lancaster County give credit to Henry and Rauch for inventing the screw auger. It is even written that this tool was among the many relics exhibited at the Great Central Sanitary Fair which was held in Philadelphia in 1864. What’s more, in 1869, the story of the auger was published in a history of Lancaster County and stated that the prototype still existed, and was in the hands of Rauch’s grandson, E.H. Rauch, who at the time lived in Lancaster. Certainly, it would be wonderful if this piece of Lancaster and Lititz history was still accounted for and in good hands.

Rauch continued to live in Lititz, and ended up building a home at 27 E. Main St. in 1775. Currently, this is the site of the Rudy Building, which was built in 1900. The Rauch family was no doubt creative and ambitious. One of his relatives, John William Rauch, was the famous baker at 69 E. Main St. He was the subject of my historical column in May, and is also given credit for baking the very first pretzel in Lititz.

In 1792, John Henry Rauch, after living a very successful life, passed away. He was buried, like a typical Moravian during his time in the Lititz Moravian Church’s cemetery, and continues to rest there to this day.

In downtown Lititz, there is a lovely home that stands at 107 E. Main St., currently occupied by Selina Man and her husband. Selina contacted me several months ago to stop over and inspect what is in her basement. Her home’s origin dates back to at least 1860, and it was during that year that a family with the last name of Buch occupied the homestead. Several years later, the Mastermatteo family purchased it, eventually selling it to the Mans in 1996.

In the doorway to one of the rooms in the basement there are two cement slabs. One is unmarked, but closer inspection of the second one yields a mysterious and surprising inscription. It seems to be the tombstone of the late John Henry Rauch. The words “Johann Heinrich Rauch,” along with a birth and death date are beautifully inscribed on the stone. Of course, this was the proper German spelling of his name, and I am once again puzzled at how something like this would end up on the old dirt floor of someone’s basement. Even after careful examination, I unfortunately have no real explanation. The only thing I can conclude is that this was perhaps an early version of his grave marker. The permanent one still on display up in the Moravian Cemetery for all to see.

To my knowledge, no one from the Rauch family lived at this address on Main Street where this gravestone was found. It is then, of course, also very unlikely that he is actually buried in this basement. If I were to make an educated guess, it would be my conclusion that this was simply an early version of his tombstone – possibly even prepared before his death which occurred in 1792.

For now, it must remain a mystery as to how or why a humble blacksmith from Lititz, who assisted in creating the American screw auger, has a duplicate tombstone that wound up in a basement on Main Street.

No doubt, there are many, many hidden treasures throughout Lititz which lay in basements or behind walls just waiting to be discovered. Our town, which started out as a closed Moravian community, also contains many well-preserved artifacts in plain sight which are viewed and explored by thousands of people throughout the year. Whether it’s visiting an old cemetery, discovering one of our outstanding museums, or simply taking a walk downtown, there are many great gems to be discovered. I urge you this summer to explore for yourself. Your treasures await.

More RAUCH, page A7