Pretzel pieces Old brick oven, birthplace of Lititz’s first pretzel, still exists
CORY VAN BROOKHOVEN Record Express Correspondent
, Staff Writer
This month I present to you the first installment in a three-part series focusing on some interesting "hidden treasures" that can be found in basements throughout downtown Lititz.
Recently, I had the opportunity to tour the basement of the building that comprises 69-75 E. Main St. Currently, it houses many apartments upstairs. On the street level, it is home to Candy*ology, Glitz and Nino’s Pizza. In the basement of this building resides, to this day, a very unique piece of Lititz history. Read on!
Our story begins with a gentleman named Christian Blickensderfer who was born into the Mennonite faith in Mannheim, Palatinate Germany in 1724. In 1748, he married a woman named Catherine Sherger. Shortly thereafter, she bore two children and the family eventually settled on a farm on the outskirts of Lititz in 1753. Records show that in 1761 he built a large brick dwelling on the site that now occupies 69 E. Main St.
He was a teamster by trade, but also kept a store (the first business established in Lititz) at that site. By the time his wife passed away in 1778 from camp fever, they had produced seven sons and two daughters. The next year, he married a woman named Barbara Mueller. He lived a very full life, eventually dying in the year 1800.
Flashing forward to circa 1820, a gentleman named John William Rauch became the owner of this home. He was a baker and confectioner by trade, with his fresh products sold right there on premises. Having two ovens and a fireplace located in the basement of the addition built in the rear of the property, it was here that a legendary Lititz "first" took place.
The story goes that one day Rauch met a man from Rothsville named Dutch Charlie. Somewhere along his life, Charlie had learned how to make soft pretzels and offered to share it with Rauch in exchange for a meal. One day, one of Rauch’s bakers fell asleep and the pretzels were then "ruined" by over baking. This legend has been told in one form or another over the years, although as history has it, the hard pretzel was actually invented by an Italian monk in or about the year 610 A.D. Despite this much earlier invention of the hard pretzel, we do know that Rauch did indeed bake the very first pretzels in Lititz in the basement ovens located at 69 E. Main St.
A few years later, Henry Rauch, John William Rauch’s son, took over the bakery from his father.
As fate would have it, a young man who was employed by Rauch showed much promise in the field of baking and decided to take over the business by purchasing it from Rauch in 1861. That man’s name was Julius Sturgis (see this week’s Out of the Past). Sturgis then improved the recipe, and opened a pretzel baking operation at 219 E. Main St., where the first commercial pretzel bakery in America was born. In 1876, Sturgis had the name "The Only Genuine Lititz Bretzels" (bretzels being the German spelling) registered. The rest is history.
In 1904, the Sturgis pretzel bakery was sold to Julius’s son Nathan and a gentleman named Frank Buch, and the production of these salty, crispy, hand-twisted treats continued.
Although various commercial pretzel bakeries were profitable in Lititz, including such names as Kissinger and Keller, the Sturgis namesake and bakery still exists at the same location and is going strong.
When I first met the owner of the current building located at 69 E. Main St., one of the very first questions I asked him was if the old ovens were still located in the basement. He seemed shocked that I knew this random fact as he exclaimed, "So THAT’S what it is!" I then briefly explained to him that the oven in question was the place where the very first pretzel was baked in Lititz, and his eyes lit up. We then proceeded to the rear of the building so he could give me a first-hand look. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to see this piece of Lititz history.
Descending down a few steps and through a door, a small path took us to the older portion of the basement. We then turned the corner and there it was. Although it had caved in slightly due to age, it was clearly an old-fashioned brick oven and I felt fortunate to finally see it with my own eyes.
Among the great things this town is known for, we have the distinction of being a "pretzel town," with many of us recently taking part in the second annual Pretzel Fest. So, the next time you’re nibbling away on a pretzel downtown, stop and think about Henry Rauch, the first person in Lititz to bake the famous pretzel.
Next month – the mystery of Anna Sutter’s Grave!
More FIRST PRETZEL, page A20