Bottoms up! Exhibit chronicles Lititz bottling operations

By on June 8, 2016
The Rome Distillery went out of business during Prohibition.

The Rome Distillery went out of business during Prohibition.

The latest exhibit at the Lititz Museum might have you reaching for a cold one.

It’s called “Bottoms Up!” and for good reason. It’s all about the history of whiskey, beer and soda pop in Lititz.

In a community founded by the Moravians in 1756, the whiskey and beer part might seem surprisingly. After all, the Moravians were a closed community and imbibing in spirits was frowned upon.

“In 1782 the governing body of the Moravian Church suggested that a brewery and distillery be established in Lititz,” says Cory Van Brookhoven, president of the Lititz Historical Foundation, adding that the suggestion was later dismissed, because of concerns about “overindulgence of the spirits.”

It wasn’t until the 1800s that church leaders agreed to allow two malt houses and a brewery be allowed to fend off the influence of hard liquor. Beer seemed a lot better than that demon whiskey.

Since distilleries were banned by the Moravian community, the only way for anyone to drink liquor was to make it themselves and in secret. Vegetables, grains and fruits were fermented in private, and often the resulting spirits were used for medicinal purposes.

 

Richard Fleckenstein displays some vintage bottles from Lititz Springs Beverage Company.

Richard Fleckenstein displays some vintage bottles from Lititz Springs Beverage Company.

Eventually, on the outskirts of Lititz, the Rome Distillery did manage to open, producing whiskey starting in 1815. By the 1920s, Prohibition put a halt to that.

“Alcoholic beverages were illegal during Prohibition. Soda pop was not,” says Van Brookhoven.

The time was right for Lititz Springs Beverage Company, which was started in 1925 by August C. Fleckenstein. He had moved from Columbia to Lititz and made soda in a facility near the Lititz Springs. The soda was a big success and came in as many as 10 flavors, like grape, ginger ale, root beer, sarsaparilla and cherry.

“I always loved the grape and cherry,” says Richard Fleckenstein, who is August’s son.

Fleckenstein was just a little boy when the company was sold in 1933, but he can still remember visiting his father’s business on North Alley right behind the current BB&T Bank building. Fleckenstein loaned the Lititz Museum several items for the exhibit, such as labeled bottles and a tank used for soda making.

“Lititz Springs was best known for its ginger ale, which used water from Lititz Springs,” recalls Fleckenstein. “It was believed to help with digestive issues and was approved for use in hospitals by the American Medical Association. And it was delicious, very gingery.”

Richard Fleckenstein, son of Lititz Springs Beverage Company owner August C. Fleckenstein, loaned these vintage bottles to the Lititz Museum, as centerpieces for their “Bottoms Up!” exhibit.

Richard Fleckenstein, son of Lititz Springs Beverage Company owner August C. Fleckenstein, loaned these vintage bottles to the Lititz Museum, as centerpieces for their “Bottoms Up!” exhibit.

At the Lititz Museum exhibit, visitors can explore Lititz’ bottling past, from soda to beer to whiskey. With the popularity of current events like the highly successful Lititz Beer Fest benefit, it should come as no surprise that beer and spirits did indeed have their place in Lititz, albeit very quietly.

One of the earliest malt houses was started in 1822 by Michael Greiter. Located on Broad Street, the malt house was sold to R.R. Tshudy in 1930, then burned down 26 years later. It was rebuilt near the current Lititz Mutual Insurance parking lot, and flourished under its next owners until 1889.

Moravian church elders gave John Kreider the nod to start a brewery in 1833 on Maple Street overlooking Lititz Springs Park. The brewery changed hands over the years. A devastating fire in 1865 burned the brewery to the ground, making the newspapers as far away as Philadelphia. Tshudy and a new partner rebuilt the brewery, and a succession of owners carried it until 1907.

“Then there is the Becker Distillery of Pine Hill, with history that began as far back as 1737, when Valentine Becker and his three brothers arrived to America on a ship from Germany,” notes Van Brookhoven.

Valentine settled in Warwick Township northeast of downtown Lititz. It took until 1817 when Valentine’s grandson Henry Becker applied for a license to manufacture spirits in a 151-gallon still. The whiskey retailed from 25 to 30 cents per gallon. Operating for a total of 56 years, the Becker Distillery was last run by Israel Becker in 1873.

 

Opening in 1817, this building housed the Becker Distillery for 56 years.

Opening in 1817, this building housed the Becker Distillery for 56 years.

The Rome Distillery was not far away, started in 1815 by Peter Fielis. By 1893, it was owned by Jacob Hertzler, who never recovered from the financial loss, when a gang of prohibitionists set fire to the distillery. John C. Horting purchased the property and made Lititz Springs Pure Rye, Old Safe, and Lititz Springs Straight Rye whiskeys. Then came Prohibition in the 1920s, and whiskey-making was done.

“It’s an interesting history here in Lititz, with the bottling of soda, beer and spirits. And the exhibit is free to the public.” says Van Brookhoven, who curated the exhibit.

The Lititz Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Beginning Memorial Day, hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Costumed guided tours of the 1792 Johannes Mueller House are also available for a small fee beginning Memorial Day. To find out more, call 627-4636.

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

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