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Lititz: A Town Worth Exploring for over 250 Years

Being a “local boy,” I’ve always enjoyed visiting the town of Lititz. Its small town atmosphere and unique shops, food, and history, all within walking-distance, make it a wonderful Lancaster County asset. When we think of Lititz, we think of pretzels, gold, and chocolate, as you will soon discover below. There really is no place quite like Lititz, and everyone should plan to spend some time there while in Amish Country. 

 

10,000-Year-Old Water?

Lititz Springs Park is a popular spot for locals, and the site for many community activities. Indeed, the town’s 4th of July Celebration, begun in 1818, is one of the oldest continuing community-wide observances in the United States. Here in the park, home to many other local events, you will also find the Lititz Welcome Center, in the lovely replica of the 1884 Lititz train depot. 

Historians say the springs are what brought Indians to the area. Spearheads have been found nearby, dating back to perhaps 6,000 B.C. Records indicate that the Nanticokes Indian tribe once lived at the “big springhead.” The first European settler in the area is said to be Christian Bomberger, in 1722.  

A Good Start

When you come to Lititz, you’ll want to travel Main Street, too. A good place to begin is The Lititz Museum and Historical Foundation, normally open from 10 AM to 4 PM, Monday through Saturday. The museum is one of the most tastefully and professionally arranged town museums you are likely to see anywhere.  The exhibit rooms will give you background on the town’s history, from its founding in 1756.  Visitors are usually amazed at the two parquet clocks, made by resident Rudolf S. Carpenter in the early 1900’s. The larger of the two consists of over 50,000 pieces of wood! 

Admission to the museum includes a tour of the nearby Johannes Mueller House, for a look at life in old Lititz. The house is practically unchanged from its completion in 1792. For visitors interested in the town’s historic structures, the Foundation also has an excellent walking tour brochure. 

Moravian Beginnings

The Lititz story is tied to that of the Moravian faith in Bohemia. It was in the present-day Czech Republic that John Hus (1369-1415) and followers founded the Moravian Church in 1457. Historians note that since this was 60 years before Luther’s Reformation, the Moravians may lay claim to being the oldest organized Protestant Church. But through years of persecution and the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), its 200,000 members nearly disappeared.

In the 18th century, a renewal of the Moravian Church came through the patronage of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf of Saxony. He invited all those persecuted for their faith to come to his lands in 1722.  

As was the case with other persecuted religious groups in Europe, many Moravians sought freedom by taking the perilous journey to the New World, arriving first in 1735, and establishing a settlement in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1741.  

On a Mission

Missionary work was integral to the faith, and preachers were sent forth from the Moravian community in Bethlehem. Zinzendorf himself arrived in America in 1742. A local resident, John George Klein (Kline), was so moved by hearing Zinzendorf’s preaching that he made arrangements to transfer his lands over to the Moravian community in 1755.  

In addition to mission work, music and education were important to the Moravians. In fact, the Lititz schoolhouse erected in 1746 marked the beginnings of what was to be Linden Hall, the oldest continuously operating residence school for girls in the United States. 

Name Dropping

It was on June 26, 1756 that Count Zinzendorf sent a letter giving the settlement the name of Litiz, the German spelling, in commemoration of the castle of Lidice nad Citadelou, located in northeastern Bohemia near the Silesian/Moravia border, where the early Moravian brethren found refuge in 1456. However, in 1880 the Postmaster General ordered the spelling changed to Lititz, so that the English pronunciation was more correct. 

A Church Town

The town was laid out in 1757 and, for about a hundred years, Moravian church members were the only people permitted to live in the town. They administered and supervised the settlement. A Brothers’ House and Sisters’ House were erected for the educational and vocational training of the unmarried men and women, although they did not live communally. Marriages were by lot until 1819, when local respected schoolmaster John Beck chose his wife.  

There were strict rules throughout the settlement, including no dancing matches, beer-tapings, or common sports and pastimes. Permission was needed to have an overnight guest, change occupations, or build a house. It was not until 1855 that non-Moravians were allowed to own their own houses.  

Although the Moravians, like the Mennonites and Amish, were non-resistant and tried to stay neutral, the church did play a role in the American Revolutionary War. George Washington ordered the Brothers’ House used as a military hospital between 1777-78. Some 1,000 soldiers were nursed there, and over 100 of those who died were buried nearby.  

Moravian Christmas Traditions

Lititz is famous for its Christmas observances, particularly the beautiful Moravian stars, the music, the “putz,” and the Christmas “Lovefeast,” which dates back to 1727 and Count Zinzendorf. Today, the Christmas Vigil services are held for several nights because of the demand of members and visitors who fill the church.  

The beautiful 26-point Advent Star originated in the Moravian school handcraft sessions in Niesky, Germany, in the mid-1800’s. The simple 26-point version is quite common, seen hanging and lighted at night on porches in Lititz. Many people are surprised to learn that the first Moravian Star was red and white, not the lovely soft white color usually seen today. Every Christmas the Moravian Church in Lititz displays a spectacular 110-point star. The design was obtained from Germany, reproduced in Lititz, and first hung in the church in 1980.  

The “putz” is the Pennsylvania Dutch interpretation of the crèche or Nativity scene. It probably originated to help children better appreciate the Christmas story. The word “putz” is from the German “putzen” for “to decorate, especially to adorn a church.” Originally, the putz consisted of wooden, clay, or tin figures arranged to depict the Nativity. There were also other scenes displayed, such as the Holy Family, the shepherds in the hills, the three kings, etc. It is said that such a putz, with carved sheep and shepherd, was placed on display at the Moravian Female Seminary in 1761, perhaps making Lititz the beginning of this tradition in America. 

The complex of buildings comprising the Moravian congregation is well worth seeing, particularly the church built in 1787. A museum and gift shop are also on the grounds. 

A New Twist 

In the old village of Lititz, the Moravians operated a general store, tavern (Zum Anker, now General Sutter Inn), grist and saw mills, plus the first apothecary shop in Lancaster County. But of the various businesses in Lititz, from the making of pipe organs to blacksmithing, the most famous is surely “bretzels,” German for pretzels.  

It is said that pretzels (“pretiola” in Latin means “little reward”) were created as treats for children in Europe in 610 from leftover bread dough. The shape was to signify hands crossed in prayer, the three holes for the Holy Trinity. Hundreds of years later, bakers coming from Europe to the New World brought recipes for this treat along with them. Following is the story of what happened next, courtesy of the Sturgis Pretzel House… 

By the early 1800’s, every bread baker in Lititz knew how to make soft pretzels. It was a simple way to get rid of left over bread dough at the end of the day, and a popular treat among housewives and school children. A young man named Henry Rouch took over his father’s bread bakery at 69 East Main Street in 1820. In 1850, a 15-year-old boy named Julius Sturgis began his bread baking apprenticeship under Henry. It was here that Julius began to experiment with the soft pretzels. Julius’ soft pretzels became a popular item for Rouch’s bakery, so they continued to use one of their two ovens to bake them.   

Julius noticed that from time to time, some of the pretzels were left in the oven overnight and accidentally baked a second time when the ovens were fired up for the day. This “accident” made the pretzels hard and crispy. The bakers all liked them, so Julius began to experiment with ways to make a hard pretzel.  He experimented with the dough, the solution they are dipped into before baking and the methods with which they are baked. 

By 1860, Julius felt like he has perfected his recipe.  He approached Henry to inquire about selling these pretzels in the bakery or to the larger general stores as a staple item.  At the time, there was no such thing as a hard pretzel in the marketplace.  Henry said no, that he saw no future in the hard pretzel.  Julius left his apprenticeship to open his own bakery.  He chose an old stone house that was built in 1784 located just a few blocks from Rouch’s bakery.  He added on to the existing house and built a 4 brick oven bakery in the back. By 1861, Julius had opened up America’s first commercial pretzel bakery.  Julius is credited with the starting the hard pretzel as a popular snack food.  The house and bakery are still standing at 219 E Main Street today and serve as a popular tourist destination for the area. 

When Lititz joined the rest of the world in welcoming the new millennium, they decided to lower (what else?) a giant pretzel to ring in the New Year in 2000!  

The Gold Rush

General John Augustus Sutter was born in Switzerland and in 1834, fleeing creditors in Europe, arrived in New York. In time, he headed west and sailed up the Sacramento River to begin a settlement. By 1848, work was being done on a mill when some gold flakes were spotted in the water. Soon Gold Rush fever struck and Sutter’s land was overrun by thousands of gold-diggers in 1849.  

Besides the months living in Washington, D.C. while seeking reimbursement for their lost land, the Sutters spent summers elsewhere, including the Springs Hotel in Lititz, whose spring water might have lessened John’s rheumatism. They eventually decided to settle in town, place their grandchildren in school there, and build a house.  

Built in 1871, the Sutter home at 19 East Main is across the street from what is today the General Sutter Inn. Their home was one of the finest in town, with a good selection of California wines, and the first to feature indoor plumbing for both hot and cold water. 

It was in a Washington hotel room where Sutter died in 1880, still involved in unsuccessful attempts at redress from the government for his seized lands. Sutter, a Lutheran, was buried in the Moravian cemetery, normally reserved for Moravian church members. Sutter’s grave is just behind the Moravian church.  

A colorful local legend says that Congress later decided to honor General Sutter’s grave with a seven-foot high solid marble fence. Resident Anna Eliza Hull refused to allow such a site to mar the cemetery, and a trench six feet deep was dug, allowing only one foot of the marble slabs to show above the ground today. In recent times, the people of Sacramento, California, sent a plaque to honor the founder of their city. It is also at the gravesite. 

Wilbur Buds in Town

Visitors to Lititz usually notice the smell of chocolate, sometimes to their great surprise. During the industrial development of Lititz around the turn of the century, the merger of two companies eventually led to a reorganization that became the Ideal Cocoa and Chocolate Company. Today, Wilbur Chocolate Company, begun in 1884, has been manufacturing premium quality chocolate, compound, and cocoa products for over 100 years. About 150 million pounds of chocolate products and food ingredients are produced each year at factories in Lititz, Mount Joy, and Burlington, Ontario, which are used by many of America’s most well known food processors. 

The scent of chocolate in the air beckons people to take the short walk up Broad Street to the Candy Americana Museum beside the park. The museum displays Wilbur products and packaging over the years, as well as an old chocolate “kitchen,” and an amazing collection of Chocolate Pots used for serving hot chocolate in various countries around the world. The outlet store will tempt every chocolate lover with all kinds of specialty items. Be sure to try the delicious Wilbur buds, which were created by Henry Oscar Wilbur in 1894, several years before the famous Hershey Kiss! 

The information for this article came from many sources, but special credit must be given to the series of articles by R. Ronald Reedy that were published over several months in the Lititz Record Express. To read all the articles and for more information on the celebration, visit the official website at www.lititz250.org. For more information on visiting Lititz, go to: www.ShopLititz.com. 

 

Amish Country News Cover Article by Brad Igou (2006)

 

 

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