Lititz: The Heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country
By Esha Samajpati
As the sweet smell of chocolate wafted through the crisp winter morning, I realized that we had reached our destination. Named by Count Zinzendorf in 1756 after a town in Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic), Lititz is a small town with big surprises.
Balancing old-world charm with present-day amenities is no mean task. Located in the midst of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, along Route 501, just two and a half hours from New York City, this town can take you back to the eighteenth century by way of its architecture and rich heritage.
The Moravian Church
Having checked into Alden House B&B, located conveniently in the heart of downtown Lititz, we were all set to spend a day exploring the town on foot. A thick blanket of snow bordered the sidewalk as we walked towards Church Square. Ice sculptures some with their tips melting stood guard in front of each building.
Our first stop was a chat with Dale Shelly, a member of the Moravian Archives Committee. As we got introduced under the Moravian Star, I asked “I have seen this star hang in the B&B, shop windows and now here at the church. What’s the significance?”
“Well, the Star itself symbolizes Jesus Christ who was born to be the light of the world. The many points reach out to all mankind in all parts of the world,” replied Dale with a smile.
Shrugging off our coats, we walked into the main hall where a beautiful stained-glass window of the Moravian Seal and Motto gleamed down from high above the pulpit. Dale patiently took us through the compelling history of the church, by way of which we got to know about the town and its early settlers.
It comes as no surprise to me that after being persecuted incessantly for their beliefs, Moravians had ensured that Lititz remain a close community for 100 years.
Everything from the layout of the town to the cultural, social and economic life was under the direct control of the church. Till 1855, Moravians were the only people allowed to settle in the town and when they did, they built their homes on land leased from the church.
Though many of the Moravian traditions have given way to modern practices, the “lovefeast” still continues. As Dale led us to the original lovefeast kitchen in the basement, he let on that a sweetened roll, the recipe of which is a well-kept secret is served with coffee during each lovefeast.
The Moravian candles, the lanterns, the architecture… each had a distinct character, much like Dale himself. Right after our tour of the 1763 kitchen, we were ushered into another room. A modern kitchen with the latest facilities lay in front of us.
As Dale explained, “the traditional lovefeast continues, twelve times a year, but is no longer prepared in a brick oven down in the basement.”
As we walked out of the rear of the main building, he showed us the Leichen Kappelchen (Corpse House), which is now a building of interest for students of architecture. It was constructed in 1786 as a place to keep bodies until they were buried in the cemetery close by. It has not been used since 1935.
Soon we entered the Brothers’ House, now serving as the church museum which housed paintings, musical instruments, books and artifacts from life as was known in the eighteenth century. Priceless paintings by John Valentine Haidt depicting the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ graced the first room… No wonder the building has a state-of-the-art security system.
Dale also showed us the restored organ made by the famous piped-organ builder, David Tannenberg. We were surprised to know this house had served as a military hospital during the Revolutionary War and yes, we actually saw a copy of the letter from George Washington to Bishop Ettwein regarding the matter.
Right next to the main building stood the oldest girls’ residential school in the United States, Linden Hall, founded by the Moravian Church in 1746.
Thanking Dale for the fascinating tour, we crossed the street to meet with Randy Weit and Bob Good from the Lititz Historical Foundation.
Lititz Museum and Johannes Mueller House
“I’m usually in a costume when I give tours,” explained Bob with a frank smile. We were there on a day when the museum was closed. Can’t complain; an exclusive tour gave me the opportunity to ask a whole lot of questions. Lititz Historical Foundation, a non-profit organization, was established in 1961 with the aim of preserving the history of the town. The first room held charts illustrating the timelines in details. Beyond the gift-shop lay a garden covered in snow.
“The garden looks beautiful during summer when it’s in demand… mostly for weddings and concerts”, added Randy, the President of the Lititz Historical Foundation Board of Directors.
Bob entertained us with information and anecdotes as we went through each room, appreciating the Moravian handiwork. Since becoming an open community in 1855, Lititz has proved to be a haven for small businesses.
Next door was the Johannes Mueller House, offering us a peek into the life of an eighteenth-century Moravian tradesman. Some of the exhibits dated back to the 1700s and unless Bob had taken the trouble to explain each item, we would have been left wondering “What could this be possibly used for?”
Since the tours are seasonal, to know more about the hours and plan a trip please visit lititzhistoricalfoundation.com or call Jenn Englehart at 717-627-3507
Lunch at Café Chocolate
A couple of blocks down the street we came upon Café Chocolate, and as the name suggests, it’s a paradise for chocolate lovers. Myra, our hostess, greeted us with a friendly smile and a taste of chocolate. Broken into bite-sized chunks, she served us the real thing, not “candy chocolate.”
She suggested we try their signature drink along with the organic fare on the menu. Dark chocolate shavings sprinkled over a cup of classic hot chocolate arrived within minutes.
Called “The Turbo,” the signature drink tasted nothing short of heavenly. My other favorite was the dark chocolate raspberry balsamic vinaigrette drizzled liberally over our salads.
Post lunch we caught up with Myra who told us that the chocolate used in the café contained at least 50% cocoa solids. Well, that explains the taste.
Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery – America’s First Commercial Pretzel Bakery
One would have thought that a savory lunch would have kept us away from food that afternoon. Nope, it didn’t. Having done with the sweet, we went looking for salty on Main Street.
A few blocks away, we spotted a giant pretzel from across the road. Coming closer, we found ourselves in front of a stone building with a pretty red door. Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, established in 1861 – claimed the shop sign. So in we went.
Just in time for a hands-on lesson in pretzel twisting. Boy scouts were gathered on each side of a long table listening to the history of pretzels and trying their hands in twisting at the same time.
The gift shop near the entrance had every variety of pretzels imaginable… soft, hard, cheesers, low-fat, coated in chocolate and of course, my favorite – dipped in dark chocolate. If all this pretzel talk is making you hungry, you can order them online at tomsturgispretzels.com. For information on bakery tours, please visit juliussturgis.com.
Shopping in Downtown Lititz
Deciding to stay away from food for a while, we sauntered up and down the Main and Broad Streets, poking our heads into galleries, boutiques, antique stores and unique gift shops. Aaron’s Books had a story-session in full swing and we were told that it is Lancaster County’s one and only independent book store. Dolores from Zest on Main Street took us around her shop which was stacked with hand-made culinary items.
I was impressed to find vintage and functional in the same product. How often does that happen? To make space for her ever-expanding product-line, Dolores informed us, “Soon we will be moving to a bigger place next-door.”
Next on our list was Morton Fine Furniture, with a work-shop inside the store. From hand-crafted furniture, we moved on to hand-made gifts in Broad Street Bazaar. Each shop has something unique to offer while celebrating craftsmanship and local sources.
If you are planning to shop in Lititz, please visit venturelititz.com/shopping to get a taste of the wide variety the town offers. We soon found out that every second Friday of each month, 5-9 p.m., shops and restaurants stay open late as entertainers take over the downtown area. More details can be found at venturelititz.com/events_second_details.html
While still on Broad Street, I realized that it is right-down impossible to keep my mind off food when a heady scent of chocolate followed me like Mary’s little lamb. Finally giving in to temptation, we walked towards the brick-red building across the road.
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