There really is no place quite like Lititz, and everyone should plan to spend some time there while in Amish Country. 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 reputedly the “oldest continuing community-wide observance in the United States.” Historians say the springs are what brought Indians to the area. Spearheads have been found nearby, dating back to perhaps 6,000 B.C. A recent local journal states that “Main Street was traveled by human beings for at least 10,000 years.”
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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 1900s. 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.
The Lititz story is tied to that of the Moravian faith in Bohemia. It was in the present-day Czech Republic that John Hus and his 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 over the course of the Thirty Years War, its 200,000 members nearly disappeared. In the 18th century, a renewal of the Moravian Church came through the patronage of Count Zinzendorf of Saxony. He invited all those persecuted for their faith to come to his lands in Saxony.
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 in the early 1700s, with the main settlements becoming established in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
Missionary work was integral to the faith, and preachers were sent from the Moravian community in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Zinzendorf himself arrived in America in 1742. A local resident, John 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. It was in the following year that the town actually got the name of Lititz, the German spelling for Lidice, where European Moravian reformers had taken refuge in the 15th century.
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.
For about a hundred years, Moravian church members were the only people permitted to live in the town. A Brothers’ House and Sisters’ House were erected for the unmarried men and women, although they did not live communally. It was not until 1855 that non-Moravians were allowed to own their own houses.
The Brothers’ House played a role in the American Revolution. George Washington ordered it used as a military hospital between 1777-78. Some 1,000 soldiers were nursed here, about half of whom died and were buried nearby.
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.
Two names are linked forever with the history of Lititz — Sturgis, and Sutter. It was Julius Sturgis who opened the first commercial pretzel bakery in the New World in Lititz.. The year was 1861, and the site at 221 East Main Street is on the National Register of Historic Places.
It is said that pretzels were created in Europe as treats for children. The shape was to signify hands crossed in prayer. People say that as early as 1810, “bretzels” were being made in Lititz.
A tour of the bakery is unlike any other. For starters, your ticket is (what else?) a pretzel! Inside, you get to try your hand at pretzel twisting. It’s not as easy as it looks. Guests also may see the old brick bake ovens, as well as the more modern facilities. It’s not unusual to see visitors walking the streets with their white Sturgis souvenir hats and big bags of pretzels to take home.
John 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. Because of his need to be near Washington, D.C. while seeking reimbursement for his lost lands, the Sutters stayed one summer at the Springs Hotel in Lititz. They decided to settle there, and promptly bought a home and placed their children in school. The hotel is now known as the General Sutter Inn, and the Sutter home built in 1871 is across the street at 19 East Main Street.
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. It is interesting to note that Congress later decided to honor General Sutter’s grave with a seven-foot-high solid marble fence. A local resident 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.
Visitors to Lititz usually notice the smell of chocolate, sometimes to their great surprise. Wilbur Chocolate Company calls Lititz home and beckons people to take the short walk up Broad Street to its Candy Americana Museum beside the park. Over 100 million pounds of chocolate products are made here yearly, used by many of America’s most well-known food processors.
The museum displays Wilbur products and packaging over the years, as well as an old chocolate “kitchen,” and an amazing collection of cocoa pitchers used for serving hot chocolate in various countries around the world. The outlet store will tempt every chocolate lover. Be sure to try the delicious Wilbur buds, which were created by Henry Oscar Wilbur in 1893, ten years before the famous Hershey Kiss!
Of course, this article cannot begin to mention the many unique shops that line the streets of Lititz. Once you park, you can walk everywhere. The more you explore Lititz, the more you’ll agree it is one of Amish Country’s best-kept secrets!