The Legend of Julius Sturgis
In 1850, Julius Sturgis ran a bread bakery in Lititz, Pennsylvania. Legend has it that a hobo who had hitched a ride on a train that ran behind the bakery followed the smell of freshly baked bread, looking for a job and something to eat. Julius couldn’t offer the man a job, but he extended his hospitality and invited the hobo to sit down at the family dinner table. In exchange for the kindness, the hobo gave Julius a pretzel recipe.
As with most legends, this one contains very little actual fact. We’re not sure how the story came about, but we do know that in 1861, after eleven years as a baker, Julius stopped making bread and established the first commercial pretzel bakery in America.
The Sturgis Family Tradition Continues
The Sturgis family continues to bake pretzels today, using the same old-fashioned recipe and methods established by Julius Sturgis in 1861. Marriott Sturgis, grandson to Julius, was born in 1910 and learned much of the pretzel baking trade in the original Lititz bakery, working for the family business before and after school. One of the bakers he worked alongside was his uncle Tom Keller, and because their mannerisms and baking styles were so similar, the other bakers began calling Marriott “Tom Sturgis”.
When he was 14, “Tom’s” family moved from Lititz to Reading, Pennsylvania, where he continued to work in pretzel bakeries, including one run by his cousin Victor Sturgis. In 1936, he opened a pretzel bakery with his brother Correll called “Sturgis Brothers”, but World War II conscription took their entire workforce and by 1942 they were forced to close their doors.
In 1946, after working at a munitions factory during the War, Tom Sturgis established another bakery, which he called Tom Sturgis Pretzels. Tom Sturgis Pretzels continues to operate today, run by his son, Tom Sturgis, Jr. and his grandson, Bruce Sturgis. The Sturgis family also now manages the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery.
Our Historic Location
In addition to being the site of America’s first commercial pretzel bakery, the building at 219 East Main St. holds an even longer history. Built in 1784 by Peter Kreiter, the house is one of the original structures in Lititz. The sturdy stone house was built from stones dug from the street itself and timber hewed from the surrounding forest. The home had musket firing windows in the cellar to ward off attacks from Native Americans, while the interior included beautifully carved wooden panels on the staircase, heavy wooden doors on iron strap hinges, and plank pegged floors. The Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.