Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Coolest Small Town in America

Mark and I grew up in Lititz, PA, and lived there the first year of our marriage. After twenty years and two more addresses in other Lancaster County burgs, we returned to Lititz for a two-month stint before we moved to Arden, DE. We were between houses, and Mark's parents put a roof over our heads for that period of time. During those months, Lititz was celebrating being voted the Coolest Small Town in America (2013) by Budget Travel Magazine. It was a great time to set up camp. Second Fridays (of the month) were hopping in a pure party of the arts and small businesses that lined Main Street. Our kids went in search of the free sunglasses that were the souvenir of the newly crowned "cool" kids. Mark and I availed ourselves of strong IPAs at Bull's Head, a brewpub that overflowed onto a sidewalk near the town square--and around the corner from our first address as a married couple. We clinked glasses and commented that, had Lititz been this cool at the time, we would have never left our little second-story apartment that overlooked the back stoop and garbage bins of the aforementioned brew pub.  And the town is cool--in more than just "coffee houses and brew pubs" kind of way. At the north end of town, Rock Lititz --the brainchild of existing entertainment industry giants Clair Bros Audio, Tait Towers, and Atomic Designs--has launched a venue for top musical artists from around the globe to practice and technically perfect their arena shows. Rock star sightings are a normal occurrence in Lititz and have been since we were kids. Lititz was a great place to grow up, and now its coolness factor is undisputed. Had Mark's job been closer to our native town, we would have gladly settled there instead of Arden for our next act.

My nieces and nephew at Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in Lititz, PA
Lititz is more than a gimmick contest in a magazine to me: it is my heritage. If you trace my dad's family back through his mother's mother's mother's (10 mothers total) you will find the first European settler to Lititz Springs area. Of course, it was her husband's name-- Christian Bomberger-- that we memorized in fourth grade at Lititz Elementary School. But Christian wasn't alone in the dugout home he carved out of the land in 1722. His wife, Maria, was doing the laundry in the springs. Imagine the amount of dirt that accumulated in your clothes and linens when you lived in a dugout? A few decades later, in 1756, the Moravian Church came along and claimed the Lititz area for its own purposes. This is where my mother's family came into play. Originally Quakers who came to Pennsylvania with William Penn, they had a son who married into a Moravian family and he had a son who lived in Bethlehem (another Moravian settlement) for a while until an Indian raid sent that son (my gr-gr-gr-gr-grandfather) leaping off the roof of the up-in-flames Brother's house (where the unmarried men lived) to dodge bullets in a forest and eventually escape to Bethlehem's sister town of Lititz where he started a family. He was a potter, and his grandson (my gr-gr-grandfather) Julius Sturgis became the founder of the first commercial hard pretzel bakery in 1861. You can still tour this pretzel bakery today. (One more "cool point" for Lititz!) In the beginning of Lititz history, the Moravian Church owned all the land parcels in town and leased them only to members of its congregation until 1855 when it sold off its parcels and opened the town to outsiders.

**Are you paying attention, Arden? I started life in an intentional community in which residents had to lease the land on which they lived. 

 Lititz was the first community in Pennsylvania to establish a historic district, which is why its older buildings survive in such pristine condition. In the 1970's the downtown merchants got together and formed an association that bought up properties and bolstered business in the town for decades to come. As a result, Lititz has a thriving downtown and economy where many other towns are now shuttered, abandoned or have some sort of token commerce. Lititz boasts both the oldest girls' school and the longest running Fourth of July celebration in this country.  The latter has one of the best fireworks displays around, and you can bet that the soundtrack that accompanies the show is top notch--as it is provided by the same folks who are "rocking" Lititz at the north end of town.

In this blog, I've detailed a lot of what the experience of living in Arden has brought to us. Maybe we sought Arden out because community is so important to us. I came preloaded with expectation, having cut my teeth in a place that values neighbors, honors its history, and moved into this century with such forward thinking it is astonishing. Arden has a great history, too. I have read much about it in the short time I have been here. My friends joke about my geeky spouting of Arden trivia. My knowledge is not complete, but certainly well-informed. I do honor my new town's 115-year history with the same reverence I give to Lititz, though Lititz history is over twice as long. Sometimes, I run into Ardenites who are stubborn about change in the community. I can't blame them. They don't want  the Arden of their collective childhood to fade away. Their memories can account for half the history of the place, so of course their experience has weight. I can respect that. But I am glad to see forward momentum here as well. As an example, The Arden Concert Gild has grown over the last decade to the point where our Gild Hall is a true venue, competing for artists with other great hotspots in Wilmington and Philadelphia. How interesting that music plays such a central and progressive role in both my beloved towns?

And so Arden, I offer you my past, as you have offered me yours. When I step forward at village meetings or offer suggestions in various committees, know that any challenges I make to the status quo are informed and respectful of the past. Just because I seek changes doesn't mean that I don't honor the story. I haven't been here very long, but I have great joy and enthusiasm for our village life, and I come to you with a storied history of my own.