“Those crazy clean women from Lititz.” This, among other disparaging remarks from the surrounding communities was the lot of first settlers here in the 1700’s. In 1744 William Marsh, secretary of the Maryland Commissioners had this to say of Lancaster, in part: “The spirit of cleanliness has not yet troubled the major part of the inhabitants, for in general they are very great slovens.
When they clean houses, which bye the bye is very seldom, they are unwilling to remove the filth far from themselves for they place it close to their doors, which in summer-time breeds bugs, fleas, and vermin, etc.”
Lititz did not just happen. It was carefully planned and one of the first projects was to install curbing along Main Street for drainage. Homes had to be built 60 feet house to house with seven feet reserved for future sidewalks and trees.
By 1756 carts with solid wooden wheels were replacing sleds, but to get anywhere you walked. In another decade the Conestoga wagon came into use and the new road from Bethlehem and Reading to the ferry in Marietta was built, however, a wagon from North Carolina had been making the trip every few months since the town was settled.
Keeping the street in good condition for this increasing heavy traffic was not easy. Ruts were a foot deep in winter and dust inches thick in summer. How the housewives kept their homes clean was a miracle.
One of the regulations imposed on the Innkeeper of the Zum Anker was that he must supervise the cleanliness of all food, the beds, and in general the house. Nevertheless, while there were hotels a mile apart on the highways, only the Lititz Inn was remembered.
By 1770 the village boasted of eighteen stone or brick houses and a ruling was passed that a pavement of some kind had to be laid. This was seventy years before Ben Franklin called the lack of pavements to the attention of Philadelphia folks. Usually the flat creek stones were used for pavements, but some were brick and many just board.
Wood shavings were put on the street to make it passable. Willow branches were also put in the ruts with the result that when spring came the street was sprouting young willow trees.
The housewives had to keep up an eternal vigil to ward cattle and horseback riders off their pavements. Dirt was ever present and keeping it out of the homes was not easy.
By 1838 stage coaches were coming to town and there were now 48 houses. John Beck stated that “Lititz is the cleanest and neatest village in the County”. All homes were painted and kept in good repair.
The barns would be painted with venetian red and buttermilk (a trick learned from the Indians), while fences and outbuildings would get their annual coat of “whitewash”. The expensive lead paint was only used for trim. A ruling that was strictly enforced by the Church was that every cellar in town had to have its annual coat of whitewash.
Every home owner kept his pavement and curb in good condition and tried to keep the ruts in the street filled. Later a water tank with a sprinkler would be drawn over the streets to keep down the dust and a garden hose would be brought out by the housewife for the same purpose.
Getting across the streets was the problem in bad weather and Paul Doster claims his father had the best crossing in town. The hotel was glad to get rid of its oyster shells and these made an excellent path across the street.
While taking a bath in winter time was frowned upon by most of the early settlers, claiming it had a weakening effect on the body, this was not true of the Lititz folks. The Saturday night ritual was to fill the wood tub with cold rain water and hot water added from time to time. The tub would be near the kitchen stove with the oven door open. There was always plenty of home-made soap with an odor all its own. The adults would lead off with the older children following. By the time the youngest took their baths all you could say was that the water was still wet, but they still smelled clean.
There are few “oldsters” who do not remember when indoor plumbing was first installed in their homes and the old wells became cesspools. They remember when oil was sprinkled over the dirt streets, then came limestone paving and finally the Macadam coating that is taken for granted today. Only then did the housewife get any relief from her endless round of cleaning.