After 10 years of work researching and writing his book “The Hitchner Biscuit Company: A Small Town Treasure,” Boyd Hitchner had a signing and discussion at the West Pittston Library last November, where he learned the research never ends.
“The talks about the bakery always attract people with stories about the bakery that I never heard before,” Hitchner said. “If I keep picking up new knowledge about the bakery and West Pittston, I’ll have to write a supplement.”
As it is, the 329-page book, fortified with more than 200 photographs and illustrations, delivers a detailed history of the West Pittston company, which became a nationwide brand, selling tens of thousands of Lorne Doone short bread cookies, Tidbit cheese crackers, Vanilla Cremes, Zehu Bars and Creso Biscuits, dubbed “the biscuit that made West Pittston famous.” The word “biscuit” was used interchangeably with “cookie.”
At its peak pre-World War II, Hitchner’s ran three shifts for six days a week, employing more than 200 workers.
The bakery closed in 1951.
Among the stories in the book is a gem about a trade Hitchner’s made with bootleggers — sugar for lard.
Hitchner, a Maryland resident, is coming back to the West Pittston Library at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, June 10, to talk about and sign his book, and hopefully learn even more about the iconic business which West Pittston Historical Society President Mary Portelli says is one of the most significant Garden Village history points.
Hitchner, 78, is the great-grandson and great-grandnephew of company founders Richard and Joseph Hitcher. He talked about some of the bakery stories he heard for the first time at the signing in November.
“I heard stories about the broken cookie bins at the bakery. An older man said when he had lunch at his West Pittston school, he could always tell the children that lived in West Pittston, as opposed to those who were from other school districts. The West Pittston kids invariably unrolled a wax paper packet of broken cookies.
“Another woman told me when she and her mother first starting going to the ‘broken cookie department,’ as she called it, they could pick out whatever cookies they wanted. Then the bakery changed the policy and pre-filled bags of cookies. This caused a sharp drop in broken cookie sales and it wasn’t long before they reverted back to letting the children pick out their own favorites.
“An older gentleman remembered as a child his folks had a cottage on Lake Carey, a little down the road from my uncle Jed, or JA, as he was known. The gentleman told me on summer weekends, Jed’s place would fill up with excited children of his own age. The more children, the happier JA was. He never had any children of his own, so he loved to see their merriment and hear their laughter. On days that some of the men at the bakery would have to work late because of an equipment breakdown or another major problem, Jed would send a driver to pick up some of their children and take them to Grablick’s Milk Bar on Wyoming Avenue for some ice cream.”
As well as new stories, Hitchner also has uncovered new memorabilia since the book was published, such as the early photograph of a Hitchner Biscuit Company truck pictured above.
“I can’t figure out where the photo was taken. Perhaps on Susquehanna Avenue in West Pittston? Mary Portelli thinks that it may have been taken along the river in Wilkes-Barre. Also, I am not sure of the make of the truck and what year it was. I plan to have it at the West Pittston Library and am sure someone will know the answers.”