Friday, September 7, 2018

THE SCENT OF BREAD

According to a study done by the University of Southern Brittany in France, people who pass a bakery and smell the sweet aroma of fresh baking bread are likely to perform random acts of kindness to strangers who approach the bakery. The claim sounds outlandish, but yesterday when we went over to Tracy City, Tennessee and stood on the sidewalk outside of the Dutch Maid Bakery, the pleasant smell of fresh bread that drifted through the front door gave me a feeling of beneficence and well-being. The scent also aroused my sweet tooth.

The Dutch Maid Bakery is an authentic Swiss bakery that has been operating in Tracy City since 1902, most of the time under the Swiss management of Johann Baggenstoss and his sons. Baggenstoss was among Swiss immigrants who settled in Gruetli-Laager, Tennessee, halfway between Beersheba Springs and Monteagle, Tennessee where only four or five Swiss-built houses and a few people of Swiss descent live presently. 

Baggenstoss left his home in Rafz, Switzerland for America and some time between 1890 and 1895 became ill and traveled to the Cumberland Plateau town of Gruetli-Laager (named after a town in Switzerland) to recuperate. For awhile he worked at the Beersheba Springs Hotel as head chef and in several other area hotels until he and his wife Louise decided to open a bakery and grocery in Tracy City in 1902.

According to The Swiss Colony at Gruetli by Frances Helen Jackson, when Johann’s son John Jacob welcomed the first girl child into the Baggenstoss family, he renamed the Baggenstoss Bakery, the “Dutch Maid Bakery,” the name it bears today. During its early days, the bakery operation served coal miners, and white sandwich bread was sent by train along lines hauling coal out of the mountain.


Front door of Dutch Maid Bakery

Frances Jackson tells of the bakery at Tracy City supplying 10,000-15,000 loaves of bread a day to feed WWII German and Italian prisoners kept at nearby Camp Forest. The bakery operated 24 hours a day and kept the Baggenstoss family working at an exhausting pace for several years. Following WWII, the Dutch Maid Bakery began making specialty items like sour dough breads and fruit cakes. The family added a Decherd, Tennessee plant, but by 1965 the business had declined due to competing large-scale technologies, and this plant closed.

Albert, the last Baggenstoss owner of the Dutch Maid Bakery, sold the business in Tracy City in 1992 after 90 years of Baggenstoss management. However, the name and quality of baked goods has remained constant. Today, customers can walk into a full-scale bakery where cakes, pies, rolls, breads, cookies, and a complete line of “Tennessee Mountain Moonshine Cakes” in boxes are baked fresh daily. Yesterday marked my third visit to this thriving bakery, and, as you can see from the photographs, the Dutch Maid is gearing up for Halloween already.


Display of baked goods

The Swiss Colony at Gruetli-Laager, once the dream of German-speaking Swiss, has vanished, but the  bakery in Tracy City is a testament to some of their successful efforts in the New World, and when customers get a whiff of fresh-baking bread and cakes, they’re liable to develop the kindness to strangers that the French trace back to the sweet aroma of bread.

Photographs of exterior and interior of bakery by Victoria Sullivan 


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