Baking, Historic Buildings, History

Conklin Bread Company

I am a huge history buff!  I just devour anything relating to the history of how we got to the place we are now.  When I met my husband, I saw his family history as fresh and unexposed stories to research and explore!

Decatur, 1919
Downtown Decatur, 1919

Although there are hundreds of stories I hope to someday tell, I will start with a local and fairly recent story.

Decatur, IL. Mid-1800’s.  Rob’s ancestor, Charles Conklin moved from Orange County Indiana to Decatur, IL.  They had 7 children and came from a farming background.  But one son, Abram Conklin, was extremely successful in business.  He had a bagging company and then a bread factory.  Abram and his wife, Anna, never had children but were very generous in their community of Decatur.  One of Abram’s brothers, Amos, had 6 sons.  Amos was a very religious man.  According to the Decatur Newspapers, their family went on a revival retreat in Iowa and while there, Amos was struck by lightning!  He died instantly and left a widow and 6 sons ages 1-17.  After Amos’s death, Abram and Anna opened up positions in their business for any of their nephews who wished employment.

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Rob is descendant from Amos Conklin.  His son, Ralph Conklin (Rob’s great-grandfather), and a couple of the brothers decided to work for their uncle and learn the family business.

After a few years, the brothers ended up buying their uncle out from the bread factory business.  For anyone who knows Decatur, the building of the bread factory was located in the present-day “Haines & Essick”.  Funny enough, Haines & Essick was a wholesale Homer Soda customer of mine I delivered to frequently and I didn’t even know the history of the building!

Soon after the brothers took over the business (the late 1920’s), Hulda Conklin Housethey decided that they needed to build a state of the art factory with all new equipment.  Here is what astounds me and puts me in awe.  Their mother, Huldah Conklin, decides that her house is located in a perfect location for their new business venture.  She gives them her BEAUTIFUL house to tear town and build a factory!  She moves in with one of her sons (since they took her flippin’ house)!  Look that beautiful Italianate house!  I don’t know if I would have enough faith in my children to do such a thing!

Here is a newspaper article about the construction.  Conklin_Collection_20170410_0005

Oscar Brokaw

On a complete side note… before Hulda married Amos Conklin, she was married to Oscar Brokaw.  He was a Union soldier who died during the Civil War before they had children.  Even until her death, she kept an 8″x11″ TINTYPE of her late husband (which I discovered among my father-in-law’s papers).  His fascinating history is another story…

 

Time moved on and the construction was finally complete.  They honored their mother by having her pull the lever of the machine to produce the first batch of bread.  In Rob’s dad’s belongings, I found a bound album full of pictures from the new factory.  I will be scanning them into flickr soon!

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The opening of the new location!

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One of the things that I find a wonder (from a manufacturing background), is that they were the FIRST company east of the Mississippi to sell SLICED BREAD!  The newspaper was always abuzz with this fact and wrote about business owners from the East Coast (Conklin_Collection_20170410_0001 ) coming to Decatur to see how the Conklin Brothers made their sliced bread.

Conklin Bread.jpgThe other fascinating thing is that they did this all during the height of the depression!  How did they do that???  I read through the newspaper ads and looked for their marketing campaigns.  Their main competitor was the housewife who baked her own bread.  So their marketing targeting that.  It’s just fascinating to see the advertisements that they posted!  I even had one of them made into a cutting board because it’s just THAT entertaining!

Somehow through the 100 years of family history, we were blessed enough to have a Conklin Bread Pan that made it to us… I use this pan every time I bake bread and I remember the legacy that I feel honored to keep going to his great-great-great-grandchildren…

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Maude Conklin is an inspiration to me.  She was so dedicated to her family after years of adversity and her obituary spoke her praises (as did her son’s diary the month of her death, showing how he visited her 3x/day).  What a legacy!

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1 thought on “Conklin Bread Company”

  1. Pingback: Baking bread

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