The Vagabond – Gadsden’s first bakery


By Danny Crownover

J.J. Blanchart established the first bakery in Gadsden in 1868 in a frame building occupying the western half of the site of the old woman’s department of the Hagedorn department store located on the north side of Broad Street between Fourth and Fifth streets.

Blanchart was born around 1819 in France. He married Susan Lloyd on November 24, 1863, and soon after arrived in Gadsden to start his bakery.

Blanchart catered to Moss Rose candy, pies, cheese, sausage, and the like as suitable Christmas presents. He also had the first soda water fountain in Gadsden. It was nothing but a gooseneck pipe above the counter through which water was pumped by foot power. The soda water came out of that pipe when the foot pump was worked under the counter, there being no carbonated gas in those days.

In 1876, Blanchart’s advertisement in the local newspaper read, “Gadsden Bakery and Confectionery. Toys, fancy groceries, fruit, bread, and cakes on hand. Candy at wholesale and retail, made of the best material and strictly pure. Apples, oranges, figs and dates kept always on hand during their season. Fresh apple pies and the celebrated new era mince pies for sale as long as the season will permit. Families should supply from the bakery with bread. It is cheaper in the long run, of less trouble and less servant hire will be needed for home cooking. This is the way to run the household. The servant’s waste will overpay for the bread. Orders for parties and weddings supplied on short notice and executed in the most stylish workmanship.”

Blanchart’s bakery was actually located was in the backyard of his residence in an unpainted plank house located on Chestnut Street about where the Gieger Cleaning plant once was located.

The Blanchart home located was just east of the residence of Judge J.H. Dis-que, Sr. On the east was the blacksmith shop of William Christopher and a camp yard operated by the Herzberg store. The bakery was located in the rear southeast corner of the lot just back of the residence. It was a two-story house and one of the largest bakeries in north Alabama.

One of Blanchart’s specialties was candy kisses wrapped in colored tissue paper. The leading young people of the city enjoyed wrapping candy kisses for Blanchart. They rolled small bits of candy in tissue paper, and inside of each wrapper were verses about love written on each slip.

The boys and girls got a great deal of fun out of it as they were allowed to eat considerable candy and were able to make a social occasion out of each “wrapping night.” Blanchart always served cream and cake and candy to the young people, as he considered the parties a good advertisement for his business.

Blanchart manufactured almost everything he sold in his shop. His loaves of bread were the only bread that could be bought here for a long time.

Blanchart had four children, and Miss Lena was the only daughter. The oldest boy was Louis, another boy was called Buddy and the name of the third one has been forgotten. Oddly enough, the Blanchart boys preferred cornbread to what was then called “light” bread.

The small boys who visited the bakery were given a large helping of new era mince pies and sometimes a dish of ice cream pie made from ice cream left over the day before. The Martha Washington pies made from all sorts of scraps and leavings.

After Blanchart died in the late 1880s or the early 1890s, the family moved to Columbus, Ga. Another early local bakery was that of J.M. Goudlock, who made the first cream puffs catered to the Christmas trade with a full stock of all sorts of cake and candy. His son Will succeeded the bu-siness and carried it on for a number of years where the White Palace Cafe was located.

Around 1899, Will V. Zimmer operated a bakery along with his father. The business advertised French candy at 20 cents a pound. Zimmer was an expert candy maker and baker. When his day’s work was over, he donned a Prince Albert coat, striped trousers and a silk top hat and became a society man. Some years later he became manager of the famous Kimball House, Atlanta’s finest hotel, and was very popular all over Georgia.

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