IDAHO HISTORY: Pioneer bakers had colorful backgrounds, personalities

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANNovember 2, 2013 

That “bread is the staff of life” has been observed by poets and peasants alike for centuries, and for an even longer time, millions have prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Those who have baked that daily bread, and sold it to the people of southern Idaho for the past century and a half, are the subject of today’s story and its sequel next week.

George Owens’ 1865 directory of Idaho Territory lists two bakeries in Boise. The City Bakery, operated by S. Adolph and John Krall, was on Main Street between 7th and 8th streets. Krall was a 30-year-old native of Germany who would prosper in the young capital of Idaho, first as a baker, then as a saloon keeper and finally, through real estate and fruit that he grew on a 125-acre orchard east of town. The Central Brewery and Bakery, on Main between 6th and 7th, was run by A.B. Ford, J.L.G. Smith and J. Young.

Boise’s next bakery was started by an energetic, hard-working Prussian named Davis Levy, whose career in Boise would be chronicled regularly in the Idaho Statesman, first with admiration and approval, but finally, as his life sank into vice and crime, with disgust and revulsion.

On Aug. 15, 1867, the paper noted that Levy had bought a former blacksmith shop on Main Street and was fitting it up to be a bakery: “He intends to supply the market with crackers and all kinds of fancy work.” One thing Davis Levy understood from the beginning was the value of advertising — and in an aggressive style that hints at a fiery temperament that would get him into trouble in future years.

Davis Levy named his establishment the California Bakery after his former place of business. In June 1868, Levy advertised “Genuine Rye Bread, with or without Caraway Seed.” Later that year, Levy’s bakery was broken into and $250 in greenbacks stolen — perhaps the first step in souring his view of the world and leading increasingly to his mistrust of his neighbors.

The U.S. Census for 1870 tells us that Idaho Territory’s bakeries were run by a cosmopolitan lot. Idaho City’s five bakers were an Englishman, two Frenchmen and two Germans. Silver City’s bakers were two Irishmen and two Germans.

In July 1871, the Statesman reported, “Fred Dangell has received from the East a first-class cracker machine, which is being put in order, and in a few days Fred will be able to supply all kinds of hard bread.”

In September, the paper noted that “Our neighbor Levy, the baker, has shown us some bread made from flour of this season’s milling, which is certainly an excellent article. Levy says, give him flour like that, and he’ll challenge the whole Pacific Coast for making good bread, and he has the greenbacks to put up on it.” That Levy kept up good relations with the Statesman management is suggested by items like this: “Don’t fail to go to the California Bakery and buy some of Levy’s Graham or old-fashioned Rye Flour, or Corn Meal. It is a sure cure for fretful, peevish and cross dispositions.”

In May 1872, Levy began building a two-story brick building on Main Street to house his bakery and related sidelines. The Statesman paid him this tribute: “D. Levy of the California Bakery, is one of those who, when he has a thing to sell, takes the proper means of informing the public of the fact — he advertises in the Statesman. Levy has been successful in business, and he owes his success entirely to his own exertions.

He not only runs the bakery, but keeps a grocery and a saloon, a lunch house and candy shop, has a vegetable depot and does a commission business, and may shortly be expected to have a tannery and saw mill connected with his establishment. He keeps no help, but does all his own work, and still finds a few hours to read the papers and chat with neighbors. If you are in want of anything, Levy is sure to have it.”

While advertising itself as well as the energetic Levy, the Statesman surely is poking fun at the ambitious baker with the suggestion that he might even open a tannery and a saw mill.

That Davis Levy had a sense of humor we learn from this item: “D. Levy says as soon as we get a railroad he will supply San Francisco with all the crackers she wants. He has the capacity of baking 32,000,000,000 at a batch, all he wants is transportation to carry them away.”

Next week we’ll continue the story of Davis Levy and of other pioneer bakeries.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

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