This week’s blog celebrates National Pretzel Day (Tuesday, April 26th) by spotlighting a turn-of-the-20th-century Davenport institution: Pretzel Alley.
The alley was and is just across from the Davenport Public Library’s Main Street location, running from Main to Harrison Street in the block between 3rd and 4th Streets. But Pretzel Alley was much more than just a place. It was a lively social club, starting out as a break-time and after-hours gathering of men who worked at the H. Korn Baking Company on Harrison Street — hence the “pretzel” moniker — and other businesses nearby.
The five Korn brothers (Billy, Charlie, Otto, Harry, and John) and Alex Anderson were among the founders of the group. Merrymaking was the main order of business, fueled by liquid refreshments. Regular singing, dancing, and practical joking enticed more and more local fellows to join the happy fraternity, eventually including influential businessmen and other community leaders. The Pretzel Alley gang formed a band and a choir, and so many members played on the Davenport baseball team that it was popularly renamed “The Pretzels.”
The official organ of the organization was the Pretzel Alley Wurst-Blatt, published by Alex Anderson, Davenport Democrat employee and the”first, last and only mayor” of the “free and Independent Commonwealth of Pretzel Alley, State of Scott County, U.S.A.” (1) The organization’s annual elections were grand occasions that attracted much attention in the local press. Despite the efforts of many “challengers,” Anderson was elected mayor of Pretzel Alley several years in a row with his famous slogan “Can’t Lose.” Even when he moved across the Mississippi to work as a Rock Island hotelier, Anderson’s leadership continued.
William H. “Billy” Korn, treasurer of the H. Korn Baking Company took Pretzel Alley’s party philosophy to the state and national levels when he announced the formation of the “Salty Order of Pretzels” at the Master Bakers’ of Iowa convention. Declaring himself the leader, or “Big Twist,” he hoped to add a bit of fun to these meetings. (2)In 1910, when the City Council changed the alley’s name to “Library Lane” to legally accommodate the Hotel Davenport’s saloon, and the “moisture exchanges” on the alley closed, “Pretzel Alley turned up its toes, leavin’ nothin’ behind but memories of the good old days.” (3)
(posted by Katie)
(1) Purcell, W. L. “Pretzel Alley.” Them Was the Good Old Days. [Davenport, Iowa]: Purcell Printing Company, 1922. 211-216.
(2) “Down in pretzel alley: Davenport’s salty thoroughfare was nationally famous in early 1900’s.” Davenport Democrat January 11, 1955: 5.
(3) Image from A Portfolio of Cartoons as Published by the Davenport Times, 1912-13. [Davenport, Iowa]: Davenport Times, 1913?