from Eyewitness News Online
April 23, 1983 - Purity Maid Bakery In Charleston Closes
By Heath Harrison
June 23, 2013
For 64 years, the Purity Maid bakery was a familiar sight in Charleston. Longtime city residents still talk about how the smell of fresh-baked bread coming from its Bigley Avenue location would fill the West Side when it was in operation.
The company was founded in 1919 as Aunt Betty's Bakery. At its peak, Purity Maid operated bakeries in Charleston and Beckley, as well as thrift stores and shops in town throughout the state, including Welsh, Logan Rainelle, Sutton, Hinton and Buckhannon.
The company, through its bakeries and thrift stories, produced and sold many items, such as bread, including many specialty types, buns, honey buns, fruit cakes, hot cross buns, cream horns, pies and cakes. It partnered with Hostess to distribute snack foods in the West Virginia area.
Bob Dinkler, 84, worked for the company for more than 30 years, as both a foreman and a dough mixer at the Charleston and Beckley locations.
He said his experience working for the company was a pleasant one and that the company treated the workers well.
"We respected the management, and the management respected us," he said.
The company was unionized through the United Steelworkers, but Dinkler said any strikes were short-lived and that the management and workers would always quickly work out their differences.
Dinkler said the company was a like a close-knit family.
"Everybody had close ties," he said, adding that many families would have more than one member working for the company.
"You could have one person get on, and then three or four in one family would get on," Dinkler said.
Diana Stricklen, of Lakeland, Fla., came from one of those families. She said her father Homer C. Harper worked at the bakery, driving a relay truck for 38 years. He was joined at work her grandmother, aunt, four uncles, cousins and her brother.
“Purity Maid Baking Company was a family oriented company, picnics in the summer at Coonskin Park and families working in the plant,” Stricklen said. “My father's take-home pay was approximately $67 per week, but we did not want for anything. Sunday evening driving down Bigley Avenue in Charleston, you could smell the fresh bread baking. Fond memories for my entire family. My father always wanted us to eat the bread, since he could get a loaf for $0.25.”
Cathy Mullins said both of her parents worked for the company. Her father, Bernard Berry, worked was employed by Purity Maid for 37 years.
"Purity Maid was an employee, family-caring place," Mullins said. "Each person cared for the other and their families. No one was better than the next. Everyone worked together to get the job done. The company made their employees want to do more and achieve more. It was a place of opportunity if you wanted to learn. That's what my dad always told me."
Mullin said the company regularly let employees take products home for their families to sample. She said the company sold many specialty cakes in their stores, including doll cakes, and said the honey buns sold by Purity Maid were "outstanding."
Like many, she fondly remembers the smells from the bakery filling Charleston.
"When it was nice outside, you could start smelling it in Kanawha City," Mullins said.
The Bigley Avenue location was a popular destination for area schools on field trips. Robin Rhodes, of Sissonville, was one of the students who visited the bakery.
"I remember going there on a tour with my class. Not sure what grade it was, but I was young. I can remember them giving us all an oatmeal cake when we went in," she said. .
Many Charleston residents remember Purity Maid as a staple of their childhoods.
Jim Downey grew up across the street from the bakery in the late 1950s.
"The workers there gave me oatmeal creme pies, lunch box size cherry pies, and snack cakes," Downey said. "They had a thrift store that sold day-old cakes. The kids I played with would spend hours looking for pop bottles so we could cash them in and buy the day old cakes. You could buy a hot loaf of bread off the bakery line for about $0.25."
In 1981, Purity Maid was bought out by the Flowers Foods company. It continued to operate under the Purity Maid name until its closing in 1983.
The Purity Maid building is still standing on Bigley Avenue today. For a present day view of the location, visit its 'for sale' listing.
This week's video, brought to us courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives at the Culture Center, consists of some silent WCHS footage from the day of the company's closing. The clip, missing its original voiceover, gives us a look at some of the company's signage on both the building and trucks, as well as a glimpse of Purity Maid workers at their final day on the job
A special thanks to all the readers who contacted us via Facebook and our submission form to share their memories of the company. If you have memories you'd like to share regarding any of the topics covered in our segments, please get in touch with us.
Following the publication of this piece, Liz Older commented via Facebook:
My grandfather was involved in the formation of Purity and my dad worked there until he died in 1975. Grandpa was Doc Older, had several drug stores in Charleston from the 1910s until he retired in the 1960s. Dad did internal forms and outside marketing pieces. Grandpa and Dr. John Smallridge and Paul Payne helped grow Purity from a local bakery to eventually seven states up and down the eastern seaboard over to Mississippi. I worked every summer in the office during high school, and as a little girl, would go over on Sundays and ride the conveyor belts all over the garage where the bread would come down in flats and be loaded on the trucks. I'd give anything to have that sign that hung over the door at Bigley.
BELOW: Photos submitted by Cathy Mullins. On the left, driving a forklift, is her father, Bernard Berry; Left inset: a detail from a Purity Maid advertisement in one of the company's newsletters. Right top: A Purity Maid newspaper advertisement from 1929 and a patch from one of Berry's uniforms; Right bottom: Worker Minnie Moffet at the conveyor belt.
UPDATE: Mrs. Mullins graciously shared more pictures than we could fit on this article. You can see many more from her family's collection now on display at Jerry Waters' mywvhome website.
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