Butternut bakery, Jefferson Street

The Butternut bakery sign hangs over Jefferson Street in this undated photo (Sangamon Valley Collection)

The Butternut bakery sign hangs over Jefferson Street in this undated photo (Sangamon Valley Collection)

George S. Connelly & Co. began baking bread in an L-shaped building surrounding the corner of Second and Jefferson streets in 1913 or 1914. The Springfield area would eat Butternut bread baked there for almost 60 years.

Beorge Connelly (Courtesy State Journal-Register files)

George Connelly (Courtesy State Journal-Register files)

George S. Connelly (1849-1918*) opened a one-room grocery store at 417 E. Monroe St. in 1869, later expanding to another room, then adding a meat market and restaurant. When he died, the Illinois State Register said the business was “one of the largest and most up to date grocery stores in Springfield.”

Connelly also developed a wholesale grocery operation, selling meat, poultry, fruit and vegetables, dairy products and baked goods – in particular, “Butter-Nut” bread. The Connelly company began baking Butternut/Butter-Nut on Monroe Street about 1904; Connelly apparently licensed the Butternut name from the Schulze Baking Co. of Chicago.

Bakery-made bread was safer than that baked at home, Connelly and other bakers argued, because homemade bread too often had unsanitary raw or partially cooked dough in the middle of the loaves.

Connelly Baking Co. boosted production after constructing the Jefferson Street building a decade later. A 1916 newspaper advertisement bragged that the public could watch the breadmaking process through the glass front of the bakery at 127 E. Jefferson St. Butter-Nut was “made clean, baked clean, wrapped clean, sold clean, is clean,” the ad boasted.

Connelly’s operation was turning out 1,000 loaves of bread daily by 1919, when George Connelly’s heirs decided to focus on the retail end of the business. The bakery was sold to the Schulze Bread Co., which announced plans to expand further, while still specializing in the Butternut brand. At the time, Schulze had wholesale bakeries in Chicago, Omaha, Kansas City, Grand Rapids, Cincinnati and Peoria.

Schulze merged with Interstate Bakeries (later Interstate Brands) in 1937.

Bakery general manager George Cassem holds a loaf of bread at the bakery, 1971. Baker Fred Gillmore, left; production manager Robert Janzen, right. (Courtesy SJR files)

Bakery general manager George Cassem holds a loaf of bread at the bakery, 1971. Baker Fred Gillmore is at left and production manager Robert Janzen on the right. (Courtesy SJ-R files)

Springfield’s Butternut plant continued to operate into the 1970s. A 1971 Illinois State Journal article said the bakery had 120 employees and distributed bread in a wide area south of Springfield. A Peoria bakery served areas to the north.

However, the Springfield plant was landlocked, and Interstate announced that its baking operations would be transferred to Peoria in September 1972. Bread continued to be distributed from Jefferson Street for several more years, but Interstate Brands gradually moved that to sites with better access to highways.

As of 2017, the building – whose glass front has long been bricked over – was being used for storage by Isringhausen Imports, a luxury car dealership based across Second Street. The last reminder of the bakery was Bob’s Butternut Hut, a bar at 215 N. Second St.

*George S. Connelly died Nov. 3, 1918, according to his Illinois State Register obituary. The obituary also gives his birth date as Feb. 8, 1849. Connelly’s gravestone at Oak Ridge Cemetery bears the wrong dates for both his birth and death.

schs-logo-2Hat tip: To reader Heidi, who reminded SangamonLink that we had promised to research Springfield’s Butternut bakery. Thanks for the followup.

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2 Responses to Butternut bakery, Jefferson Street

  1. Heidi Sronce says:

    Dear writer,
    Thankyou so much for putting in the effort to make this awesome article! My husband and his family are the current owners of the historic bar “the ButternutHut” , we had all hoped to one day have more information about the locations history. The BN sign on this article is very cool, what location was this sign at? I will leave my husbands email if you don’t mind replying! Again, Thankyou so much for digging in to this!

    • editor says:

      Ms. Sronce: When I first looked at the photo (the original is in the Sangamon Valley Collection at Lincoln Library), I assumed it was on the Jefferson Street side, where the main entrance was. I didn’t think then it could have been along Second Street. I still think it’s Jefferson, but on second look, I guess there’s a chance — a little one — that the sign faced Second. You might want to go to the library and take a look yourself; I don’t remember now whether there was anything on the back of the photo, for instance, that specified the location.

      Glad you liked the entry, and thanks for reading.

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