W. Stockbridge institution boasts 110 years of service
Monday, September 28, 1998
By Derek Gentile
Berkshire Eagle Staff
WEST STOCKBRIDGE Charles H. Baldwin & Sons, a local business institution in South County, observed its 110th anniversary yesterday at a block party attended by family, friends and a host of local dignitaries.
Those with a discerning sweet tooth will recognize the Baldwin name, which appears on the family's unique brand of vanilla extract. This is the item that the first Baldwin H.M. started selling in 1888 and which the family still sells out of its store at 1 Center St.
A town jewel
"They are an institution, a jewel in the center of town," said Selectman Robert J. Burke, who read a proclamation at the party that noted yesterday as "Charles H. Baldwin and Sons Day" in West Stockbridge.
The owners of the store, Earl and Jacqueline Moffatt, are the fifth generation of Baldwins to run the business. Earl's father and mother, Charles "Dick" and Elaine Baldwin Moffatt, took over from Earl Baldwin in 1956.
Earl Baldwin was the son of Charles H. Baldwin, for whom the store is named. But Charles H. Baldwin's father, H.M. Baldwin, was the first man to mix together a unique blend of vanilla beans from Madagascar and other ingredients to create Baldwin's Vanilla Extract.
That was in 1888, and H.M. Baldwin first sold the extract to local homes. After a few successful years, he began hiring salesmen to hawk the product for him. Those salesmen traveled throughout New England and New York.
Baldwin also branched out from vanilla extract, making sarsaparilla, which old ads proclaimed could cure everything from "weak stomach" to malaria; toilet water; after-shave; mineral oil; root beer extract; maple syrup; Worcestershire sauce; orange extract; lemon extract; and a host of other products.
Except for the sarsaparilla, one can still find the other goods in Baldwin's Store, along with other general store-type items.
The store itself is a revelation. Like any general store, it sells a cornucopia of items from the old-style big red "Atomic Fire Balls" for kids, to stationery, toys, greeting cards and other staples of small-town American life.
The giant wooden barrels in which the vanilla is allowed to steep before it is decanted into bottles, sit at the entrance to the store. A decades-old metal cash register still rings up purchases.
Old coffee grinder
Next to the register sits an old-style coffee grinder, which is still in use, said Earl Moffatt.
Earl and Jackie Moffatt took over the store in 1992 when Dick and Elaine Moffatt retired in 1992. They still make the extract and other items in the basement of the store. The vanilla is mixed in a copper still some 70 years old.
Dick Moffatt, still a spry man at 80, works several hours a week at the store that he and Elaine ran for almost 40 years.
"A lot of hard work," said Elaine Moffatt, when asked the secret of her family's success.
"We've learned to change with the times somewhat, but the vanilla extract has been the glue that has kept the store going," said Dick Moffatt. "We never use anything but vanilla beans from Madagascar and Elaine's father told me all the time we worked together in the store: Never tamper with the formula.' "
The formula is something the Moffatts will not reveal. But it makes an extract that is richer and more flavorful than the extracts one can buy in supermarkets.
At yesterday's celebrations, the Moffatts and Baldwins were sent congratulations from President Clinton as well as senators and congressmen for their accomplishment.
"It was work that we enjoyed," said Elaine Moffatt. "But we're not surprised it has lasted this long. Our whole family has been involved with it."