The oldest candy store in Indiana.
The Sweet Story of Abbott’s
William Clay Abbott was born in 1871 to Levi and Mary Abbott. As a young man, W.C. was employed as a traveling salesman for a local candy manufacturer, Dilling Candy Company. Robert H. Bryson of the New Castle Courier-Times said, “For quite some time (Will) Abbott was one of Dilling’s top salesmen. But he carried with him the burning desire to someday make a candy that would bear his name, to make something a little better, a product that would bring to him the satisfaction of giving to candy lovers ‘the best’.”
W.C. Abbott returned to his hometown of Hagerstown, Indiana, turning in his business suit for an apron. He soon owned and operated a restaurant on Main Street, specializing in fried chicken, steak, short orders, and pastries. Word about his delicious meals spread, and W.C. was requested to serve the Indiana State Fair Board and honored guests. During this period, W.C. experimented and created the first Abbott’s candy… butterscotch. As its fame spread, his penny stick taffy, or “Je bo”, and homemade ice cream made their debut.
He was encouraged to pursue the ice cream business on a larger scale, but instead introduced a chocolate drop, which in turn elicited high praise from confectioner colleagues. Orders and customers both poured in, and W.C. realized he would be forced to make a choice between the successful restaurant and the budding candy business. He decided to sell the cafe and open a candy factory on South Plum. He soon moved the factory to a more convenient location, his own backyard, where it remained until August of 1985.
W.C. remodeled the garage behind his residence on Southmarket Street to accommodate candy manufacturing equipment. The equipment mainly consisted of a gas stove to cook the candies, a marble slab to cool them, a converted icebox to store both products and ingredients and a kiss cutter to cut the strips of caramel and taffy, all of which are still in use today in the making of caramels.All the stirring over the hot stove was done by hand, all the chocolate was melted in dishpans over warm water, and all chocolate pieces were hand dipped.
W.C.’s wife, Florence E. Bruce Abbott helped in the business, and the couple was later joined by their son, John Bruce Abbott. Unfortunately in 1942, along with World War II, came W.C.’s death. During the war,W.C.’s widow Florence, and his son and daughter in law, Bruce and Rhea L. Brooks Abbott, were forced to halt production due to the scarcity of sugar and chocolate. Florence and Bruce took jobs at the local factory, and Rhea, along with caring for son John Charles and baby Suanna, taught at the local high school.
Bruce Abbott was the first generation of Abbotts to be raised in the candy business, and it was passed to him upon his father’s death. As a boy he often grew weary of stirring batches of candy for hours with heavy wooden paddles, so one of his first orders of business was to invent a mechanized stirrer. Wooden paddles were shaped to fit snugly to the inside of the copper kettles used to cook the candy to prevent the candy from scorching. This system is still in use today. Also, under Bruce’s ownership, Abbott’s had its first expansion in 1948. Bruce had a basement dug and built a new kitchen.
1949 was a crucial year in the history of Abbott’s Candy. The war was over, and business was picking up again. The Christmas season had been hectic, and for a treat, on Christmas Day Bruce took his wife and son to a movie show. Shortly after the movie began, Bruce suffered a heart attack. He did not survive.
Florence and Rhea faced a big decision. Both had some experience in the business, and rather than surrendering the precious family recipes, they chose to stay in business. Rhea had plenty of reasons why the two Abbott widows should keep the factory. They knew something about this business and decided it was something a woman could do. The business was established with a good reputation and regular customers. And for Rhea, the greatest incentive of all, three small children.
For the first three years Rhea did all the cooking herself. After making her first batch of “creams” Rhea invested in an institutional sized beater. She was blessed with good business sense, loyal employees, and community support. “I am fortunate to live in an era, and in a community where a woman could support herself and educate her children,” she commented.
Perhaps Rhea’s biggest accomplishment was the opening of her retail gift store in 1956, The Two Sisters, named for her daughters Suanna and Mary. A former employee, Thelma Ulrich, wrote, “I remember when Rhea first put up a shelf out in front of the candy shop, and she put out a few items to sell other than candy. It turned out to be quite a success, and after much planning and lots of sleepless nights, she decided to open a store on Main Street.” She soon outgrew this location and moved to a larger one at the west end of the block. The Two Sisters remained there until March of 1969 when an office next door caught on fire due to faulty wiring. The entire corner was destroyed.
Undaunted, Rhea vowed to reopen for business in one month’s time. She kept that promise, and opened The Two Sisters in the former lodge hall of the Red Men’s Lodge, is a corner landmark in town. Seldom did anyone stop in Hagerstown and not drop in to browse the aisles of candies and gifts.
Soon after the 1969 fire, Rhea bought a large building south of Main Street as a possible new site. Originally, the building was built as the town’s Presbyterian church, circa 1851, organized by Reverend R.B. Abbott, who is unrelated as far as we know. The church was disbanded, and after a while was bought and converted into a garage. The building went through periods of use and disuse, alternately as a garage, carwash, and car dealership. From the 1950s to 1985 it was used by the Dana Corporation, a local factory, as a warehouse for oily, grimy, obsolete machinery. In 1985, Rhea removed the machinery, and after five months of cleaning, building, remodeling, and painting, she opened the doors to a new Abbott’s. The area that was once the church is now the showroom, with the east wall’s original brick exposed. The additions built during the time of the store being a carwash and dealership are now the office, shipping room, storerooms, kitchen, and chocolate rooms.
It was decided to leave The Two Sisters in the corner building as a gift shop and fulfill one of Rhea’s greatest dreams by moving the factory to the new location. She lived to see that dream move into reality, and worked there for three years until her death in the spring of 1988. Abbott’s was then passed into the hands of Suanna, Rhea’s daughter, and Gordon Goodnight, her husband. Together, the two made many improvements, including constructing a cooling tunnel attached to the chocolate enrober, streamlining the shipping and storage room, and expanding the mail order capabilities with a new computer system.
The Goodnights expanded the business into Indianapolis through a licensing agreement with Jay and Lynn Noel. The Noels started Abbott’s Also, a branch store of Abbott’s Candies on the northeast side of Indianapolis. The Noels opened their store in October 1993. More Abbott’s Also stores were opened in Indianapolis to expand into the South and Central parts of the city. Growing to 3 locations in the 2000s. The opportunity arose for Jay and Lynn to purchase the entire company and they did not hesitate. They are the current owners of both the Hagerstown factory and store and the Abbott’s Also original store in Indianapolis. Abbott’s is still a family business with son Jason as the General Manager and son Ryan who assists with the Website and Marketing from Texas. Abbott’s candies continue to be shipped to customers all over the world, sold in stores across the country and through organizations’ fundraisers.