Candle making has a long and rich history in Syracuse. The origins of the industry here date back to the middle of the 19th century when the salt industry on the city’s north side attracted ambitious immigrants who created a range of industries. German immigrants were among the most successful entrepreneurs in mid-century Syracuse, and created a number of business including breweries and candle factories. None of the breweries remain, while only one candle company remains. Perhaps the City’s biggest candle company was Will & Baumer; with its origins in the 1850s, the company built its new plant in 1912. It was acquired by another company in 2008, and relocated to a new factory in Tennessee in 2010. I had the good fortune to have access to the factory complex from 2008 to 2009, with complete access to take HABS-level photographs wherever I liked.
The north side of Syracuse was a hub of industrial activity throughout the 19th century, and well into the 20th. My colleague Sam Gruber and I recently carried out a historic and architectural overview of the neighborhood, which was designed and created in 1797 as the Village of Salina. The manufacture of salt drove the community, and made a lot of people very rich beginning in the early 19th century. By the 1840s and 1850s, a number of other industries were created to take advantage of the transportation connections afforded by the Erie and Oswego Canals, together with the entrepreneurial spirit of the residents of the Village. Many of these entrepreneurial residents were immigrants, primarily from Ireland and Germany.
Here’s how I described the origins of Will & Baumer in the report for the City of Syracuse that Sam and I produced in September 2013:
Anton Will was an immigrant from Bavaria; in the early 1850s, he developed processes for producing beeswax candles that were of a suitable quality to be used in Catholic masses, and created his candle business in 1855. Anton’s wife, Rosina, carried on the company after Anton’s death by suicide in 1866; in 1875, she married Christian Eckerman, who took part in the leadership of the firm which then changed names to the Eckerman and Will Candle Company.
At the same time that Anton Will was establishing his business, Francis Baumer, another Bavarian immigrant, also started making liturgical candles in the Washington Square area. Will’s business grew to the point that he built a large, four story brick factory building on North Alvord Street, designed by prominent Syracuse architect Charles E. Colton, which still stands. The Baumer Factory was included in the intensive survey for this project. In 1896, Baumer merged his candle company with the Eckerman & Will Candle Company to form the Will & Baumer Candle Company. In 1903, Will & Baumer moved its offices to what is now the corner of Park Street and Buckley Road on the Syracuse-Liverpool border, and built its factory complex in 1912.
I was given a free rein to wander through the complex, which consisted principally of three buildings: the main office building with the factory attached at the rear, the bleaching building, and the boiler building. The photographs above show examples of all three of these buildings.
The main office building was constructed in 1912 using brick, and was designed in a variant on the Collegiate Gothic style of architecture which was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is a very handsome building, and is the one of the buildings that is fully visible from the road, standing at the intersection of Park Ave and Buckley Road. The factory, which is three stories in height, extends directly back from the main office building.
The factory was still largely in operation while I was taking photographs, and although the company had begun to move some of the machinery, most of it was still there for me to record. It was a treat:
One of the architecturally interesting features of the factory building was the use of “mushroom capital” columns. The columns were constructed of reinforced concrete, and used these broad capitals to support the enormous weight of the machinery and molten wax on the floors above.
As a maker of liturgical candles, one of the important product lines is paschal candles, the very large, tall candles that are installed in Catholic churches at the Easter Vigil Mass (hence the name, Paschal, or Easter). The core of each paschal candle is extruded like other tapers, but then must be finished by hand-dipping; with candles that are nearly five feet tall and nearly four inches in diameter, hand-dipping is a challenge, and requires someone with a great deal of experience. I was fortunate to be there when Pat Monica, one of the most experienced workers there, was hand-dipping two paschal candles.
Candles that are designed for liturgical uses in Catholic churches must meet a minimum percentage of beeswax, with the remainder being paraffin. In order to be used for the candles, however, the beeswax must be purified and bleached. Will & Baumer did this in-house, in a separate building.
The boiler building contains the most visually distinctive feature of the factory complex. The building housed several boilers that used steam-powered turbines to generate electricity, and needed a smoke stack as a vent. At an early date, the company painted a candle that was the full height of the smokestack. This giant candle rises far above the factory buildings, and still is visible to drivers along Interstate 81. I knew that if I got nothing else, I had to have a photograph of that candle.
I learned about the closing of the Will & Baumer Candle factory in the fall of 2008 in an article by Dick Case, then a special-features reporter for the Syracuse Post-Standard, now retired and volunteering at the Onondaga Historical Association. When I told him of my plans to take some documentation photographs of the factory, he graciously included a mention of me in a follow-up article.
In 2012, several years after I did the photographs, I was delighted to hear that a new company had moved into the factory, and was making candles again. According to the article, the president of the new company, Light 4 Life Candles, is Marshall Ciccone, who was the president of Will & Baumer when I was taking my photographs and who was so generous in giving me free access to the building. I hope that it goes well for them.
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