Sunday, July 6, 2014

Northside Treasures: Baumer Candle Company (811 N. Alvord Street)

 Syracuse, NY. Baumer Candle Company, 811 N. Alvord St.  Charles Colton, architect, 1887.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

Syracuse, NY. Baumer Candle Company, 811 N. Alvord St.  Charles Colton, architect, 1887.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

Northside Treasures: Baumer Candle Company (811 N. Alvord Street)
by Samuel D. Gruber

Last summer, my colleague Bruce Harvey and I carried out a Historic Resources Survey for the City of Syracuse of the former village of Salina, the city's oldest neighborhood.  The report consists of an historical overview of the area, a review of historic maps and other documents, and a careful review of all the streets and significant buildings within an area about 10 x 10 blocks, from Lodi Street to Grant Avenue and from Kirkpatrick Street to Hiawatha Boulevard.  The area is centered on Washington Square, and covers all of the grid plan envisions by James Geddes when the village was first laid out in 1798 (not all streets were opened at that time).  The area contains a wealth of old, historic and distinguished buildings including many of finest 19th-century residences in the city, three important 19th-century churches, and a smattering of institutional and comemrcial buildings erected as the neighborhood changed from in the decades after the Civil War. 

The report, Vol. I of which can be found here, also contains in Vol II recommendations for the listing of twenty properties on the National Register of Historic places, though there are strong arguments for the entire area to be designated an Historic District based on the integrity of its original plan, it rich history associated with the salt, brewing and candles industries, and the distinction of many of its buildings.  Much of this value  was noted by local historians and architect in the 1970s, but little was subsequently done to protect this heritage.  It is to the City's credit that now attention is focused on the area's physical maintenance and social revitalization.  Now homes to a diverse population including many new immigrant groups the area deserves stabilization and improvement.   

Last summer I featured a small number of notable buildings in the area on this blog. These include the First Trust & Deposit Wolf Street Office, the H. A. Moyer Automobile Factory, , Zett Brewing Traces on Danforth and Lodi Streets, the Avery-Burton House, and the Catherine Murray House. This summer I will continue to do do.  I encourage my readers to walk, bike and drive in this area.  It is close to Downtown, the Regional Market and ballpark, and (yes!), the Destiny mall.  You'll will be well rewarded.  

One of my favorite buildings in the area if the Baumer Candle Factory built in 1887, a four-story brick factory that dominates the 800 block of North Alvord Street, looming over the neighboring wood-frame residential building.  This is one of the finest and most decorative nineteenth-century industrial buildings in the region.  A newspaper article of February 20, 1887 about new buildings designed by leading architect Charles E. Colton announced that  “An extensive three story brick factory building for Francis Baumer will be begun on March 1st in Alvord street, near Kirkpatrick street. Dawson & Carr are to the mason builders and John Homer, the carpenter. The building will cost $7,000” [ “Lots of Building: Some of the New Structures to be Put Up This Year,” The Sunday Herald (Feb.  20, 1887]

Syracuse, NY. Baumer Candle Company, 811 N. Alvord St.  Charles Colton, architect, 1887.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

 Syracuse, NY. Baumer Candle Company, 811 N. Alvord St.  Charles Colton, architect, 1887.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

Colton was one of the city's leading architects at the turn of the 20th century, best known for City Hall, but designer scores of houses, churches and commercial buildings throughout the region. On the North Side he also designed the Grant School on Second North Street. He was educated in the public schools of Syracuse and was engaged in various enterprises before he entered the architectural office of Archimedes Russell in 1873, to whose style Colton owed much. Three years later he established his own architectural offices.  When Colton died in 1914, he was hailed as "the most prominent architect in the city at the time."

Syracuse, NY. Baumer Candle Company, 811 N. Alvord St.  Charles Colton, architect, 1887.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

 A Little Candle History  

After salt and beer, the third prominent industry in the former Village of Salina, was candles
(from Historic Resources Survey: Washington Square Neighborhood):
Like the breweries and the cooperage businesses, the production of candles for religious uses was dominated by German immigrants. 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 this large, four story brick factory building on North Alvord Street, designed by noted Syracuse architect Charles Colton and erected in 1887.

On the Vose map of 1892 the factory is called the Phoenix Candle company, which according to Boyd's Syracuse City Directory of 1894 was managed by Baumer.  By 1924 the factory is labeled as “Will & Baumer Candle Factory.”

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; the company remains in business though now located in Tennessee
The North Alvord Street façade is essentially rectangular, divided into three vertical bays.  The façade is surmounted by a slightly higher attic extension, one bay deep that is covered by a complex hipped roof, with three pyramid hipped roofs joined in one. The end bays are articulated like applied corner towers.  From a distance, the façade and the roof line are suggestive of a church or public building. 

The mass of the building is divided in two unequal horizontal masses.  The ground level is articulated as a base into which is inserted to the east an open passage for loading.  Across the rest of the façade are three bays, now closed, that may also have been for loading and transport directly to the street.  These bays are divided by piers alternating stone and brick – the courses deliberately of different thicknesses for visual effect.  The brick sections are further decorated with applied molded terracotta plaques with floral decoration.  The piers carry metal beams – probably steel - which serve as lintels for the bays, and help carry the weight of the masonry of the other floors.  Similar beams carried on slender metal (iron?) columns extend for the entire depth of the building on the east side, to create an cover passage, open on the side by the colonnade.

The top three stories are articulated as a single block.  Finer brick is used for the façade, which is given a variety of window types and sizes, with more full arches.  The building sides are articulated with even rows of tall rectangular four-over-four sash windows set in slightly arched openings with simple stone sills. Windows diminish in height with each story.  The east side of the main building block has three rows of fourteen windows.  The west side has fewer, with only one window per level in the corner “tower” – which appears to house an interior stair.

The façade center bay projects slightly.  It is emphasized by two large arched windows on the second floor, four rectangular windows with transoms on the third floor, and four smaller arched windows on the fourth floor.  Decorative molded brick or terracotta is used in horizontal bands between each floor.  The side bays have two rectangular windows each on the second floor, two arched windows on the third floor, and three arched windows on the fourth floor.

A second slightly lower brick wing of unknown date is added to the rear of the original building and an even later side wing is added to the east of this, creating a still narrow L-plan for the entire complex.  Main entry to the site is from North Alvord Street. 


“Charles Erastus Colton,” Syracuse Then and Now online at  ( Accessed Sept. 15, 2013) [n.b. the site gives the wrong address for the Baumer factory, listing it on North Salina St instead of North Alvord]

 “Lots of Building: Some of the New Structures to be Put Up This Year,” The Sunday Herald (Feb.  20, 1887].

Samuel D. Gruber and Bruce G. Harvey, Historic Resources Survey: Washington Square Neighborhood Submitted to the City of Syracuse, September, 2013.

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