Friday, May 21, 2010

Buildings for the Solvay Process Company

In the summer of 1881, a group of Syracuse businessmen traveled to Brussels in the hopes of securing the rights to begin manufacturing soda ash through a process developed by Ernest Solvay.  By the end of the year, the rights were granted and the Solvay Process Company (later known as Allied Chemical) had begun construction on the plant's first buildings on the western edge of Syracuse, in the village now known as Solvay.  Plans for all of the manufacturing apparatus were developed by Solvay & Company of Belgium.  Plans for the structures that comprised the first section of buildings that housed the new industry were developed by Syracuse architect, Joseph Lyman Silsbee.  The company's lawyer was Silsbee's father in law, Charles Sedgwick and the new company's first offices were located in Silsbee's White Memorial Building in downtown Syracuse.

Syracuse with it's sub-grade brine deposits and limestone hills was geologically gifted for soda ash production as it called for large quantities of both of these items for production.  Soda ash or sodium bicarbonate has a wide array of applications from glass making, to baking. and as a cleaning agent.  The Solvay Process Company was one of the pioneer chemical companies in America, eventually merging into Allied Chemical and then Honeywell.  One of its earliest employees, engineer Edwin Trump, oversaw construction of the plant on behalf of the company and was it's primary manager.  Local contractors, Leamy Brothers, constructed the buildings.  It was reported that they were hired despite being the highest bidders for the project.  They were extremely talented masons responsible for two of Syracuse's finest historic buildings, St. Paul's Cathedral and the Gere Bank Building.
Since records are scarce from the earliest period of the company and because it grew to be such a large industrial complex, it is difficult to ascertain which buildings Silsbee designed.  It is very likely that they were the masonry structures grouped to the left and right of the large smoke stack in the center of the image above.
Silsbee went on to design several structures for company owners and managers and would also be associated with commissions for chemical companies and other industrial buildings throughout his career.  Silsbee's son, Joseph Jr. became a chemical engineer and worked for Solvay Process for a short period before moving to Utah to start his own company.  His son Ralph also worked for the company briefly, drawing plans for other Solvay Process plants. All of the Solvay Process structures are now demolished.  The industrial structures were demolished by 1985, after Allied pulled out of Solvay. The great administration buildings, known as "the castle" and designed by New York architect, Douglas Smyth, were demolished in 2000. 

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