By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
In the early 1910s, demand for a candy bar called the Gobbler kept workers busy at the F.A. Holliger Candy Co. on North Main Street.
The confection resembled a small pancake in thickness with a vanilla or maple base coated with chocolate and topped with chocolate-covered peanuts. A member of the Holliger family later gave an interview to the then-Republican Courier newspaper explaining that the bar was given its unusual name “because everyone literally gobbled it up.”
The Great Depression took its toll and the business closed its doors in 1932.
The building still stands at 139 N. Main St. and was most recently home to Nicki’s Night Club. However, the ghost of its former life is still visible as the Holliger name can be seen in faint white letters on the south side of the three-story brick structure.
Kalynn Boehm of Jenera is a descendant of the family. It was her great-grandfather, F.A. Holliger, who started the ice cream and candy company.
“I don’t have many personal stories, which is the saddest part,” she said. “But I still think people would be interested in knowing that this even existed.”
F.A. Holliger, she said, was a horticulturist who came to Findlay from Piqua in 1897. He bought out a business owned by Charles Stroble and David Hosler on Park Place, later renamed Broadway. Originally a wholesaler, the business carried a full line of candy, chewing gum, nuts and “an exhaustive line of cigars,” an early advertisement boasted. Their motto, the ad continued, was “100 cents value of every dollar.”
Working with F.A. were his sons, Charlie and Harry, and his son-in-law, Carl Eckhardt.
Business was good, and in 1907 the family built the business block at the southeast corner of North Main Street and Clinton Court. According to R.L. Heminger who wrote “Historical Highlights” for the newspaper, the site had been proposed as the location for a new city hall. There was a strong wave of sentiment to put the new municipal structure north of the Blanchard River, Heminger reported. City hall, however, was instead located at the south foot of Broadway.
The Holliger company was reorganized and enlarged by an increase in the capital stock. Business was conducted under the name of The F.A. Holliger Ice and Confectionery Co. Two new members were also added to the firm: Sherman Hill and Gage Helms, men of vast experience in the manufacture of ice cream.
William S. Fortune sold his ice cream plant and wholesale trade to the company in 1908, according to Heminger’s reporting. The Fortune equipment was moved to the Holliger plant.
The first floor of the Holliger block housed the company’s offices and candy store, with an ice cream factory in the rear that turned out an average of 750 gallons of ice cream each week, furnishing some of the largest confectionery stores in western Ohio.
“Chocolates and ice cream were the deal,” said Boehm. “But back then they didn’t make it from mixes like a lot of them do (today).” The ice cream and candies were sold under the brand name “Velvet,” she noted.
The second floor was used as a stock and shipping room for the candy and cigar department.
The third floor was devoted to candy making, and the department was run by George Schlagater, described as one of the most proficient candy makers, particularly in chocolates, in Ohio. The newspaper reported that Schlagator had worked at the Dolly Varden Co. in Cincinnati for a number of years. About a dozen people were employed in the chocolate dipping department.
A new refrigerating plant was installed in 1912. The plant made about three tons of ice each day. The room where the chocolate candy was dipped was kept at 50 degrees, cooled by air circulated by large fans.
In 1913, when 5-cent candy bars were just coming on the market, the Holliger company created a bar called the Gobbler.
Boehm’s grandfather, Harry Holliger, later told Margaret Dennis, a columnist for The Republican Courier, that several candy firms tried to copy the Gobbler but no bar ever seemed to capture the taste. The company was also noted for its chocolate-covered creams.
The 1913 flood left 5½ feet of water in the business and came up almost to the second floor of Schlagater’s home on Clinton Court. The chocolatier told his employers he was afraid to live in Findlay and promptly moved back to Cincinnati.
By 1914, the Holliger company was using between nine and 10 tons of bulk chocolate and six to eight tons of peanuts annually in the manufacture of candies. Sugar was used at a rate of 80 barrels a month.
Over 350,000 pounds of candy were sold by the business in 1916.
During the summer months, ice cream was turned out at a rate of two gallons per minute. It was the first ice cream in Findlay to be frozen by the use of brine instead of ice.
With district stations for Velvet ice cream established in Leipsic and North Baltimore, the ice cream was shipped by traction car to Leipsic and then carried on the line as far as Weston. It was sent to North Baltimore by way of the B&O Railroad and shipped from there to customers as far as Continental.
By the early 1920s, the ice cream business and ice plant had been sold to the Findlay Dairy Co.
The Holliger company built an addition in 1925 to provide more shipping and manufacturing facilities for its confectionery business, Heminger reported. A gas well was drilled in the rear of the building to furnish fuel.
Boehm said it was the Depression which caused the company to close in 1932.
A sheriff’s sale of the property was held in 1934. Two years later, the Caroline Candy Co. was organized and went into production in the Holliger building. A Caroline “Gobbler” bar will be one of the new company’s specialties, said the newspaper. The company also produced dipped chocolate, hard candies and candy bars.
That same year, Boehm’s grandfather, Harry Holliger, went to work as a candy salesman for the W.H. Kildow Co. of Tiffin. At 80, he was still calling on stores in Leipsic, McComb, Deshler, Ottawa, Columbus Grove, Pandora, Bluffton, Ada, Dunkirk, Forest, North Baltimore, Cygnet, Jerry City, West Millgrove, Bloomdale, Arcadia and Findlay. At 81 he decided to limit his route to just Findlay stores, and he retired two years later.
Harry Holliger died in 1965 at the age of 95.
The Caroline Candy Co. was subsequently discontinued and, in 1940, the Findlay Eagles lodge acquired the building as its home.
Later, the Main Attraction and more recently Nicki’s Bar were housed in the historic downtown block. When owner Nyoka “Nicki” Decker died in July, the business closed.
“The girl who worked at Nicki’s Bar said somebody, I forget how many years ago, stole the safe out of that building,” said Boehm, referring to the Holliger company safe. “They couldn’t get it open so they dumped it in the river, so she said. It’s probably still … in the river because it was so heavy.”
The building was damaged in the 2007 flood. The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded a flood-mitigation grant toward the purchase and demolition of the building. The grant was scheduled to expire Sept. 30 but when Decker died, a request for extension of the grant was filed and a one-year extension was approved.
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