Houdaille Industries

Not a huge library of information on Houdaille Industries, but here is what I’ve found out in my many searches on Google thus far…

Houdaille was founded in 1925 by Maurice Houdaille, who invented the double-action rotary shock absorber. By the 1970’s the company was a sizable conglomerate with sales in the 400$ million range. Houdaille produced shock absorbers and other auto parts, machine tools, and other steel products. The plant in Buffalo NY was a member of the hydraulics division. During WWII, the plant was likely converted over to aircraft production to assist in the American war effort (in tandem with Curtiss-Wright down the street?). By 1978, the company was running into some financial trouble and a stock purchase takeover scheme by the Jacobs family of Buffalo failed when the Goldman-Sachs brokerage firm arranged the sale of Houdaille to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company


  • http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/kkr.htm
  • http://www.reocities.com/MotorCity/Garage/1205/hhist.html
  • http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-28636859.html
  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/fixbuffalo/3094089614/

Willard State Hospital

The site that was destined to become Willard State Hospital began as a plan to build the first state agricultural college in New York. In 1853 a 440 acre parcel of land was purchased on the shores of one of the finger lakes, and construction began. The very first building was named “The Branch” (later renamed “The Grandview”). The New York State College of Agriculture opened in 1860. Then the American Civil War began, and the site was abandoned.

In 1860, Dr. Sylvester D. Willard was commanded by the state legislature to investigate the conditions of the jails, almshouses, and any other site where insane persons were housed. His final report was dire. Abuse and maltreatment was rampant in the system, which at the time was operated by the local counties. The precedent for establishing state hospitals for the mentally ill had been established with the construction of the Utica Lunatic Asylum (“Old Main”). The Willard Act (1865) authorized creation of asylum to put an end to the poorhouse system. The site for the old agricultural college was used to establish a new facility for the chronically insane. Construction began in 1866, and the first inmates arrived by steamboat on Oct 13 1869. Interestingly, the very first inmate was a deformed woman named Mary Rote. She had been chained, unclothed, and without a bed for the previous 10 years in the Columbia County Almshouse. More individuals who had lived under similar conditions would arrive in the coming months, quickly filling Willard to its 250 bed capacity.

By 1890 There were more than 70 buildings at the site, housing more than 2000 inmates. The facility was closed in 1995, having housed some 54000 inmates.

Alternate Names: 
Willard Asylum for the Chronic Pauper Insane
Willard State Asylum


Niagara Machine & Tool / Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Factory

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find out a whole lot about this place. Its full of good pictures though. I was here with a group, and we only managed to explore about a third of the buildings here. At some point I hope to get back and visit the rest of the plant.

UPDATE 2012-08-31: Phrenzee, A contact of mine from Flickr, was able to send me some information about this place that I somehow completely missed. So this plant originally built aircraft during WWII! A good write up here:


And Phrenzee’s set here:



The building is known as the “Palace of Sweets” or the “Sunshine Palace” to many local residents, but to most explorers, its known as the “Candy Factory”. The building was designed by architects Watt & Blackwell to be “one of the finest and most sanitary factories in North America”. The building itself has some unusual features; nearly 70% of its exterior walls are windows (making for great natural light), the facade is almost entirely terra cotta, and everything is painted white.

In 1906 Thomas McCormick Sr., Irish immigrant and confectioner would pass away and his sons Thomas Jr., Frank and George would purchase the interest in their fathers fruitful confectionery business open since 1858. Thomas Jr., as vice-president of the new enterprise, would spend a great deal of time in other countries determining effective ways of making candy and other sweets. Sometime in 1912 or 1913, architects Watt and Blackwell were commissioned to design and build what at the time was considered to be “one of the finest and most sanitary factories in North America”. 100 acres of land was purchased on the east side of the city in 1913, and a 10 acre factory was constructed. By some accounts the factory at its peak, would employ some 1300 people and produce 61000kg of candy and 45000kg of biscuits daily.

McCormick’s would continue to be a major employer in London for many years, becoming an ‘anchor company’ in the city. It was not until the last 20 years of the life of the company that problems started to develop. The plant changed hands several times; in 1989, Weston Foods (of Loblaws fame) sells the plant to Culinar Foods Inc., who in turn sells it to Beta Brands in 1997. The purchase of the plant by Beta Brands puts them on the financial ropes and in 2003 fails to make payment on a 49$ million dollar debt. As a result of the missed payment, the Ontario Superior Court issues a notice of foreclosure. In 2004, the plant is sold to Sun Capital, a US-based investment firm. During the Christmas Season of 2007, workers are laid off as normal for two weeks holidays, but are told not to return until late January. There are other signs; unimpaired machinery, no purchase of new raw materials, no shipments, unreachable management staff. The end came just a few days into January of 2008, taking the last 300 jobs with it.

In recent years, several studies have been done to determine just what can be done with the site. The city has even attempted to sell the land in July of 2012 for the cost of back taxes, totaling 744000$ but found no takers.

Update 2012-08-02: It seems that a few days later, a possible buyer was found. More from CTV News here


  • http://pbdba.lfpress.com/cgi-bin/publish.cgi?p=167370
  • http://www.london.ca/d.aspx?s=/Planning_and_Development/McCormick.htm
  • http://www.lfpress.com/news/london/2010/04/15/13595301.html
  • http://www.canoe.ca/NewsStand/LondonFreePress/Business/2003/05/15/87389.html
  • http://www.lib.uwo.ca/programs/companyinformationcanada/ccc-mccormicks.htm
  • http://www.ctvlondon.ca/tag/mccormicks/