With Thursday night’s 90-foot flames extinguished from the windows, current and former Linden Heights residents recalled Friday the pungent past of their neighborhood’s once-bustling Hewitt Soap Co. factory.
“Every day you could smell the soap factory working,” said Anthony Strother, of Dayton, who grew up around the block from the factory at 333 Linden Ave, which closed in 2004 and was fully involved Thursday night in a still under-investigation, non-injury fire that began outside the building.
“It’s another piece of Dayton history gone bye-bye,” Strother said, recalling how as a child he’d play with friends on the railroad tracks behind the factory. “Time to clear it out maybe. Who knows what other door will open up.”
Concerns about several remaining tons of soap inside ultimately led to the decision to raze the structure, built for the company acquired at the turn of the 20th century by two Irish brothers, George and Archibald Hewitt.
“They came here and they started making laundry and toilet soaps,” said Curt Dalton of Dayton History. “Their big, big thing back in 1900, was they started focusing on the small bars of soap we recognize today in in hotels.”
And the perfume smell of the luxury soap was recognizable, too.
“I’ll never forget the way my sister would smell when she came home from work,” Jenni Baker wrote in an email to the Dayton Daily News. “It was a very distinct smell. It’s almost hard to describe.”
Once a subsidiary of Proctor & Gamble, the company was purchased in 1980 by American Safety Razor, Dalton said. It was purchased by Bradford Soap International in 2003 and closed in 2004 before a sale at auction in 2005. This newspaper reported in 2008 how its employees received federal assistance due to jobs lost to global competition.
“It’s not supposed to die like this,” said Joann Simon, of Dayton. “It’s supposed to be put down proudly.”
The building’s current owner, Brett Houseman, of Centerville, said the structure was used by his family for storage. He said the kettle house was still kindling Friday afternoon, hours after he received a call the structure was aflame.
“The pile of rubble will be ours,” Houseman said. “We’re talking to some excavators to get that taken care of.”
News Center 7 reporter John Bedell contributed reporting.
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