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Old maps offer a sweet tour of Boston’s candy history

A vintage advertisement for Cambridgeport's Wholesale ConfectionerRachel Mead

For almost two years, Boston Public Library intern Rachel Mead helped to create the library’s digital Atlascope. Incorporating historic maps of urban Boston, the tool lets users see how places have changed over time. Along the way, Mead embarked on a particularly sweet research project.

“Candy,” she said. “The confectionary history in Boston. It’s actually a trail. There are all these points that have to do with the same story.”

Mead, now the public engagement coordinator at BPL’s Leventhal Map & Education Center, is releasing the results of her findings this week — just in time for Halloween. She’s shared info about an different Boston confectionary locale every day on the Leventhal’s Instagram and Twitter accounts (@bplmaps) and is composing a blog post about the five most historically significant and interesting candy spots in the area.


“Boston has a really strong history in manufacturing candy, especially molasses-based candy,” Mead said. “It’s part of the human spirit to love sugar.”

On Monday, Mead delved into the history of Baker’s Chocolate, produced in Milton before the company moved to Dorchester. In the summer months, the factory switched from working with cocoa to grist, wool, and paper.

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Trick-or-treat! The area of Main St. in Cambridge between Kendall Square and Massachusetts Avenue was called "Confectioner's Row." Swipe to see several companies situated right off the main drag: Dagget, Page & Shaw, and Durant (or Durand) all contributed to the nickname. ⁠ ⁠ One building at 810 (formerly 814) Main St. in Cambridge still plays a part in the candy industry. It's shown here in 1916 as Boston Confectionery Company. Lydian Confectionery and Imperial Chocolate Company merged to form Boston Confectionery. ⁠ ⁠ Sometime between 1930 and 1934, the James O. Welch Co. bought this property. Nabisco purchased Welch in 1963, and then it was acquired by Tootsie Roll Industries. The building is now a part of Cambridge Brands, a subsidiary of Tootsie Roll.⁠ ⁠ On the next slide, these cherubic children work together to get at this walnut on a trade card for Close. This design was not unique: at least one other late 19th century confectioner used the same image on his advertising cards.⁠ ⁠ A few blocks over from "Confectioner's Row" was one of Cambridge's early candy makers, the George Close Company. A new factory replaced the 1894 building in 1910. It still stands today, serving as affordable housing, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The company was actually more famous for its collectible baseball cards than any of its candies. ⁠ ⁠ The squirrel on the front is one of many who advertised Squirrel Brand, long before the Squirrel Nut Zippers brought swing back to popular music charts in the 1990s.⁠ Several doors down from the Close Company was Squirrel Brand Nuts. Squirrel Brand made such candies as the eponymous Squirrel Nut Zippers and Squirrel Nut Caramels. These candies were originally manufactured in Roxbury at 277 Dudley St. by the Austin T. Merrill Company. They eventually became NECCO brands.⁠ ⁠ Alt text available for image descriptions; link in bio to #Atlascope.⁠ ⁠ #CandyHistory #CambridgeHistory #CambridgeMA #NECCO #SquirrelBrand #SquirrelNutZippers #LibrariesOfInstagram #Halloween #Halloweek #ConfectionersRow

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According to her research, which focuses on the decades around the turn of the 20th century (1861 to 1938, to be exact), nearly 80 candy manufacturers existed in Boston alone in the 1910s — and that number includes only those documented in atlases by real estate firms and insurance companies. There were likely more, Mead explained.

The quantity of local confectioners can be attributed at least partly to the cool climate, she says.

Through her research, Mead uncovered details about local candy dynasties and mergers, the poisoned candy scare of the 1870s, and some unlikely birthplaces of sweets, like the Paul Revere House.


Studying the old maps, newspaper clippings, advertisements, and historical photos, “was time consuming and sometimes hard on the eyes, but very fun,” Mead said.

Her project is only one of many that the BPL’s Atlascope software can be used for. Available publicly online, Atlascope allows users to search extensive city maps year by year.

Diti Kohli can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @ditikohli_.

Diti Kohli can be reached at her @ditikohli_.