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New funeral home follows tradition for Catonsville native

Dining and DrinkingRestaurant and Catering IndustryHotel and Accommodation Industry

Craig Witzke, the new owner of the white colonial at 1835 Frederick Rd. that once housed the Candle Light Inn Restaurant, said he kept "Candle Light" in the name of his new funeral home to pay homage to the building's history.

The two-story building has been the site of a restaurant since 1925, but "the original house, surrounded by rolling farmland and known as Five Oaks Estate, was built in the mid 1800's," according to the inn's website. 

Owned by the Lombardini family since 1979, the Candle Light Inn Restaurant was the place for area residents to celebrate special events.

Witzke said he kept remnants of the building's former interior, such as the carpets and drapes, but brought in new furniture and painted the walls.

"I tried to keep it as close to the original building as possible," Witzke said.

As the fourth generation of his family in the funeral business and a Catonsville native, Witzke knows the importance of tradition and history.

Witzke's great-grandfather, Harry H. Witzke Sr., started the family business In 1912 when he opened a funeral home at 510 Ramsey Street in Baltimore City. The funeral home moved from Lombard Street to Hollins Avenue and eventually to an Edmondson Avenue location in Catonsville.

Witzke left the funeral business in 2004 and in 2006, bought what had been the site of the Muir Hardware store on Frederick Road since 1935. He turned the property into Strawberry Fields, which features a variety of small businessess in downtown Catonsville.

He has owned a funeral service business a short distance away, on Newburg Avenue, since October 2011, but said that location was not large enough to accommodate large funerals.

He purchased the Candle Light Inn on Jan. 10. He said he was able to provide a low-cost service at his Newburg location, but wanted to meet the demand in Catonsville for traditional funerals with personal service.

"They want someone that cares — someone that's professional and knows what they're doing — a friend," Witzke said.

He said moving to the new, larger location will allow him to provide more services to clients, while retaining that respect for tradition.

He worked with his family, putting in 12-hour days for six weeks, to prepare the building for use while operating a funeral service at the other location. The Candle Light Funeral Home opened for business on Feb. 21.

Witzke said the first funeral at the new site was for Charles Tracey, a member of the Dukehart family that owned the Candle Light Inn restaurant 50 years ago.

William Dukehart, Tracey's brother-in-law, said, "He's done a really nice job fixing it up."

Dukehart pointed out that some Catonsville residents were unhappy that Witzke is using "Candle Light" in the name of the funeral home. However, he has nothing against the use, he said.

"I'm just glad that a developer didn't buy it and tear it down," Dukehart said.

When Witzke purchased the former restaurant, it came with a liquor license. So Witzke plans to offer funeral-service customers a place for a repast with bar services and catered meals at the location.

He hasn't yet, as he has not received the required county permits to do so.

He hopes that providing such service at the funeral home will make the process less stressful for families, Witzke said.

"You don't have to try to go to a restaurant, you can bring the restaurant to you," he said. "Then that way, it will make things much less stressful for the families. And that's what we're all about."

"Everyone that I've spoken with has been really supportive of us moving in here," Witzke said of the move to Frederick Road near the intersection at North Rolling Road.

Sally Griffin, president of the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce, said she thinks Witzke will do great things with the building.

"I think it's great that he purchased the building. He's going to do a great job of keeping the building renovated and looking good," Griffin said.

However, some Catonsville residents are disappointed to lose the Candle Light Inn.

"Most of us citizens who have been here a long time feel that it's a loss to the community as a restaurant," said Berchie Manley, a longtime Catonsville resident.

Manley said many residents held weddings, receptions, anniversary dinners and other special events in the restaurant.

She said she understands Witzke can do what he wants with his business, but hopes he'll consider obtaining historic landmark status for the building.

That would preserve the historic qualities of a building and prevent changes from being made to the interior and exterior.

"At this time, it's not something I'd be interested in," Witzke said.

There is also the matter of a fifth generation to follow in his footsteps as a funeral director.

His daughter, Ashley, is studying mortuary science at CCBC Catonsville and the plan is for her to eventually run the Candle Light Funeral Home with her father.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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