On the Waterfront with Staten Island’s Brewery Barons Part 1

On the Waterfront with Staten Island’s Brewery Barons Part 1

I recently worked on a brief manuscript for musician Bob Wright regarding the Staten Island waterfront and how it was utilized by Staten Island’s brewery barons. For your interest I have split it into three blogs. Here is Part I of On the Waterfront with Staten Island’s Brewery Barons. All information was originally published in the book, Staten Island’s Brewery Barons. Please share your thoughts at the end of the blog. As always thank you!

By 1889, a railroad bridge was operating between Old Place, Staten Island and Elizabethtown, New Jersey. It was the first bridge connecting Staten Island to another land mass and it was used mainly by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Another bridge connection would not be completed until 1928, when both the Goethal’s Bridge and the Outerbridge Crossing opened. Only three years later cars and trucks were traveling across the Bayonne Bridge. Before these bridges were constructed, the transport of products, people or livestock to Brooklyn or Manhattan was facilitated by boats. As such, the waterfront played a major role in the industrial advancement of Staten Island. While some of the farm and factory output did go to New Jersey, the majority of these goods were waterborne as they crossed the New York Bay.

Goethals Linen Color PC cropped jpeg BONTS

Goethal’s Bridge postcard circa 1940’s. Courtesy of Cheryl Criaris-Bontales.

The industrial revolution came to Staten Island in 1820, when what would later be called the New-York Dyeing and Printing Establishment was erected at the corner of present-day Broadway and Richmond Terrace in West New Brighton. Soon numerous manufactories were operating on the north and east shores of the island, as the necessary man power was now available in Staten Island’s neighborhoods. The Great Hunger or Potato Famine(s) of 1840s Ireland and the political upheaval of 1850’s Germany, brought thousands of able-bodied workers to the United States. These immigrants filled the factories of their new homeland and helped to bring great success to the industrial tycoons of the period.

In 1852, Manhattan brewers and German immigrants August Schmid and Emanuel Bernheimer opened the Constanz Brewery on Manor Road at Four Corners, Staten Island. The following year John Bechtel established a brewery in Stapleton. South of Stapleton the Clifton Brewery was established circa 1856. Another force was to be contended with in 1870, when August Horrmann and Joseph Rubsam built the Atlantic Brewery on Boyd Street in Stapleton. Such was the nineteenth century setup of the successful large scale breweries of the 1800s.

Bechtel Bottle picture from Frank DeRiso 2016

Bechtel blob-top bottle courtesy of Frank DeRiso.

George Bechtel, the son of John, took over his father’s brewery in 1870. He quickly exceeded the sales output his father had realized. The younger Bechtel, just like his fellow brewers saw the correlation between the waterfront and their own businesses. George’s success allowed him to wisely purchase valuable land holdings throughout Staten Island. As a shrewd businessman George Bechtel always sought a bargain. In early 1884, George bought an important waterfront parcel known as the Stapleton Flats for only $45,000. Previously, he had purchased another shoreline location at Stapleton. It became known as Bechtel’s Basin. Yacht, pilot boat, and sailing vessel owners were glad to use the Basin since city wharf fees had become far too expensive for these ship owners. By the following year, Bechtel owned the waterfront and its privileges stretching from Stapleton Landing to the Quarantine at Tompkinsville. Two of his docks were occupied by the Pittsburg and West Virginia Railroad Company. Further docks and storehouses were planned.

George Bechtel did not enjoy his success or his waterfront for very long as he died in 1889. In his will the brewer left almost the whole of his extensive estate to his wife Eva. He ordered that the precious shore front property not be sold for many years. Mrs. Bechtel abided by his wishes.

Eva Bechtel was named President and owner of the George Bechtel Brewery after the passing of her husband. She took her business interests seriously. In 1890, she placed an ad in the Brooklyn Eagle stating that the “George Bechtel Water Front” at Stapleton was for rent. A long-term lease for the docks, basin, and waterfront was sought.

The finances of the Bechtel Brewery changed after the turn of the century. For this reason, it was announced in 1905, that the Stapleton waterfront acreage held by the Bechtel’s for some twenty-plus years was now for sale. A syndicate owned by Thomas and Henry K.S. Williams bought the property which consisted of more than seventy acres. It was the largest privately owned waterfront parcel in New York City at that time. Spanning 1,450 feet of shoreline, a basin consisting of six acres was included. The Staten Island Rapid Transit Railroad traversed the property which also held fifteen buildings. Spring 1907 saw the Williams firm running a prosperous lumberyard that specialized in high-quality wood for piano cases.

An announcement posted in the New York Herald of January 12, 1857, stated that the Clifton Brewery, located at the corner of Maple Avenue (now Lyndhurst Avenue) and Forest Street (now Ditson Street) in Clifton, was available for rent. A saloon and eight well shaped lots were included in the rental. The ad advised that consideration should be given to the fact that Townsend’s Dock, the waterfront, and the ferry landing were in close proximity to the advertised location. By 1868, Frederick Bachmann was part-owner of the Clifton Brewery. After a disastrous Halloween fire in 1881, Bachmann became the sole owner.

Bach Ad Dec 1900 THE Staten Islander Gift T Kaasmann Dunn jpeg

From the “Staten Islander,” December 1900. Courtesy of Tina Kaasmann-Dunn.

Rubsam and Horrmann’s Atlantic Brewery always used the waterfront. Piels took over the site in 1954 and operated a brewery until January 7, 1963. By 1966, time, vandals, and a four-alarm fire on May 19 of that year damaged the old brewery significantly. Seven buildings on Boyd Street and three on Canal Street were declared “unsafe” by the New York City Buildings Department. The new owner’s response to the Buildings Department was a declaration to “correct conditions” which included removal of brick and concrete from the exterior. The owners had hoped to renovate the old brewery buildings in correlation with nearby containerized cargo operations and anticipated waterfront development at Stapleton. They believed the buildings were ideally suited for warehouse use when they bought the property in 1963. Only one brewery building was considered safe. It was on Cedar Street and it was used by the Pioneer Transportation Company for school bus storage. The owners never realized any success and the old brewery was completely demolished in the 1970’s.

Coming next week: Part Two: Staten Island’s Brewery Barons and Their Ferryboat Connections.

 

 

13 Comments

  1. Dean Curry
    May 5, 2016

    Thanks Pat,

    I look forward to chapter II

    Best,
    Dean

    • Patricia Salmon
      May 6, 2016

      Hello Dean. The next chapter will be about the brewers and their connection to the ferries and the activities at South and Midland Beaches. They were involved in all aspects of Staten Island life, whether it was politics or recreation or even religion. Quite an interesting group of men. Thanks for writing Dean. I hope to see you soon. Pat

      • Dean Curry
        May 8, 2016

        THANK YOU PAT,

        always interested in your interesting revelations…

        see you soon,
        Dean

  2. Maureen Donohue
    May 7, 2016

    Great article look forward to more. Thank you.

    • Patricia Salmon
      May 9, 2016

      Hello Maureen. Glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for the feedback. Part 2 will be posted this week. Ciao for now.

  3. Trish
    May 10, 2016

    With the upcoming developing waterfront of our island…You ought to have an outpost at the Staten Island Terminal with full staff and given talks, slide shows,tours etc.. to the hundreds of tourist arriving each day and leaving empty not knowing that in front of their eyes, once stood all the history you have to share..amazingly interesting….I love to give tours! with all the knowledge you shared each tourist would leave with a lot of memories of the “so called forgotten island” in their minds would be the “Remembered Island!!! You are a true Legacy!!!
    PS. I know is all about funding!!

    • Patricia Salmon
      May 12, 2016

      Hello Trish. Thank you for writing and thank you for your compliments! They are appreciated. There is an organization stationed at the terminal. Staten Island Arts runs the Culture Lounge. They have changing exhibits, events, pop-up markets and more. If you have not done so already stop in. Their web address is statenislandarts.org The organization works to promote artwork, music, the spoken word, history and more. As a matter of fact the annual Lumen Festival is coming up. I hope to attend as I hear it is a wonderful event. The area around the waterfront (and of course all of Staten Island) is chock full of history. I have done tours of St. George, the harbor, Tompkinsville, and others when I worked for the Staten Island Museum. I know Cititrek is one company that does walking tours of the island. I would love to research additional tours, but I have been working on books for the last few years. The Mud Lane Society for the Renaissance of Stapleton and the Preservation League of Staten Island also present tours. They are generally historic house tours and they are wonderful. Both are on Facebook if you would like to contact them. You should really share your enthusiasm for the island’s unique history. It would be good for all. Thanks again Trish.

    • Trish
      May 12, 2016

      Hi Pat, Thank you for your respond and information on several tour operators of SI..as I travel often on the SI Ferry…I find myself looking at tourist going back on the boat as they just getting off…I haven’t seen any of these tour operators promoting the island as it should be…I am aware of the Artist Lounge…not doing enough promoting in my opinion…In any case I look forward of reading more about your wonderful findings of the island and hopefully we can put Staten Island on the Map of more visitors interested in the history you give us!! Best of Luck in future writting!

      • Patricia Salmon
        May 12, 2016

        Thanks Trish. I will certainly continue to research and write. There is nothing I like better 🙂 I admire your interest in promoting Staten Island. Reach out to those groups they could use your assistance. All the best and have a great weekend. – Pat 🙂

  4. Patricia M. Yelner
    May 22, 2016

    I am the great great granddaughter of Frederick Bachmann one of the “Brewer Barons.” My son was born in Staten Island and I cherish the time that I spent there as I felt a connection to my ancestry when I resided there. My sister and I have been researching Frederick Bachmann and our great grandmother, his daughter, Wilhemina (Minnie) Bachmann. We were pleasantly surprised to see your blog. We are eager to learn as much as we can about our history. Thank you for opening up new avenues for us to explore our heritage.

    • Patricia Salmon
      May 25, 2016

      It is wonderful to hear from you Patricia. It is always amazing to connect with the descendants of the men and women who shaped Staten Island’s past, present and future. Brewer Bachmann was a very interesting man and quite influential in Clifton, South Beach, and Staten Island. I will be in touch and will be very happy to share my research with you. Thanks so much for writing! – Pat

  5. Rick Maher
    Nov 27, 2017

    Just happened to come upon your research on the Staten Island Breweries. It is believed that we are related to Frederick Bachmann as my grandmother was Emma L. Gebhardt who married an Irishman and was disowned as she relocated to Western Massachusetts. It’s a bit complex as my Grandmother was very private and carried the guilt burden of being of German heritage after the war when so many Americans had distaste for the Germans. Thank you for your efforts and persistent research which helps us to learn about our past which of course, has helped to bring us to the present.

    • Patricia Salmon
      Nov 29, 2017

      Thank you for writing Rick and thank you for your kind words. You are probably the fourth descendant of Frederick Bachmann who has contacted me. He was an interesting man who accomplished much on Staten Island. A chapter of my book “Staten Island’s Brewery Barons” is devoted to him and his brewery sometimes known as The Clifton Brewery. Interesting about your grandmother and what she endured. Anti-German sentiment during World War I was quite prevalent on Staten Island. If you like I will add you to my mailing list and you will get further information on the projects and programs I am working on? Also, if you are interested in the book simply click on the Book Shop page of this website. All the best and thank you again for writing. – Pat 🙂

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