“Great-Aunt Mary, the Kreischers, and Me”

During the years that I worked at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve in Charleston, Staten Island I became intrigued by the historical significance of the landscape in and around the park. Who wouldn’t? So much happened in the areas of Charleston and Rossville that I became mesmerized by its history.

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Balthazar Kreischer, circa the 1870’s.

One aspect of its industrial past was the brickmaking industry that flourished. It was in 1854, that Balthazar Kreischer established a branch of his successful fire-brick making enterprise on the shore of the Arthur Kill River (along what is now Kreischer Street, behind The Tides of Charleston off Arthur Kill Road.) At this time Charleston, then known as Androvetteville owing to the numerous Androvettes who inhabited the area, held an abundant natural resource prized by the brick-master: a kaolin-like clay that was there for the taking or more realistically for the digging.

Balthazar Kreischer thus began buying property with the result that he soon owned hundreds of acres in the area. With his wealth, Kreischer built a massive home for his family and around 1885, he built two more homes. One for his son Edward; the other for his son Charles. This house is, of course, the one that stands silently over Arthur Kill Road today.

Owing to Kreischer’s leadership and influence the town became known as Kreischerville. I won’t delve any further into the history of Kreischerville except to say that the numerous pits that resulted from the extraction of clay still dot the topography of Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve. As I said it wasn’t long before I was digging into the community’s past myself.

One day I mentioned the Kreischers and their Staten Island enterprise to my mother. The surname swiftly caught her attention. In 1950, she immigrated to America from County Leitrim, Ireland. She soon took up residence in the home of her aunt Rose Kerwin (nee Rose Keaney). Aunt Rose was my grandmother’s sister. She and her husband lived in a brownstone on First Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. With three floors and a basement (utilized in the scorching months of summer) there was ample living space for all who resided in the structure. And there were many occupants including several of Aunt Rose’s adult children, as well as an adult grandchild. On the top floor of the brownstone Rose’s sister Mary lived. By this time Mary was well into her 70s. When she arrived in America from Ireland at the turn of the nineteenth-century, Mary began laboring as an “Irish Girl,” a young female immigrant who did indoor grunt work for the well-to-do. Scrubbing floors, washing windows, ironing and such; this would be Mary’s line of labor for the rest of her working life.

Mary, Rose, and Winnie, my grandmother, were three amongst seven siblings. They grew up in a simple Irish cottage outside of Kiltyclogher, County Leitrim, Ireland. (Not far from the childhood home of Sean MacDermott, participant of the Easter Rising in Ireland during 1916, but that is another blog subject…)

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Statue of Sean MacDermott in the town square of Kiltyclogher, County Leitrim, Ireland.

At this time, the late 1800s, early 1900s, many children were not allowed to go to school even though the English government permitted youngsters to finally attend classes. Instead, some had to stay home and work on the farm. Hence the children gathered hay, cared for the farm animals, minded their little brothers and sisters, and did whatever it was they were told to do. This was a parental decision made by my great-grandfather. He believed that receiving school instruction was not a worthwhile way to spend one’s day. For this reason, Mary never attended school so she knew neither how to read nor write. (For another reason, now unknown, my grandmother Winnifred, the youngest child, was permitted to attend school.)

One of my mother’s tasks on arriving at Aunt Rose’s in 1950, was to read and write for her Aunt Mary. For this reason, every December my mother was given the job of writing Christmas cards. This resulted in an annual holiday card being sent to a John Kreischer of Manhattan. Well now this caught my attention because Balthazar Kreischer had a grandson named John Kreischer. He was the son of George Kreischer, Balthazar’s first born male heir, who in later years ran both his father’s original enterprise and the Anderson Pressed Brick Company also in Kreischerville. My mother recalled John’s address. After some research through the Park’s history files, I found that yes, indeed, the addresses corresponded. This was the grandson of brick baron Balthazar Kreischer. He was a New York City lawyer.

Here was exciting news for a young Staten Island historian. My great-aunt Mary had worked for a descendant of Staten Island industrialist Balthazar Kreischer. What a connection!

Winnifred Keany McHugh harvesting cabbage Loughrass, Glenfarne, Co Leitrim circa 1950s perhaps

Winnifred Keaney McHugh, sister of Mary Keaney and grandmother of the author, harvesting cabbage at Loughrass, Glenfarne, County Leitrim, Ireland, late 1950s.

For further information on the Kreischer brick-making business on Staten Island visit:

http://blog.silive.com/memories_column/2011/11/a_thriving_business_and_community_emerged_out_of_the_south_shores_rich_clay_bog.html

Special thanks to Gina Sacco.

Copyright 2016 by Patricia M. Salmon

 

 

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