On the Waterfront with Staten Island’s Brewery Barons Part 2

In Part 2 we look at how Staten Island’s brewers shrewdly utilized the island’s ferries and beach front…

German Hospital in Manhatt Etching c 1867

Brewer Joseph Rubsam was a board member of the German Hospital in Manhattan. Etching circa 1867.

Historically, Sunday was an important day of relaxation, since it was the only day of rest for a working man, who was very often a poor man. After morning religious services many working Germans spent the remainder of their day at a local beer garden. As many as 50,000 were said to have left the “bustle and heat of the metropolis” on Sunday, July 23, 1871. Some went for trips to Coney Island; Keyport, New Jersey, or to Staten Island. Ferry boats were said to be full of “decently dressed and decently conducted mechanics and their wives and families.”[i]

In 1879, a freight company known as the People’s Line was proposed in response to the rising cost of transporting goods to Manhattan from the Stapleton and Clifton waterfronts. Meetings were held at the Clifton Brewery, with the leading brewers of Staten Island attending on August 5. The firms pledged $90,000 toward the new line if the existing transporter did not reduce its rates within two weeks. One brewer suggested that as much as $500,000 could be raised for the new company, which could not only reduce rates for freight and passengers, but probably increase visitors who would lead, in turn, to a rise in business revenue and real estate prices. The breweries were year-round operations that shipped to Europe and improved transportation was needed.

Monroe Eckstein Brewery Hotel PC nd

Hotel of Monroe Eckstein’s Constanz Brewery at Four Corners, no date.

In 1882, the Constanz Brewery at Four Corners featured a “picturesque hotel and magnificent pleasure grounds” that were “well frequented on high-days and holidays by the toiling denizens of neighboring cities across the Bay of New York.”[ii] The property consisted of twenty-two acres and produced 35,000 barrels of lager each year. Many out of town visitors came to the brewery by way of the ferry that landed at the West New Brighton dock at Richmond Terrace and Broadway. They were met by a stagecoach and brought to the brewery for food, frolic, and best of all, fine lager beer.

Increasingly, these German breweries drew other ethnicities. On the morning of September 15, 1881, twelve carriages holding forty-two Chinese men left Mott Street in Manhattan amid friendly neighborhood cheers. The lighthearted group was heading by boat to Staten Island. A vigorous band accompanied the party-goers, and the drive down Chatham Street and Broadway was filled with the merry sounds of gongs, tom-toms, and horns. Half the men wore traditional Chinese attire.

Landing at Clifton their first stop was the Clifton Brewery. Much to the groups delight a keg of beer was pried open and many trips were made to it by the visitors. To repay the hospitality, the men serenaded the brewery staff with their native musical instruments.

The breweries also hosted social and trade events for off-island groups and individuals. On August 18, 1903, the Master Barbers’ Association convention convened at the Bechtel Brewery in Stapleton. Delegates of Brooklyn Local 29 strode from the ferry terminal, through the streets of Tompkinsville and straight up what is now Broad Street to the Bechtel Brewery on Van Duzer Street. The 3,000 members were accompanied by an animated marching band. The conventioneers spent hours debating a new barber law, so many outside delegations could not gain entrance. These included the Society for the Suppression of Skin Diseases, the United Order of Cosmetic Salesmen, and dealers in lather, brushes, perfume, dandruff cures, and hair oil.

Neither brewery work nor delivery of the beverage was always safe. A team of horses leading a Bechtel wagon “got athwart the gangplank” as it was loaded onto a ferry at Vanderbilt’s Landing (now Clifton) during October 1881. To save the hitched-up horses after they fell into the bay, deckhands successfully jumped in to the rescue.

On October 27, 1888, the ill-fated “Westfield” ferryboat crashed into the Manhattan ferry landing at full speed as the captain attempted to dock in the midst of a gale. On board two horses were tethered to a Bechtel wagon laden with eighty kegs of beer. The driver leaped to safety, but the wagon and horses were thrown into the bubbling bay. As the beer kegs floated off to Governor’s Island, the horses made a valiant attempt, but they descended to the bottom of the harbor.

Beach Front Brewery Activity…

By the 1880s, especially in the warmer months, German groups and individuals arrived by ferry along the island’s shoreline. May was especially popular for German festivals. The brewers sought additional outlets beyond their parks, pavilions, and beer gardens so they looked to the newly established South Beach, a location launched to replicate Coney Island. They grasped this opportunity and hastily constructed hotels, casinos, beer gardens, and more. This was especially true of brewer Frederick Bachmann who owned the Clifton Brewery.

During this decade Staten Island was experiencing phenomenal growth and this included vast expansion of the railroad system, a system that ran in conjunction with Staten Island’s ferry operations. Erastus Wiman’s Staten Island Rapid Transit Railroad was scheduled to install a spur to South Beach. It would also improve shipment of Bachmann’s lager as a railroad stop was built at the brewery—it was even referred to as Bachmann’s Station.

By the 1890s proprietors at neighboring Midland Beach were enticing locals as well as urban crowds to their shoreline to not only cool off in the surf, but also to cool down with a chilled lager—thus spending money at their hotels, taverns, restaurants, saloons, and beer gardens. Cash outlay was also encouraged and accepted at the various rides and attractions that swung and swayed along the shore. It was a savvy move by the brewers to participate in these exciting, new-fangled, waterside attractions and outlets.

On September 5, 1896, a fire began in the hotel kitchen of Louis Bauer at South Beach. The stiff wind blowing inshore spread the fire to the adjoining Columbus House. A bucket brigade was formed and the water they splashed onto the wooden exterior was admirable, but of little consequence to the ensuing flames. Next, Alhambra’s and Mahoney’s photographic rooms were consumed. The fire was brought under control within forty-five minutes, but serious damage had occurred. The hotel of T. Boni, the Eureka House, the Evelyn House, Loos’s Parlor, and a merry-go-round were ignited and turned to ash. Only a shifting wind saved the train station.

On the day of the disastrous fire, the New York Times wrote that Brewer Bachmann “personally conducted the work of the firemen.” All was not lost but more than $40,000 of uninsured structures were burned. One source stated that insurance companies had refused to provide coverage since the area lacked the proper water protection for fighting fires. All of the buildings were owned by either Frederick Bachmann, the Rubsam and Horrmann Brewery, or George Ringler of New York. It was believed that the hoteliers would not rebuild, but by 1898, gayety had returned to South Beach.

As the century drew to a close, advertisements for South Beach targeted heat-weary citizens, picnic and beach parties, lodges, trolley parties, bowling clubs, churches, and schools. All were invited to experience a revitalized South Beach. A massive pier was available and free to all berthing vessels. Elegant dancing pavilions, parks, playgrounds, bowling alleys, a rifle range, and theatre performances were heralded. Bachmann’s South Beach, as it was called, was the place to be.

South Beach was described as “the most accessible beach to New York,” since rail cars went directly to the resort area from island ferries. The fare from New York and New Jersey was only ten cents. From 50,000 to 100,000 visitors descended on South Beach on summer Sundays and holidays.

On April 27, 1902, another ferocious fire descended on South Beach. The twelve premises destroyed equaled a loss of $200,000. The bulk of the properties were owned by Frederick Bachmann—the bulk of which was not covered by insurance.

This fire began under the music hall portion of Albert Hergenhan’s Casino and authorities believed it was arson. At first Hergenhan grabbed a fire hose but it was of little use. Hergenhan’s enterprise burst aflame and was destroyed within five minutes.

From there the fire headed both east and west, eating up smaller buildings in its wake until it devoured part of Gertrude Miller’s hotel. Millers Hotel SB cropped auto levelsThe fire then swept over a carousel, reducing it to ruin, while its next “victim” was the two-and-one-half-story hotel of Henry Walch. Bathing pavilions and a photographer’s studio followed in the line of destruction. The Aquarama on the other side of Hergenhan’s lit up and was quickly decimated. The next structure to be claimed by the inferno was Gebhard’s Hotel, followed by the bathing and dance pavilions of the Old Homestead Hotel. Several bath houses on the shore end of the Bachman pier also caught fire.

Frederick Bachmann owned the buildings rented by Albert Hergenhan, the Walch Hotel, the pier, and many small structures in the area. The fire destroyed 2,500 feet of businesses. All of the buildings were made of timber. Hergenhan believed that his and Bachmann’s loss equaled $75,000, while the destruction of the Walch Hotel was priced at $50,000, most of which was Bachmann’s investment. The destroyed boardwalk also proved a loss for the individuals who owned the abutting properties.

Happyland c 1907 cropped

Happyland at South Beach, circa 1907.

During the early twentieth century brewer Charles Horrmann, son of August, invested heavily in the Happyland Park Corporation in order to establish amusements at South Beach. The company aimed not only to attract Staten Island residents, but also visitors from Manhattan and New Jersey who would arrive by boat.

Opening day at Happyland occurred on June 30, 1906. With the cost of the venture at $200,000, the backers had spent more than anticipated. Thirty thousand individuals, paying ten cents each visited that first day. It was said that the electric light that hit the bay from Happyland startled the people of Coney Island, so much so they suddenly realized they had a new competitor. A theatre with ten free acts operated. It was the owner’s hope that the visitors would purchase the bountiful lager that was available. A live animal show, roller skating rink, Japanese tea garden, scenic railway, airship, and more could be experienced at Happyland. The eruption of Vesuvius was said to be a startling sight.

Happyland did not stay happy, though: it went into bankruptcy in 1909. According to Henry Steinmeyer, finally, in May 1917 it “gave up the ghost in a gorgeous blaze that produced far more baywide illumination than did its wattage on opening night.”

For a look at the beaches of Staten Island be sure to visit this recent post at silive.com  There are a number of wonderful images including a fabulous selection focusing on Cedar Grove Beach.


SI Brewery Barons Cover FinalOn the Waterfront with Staten Island’s Brewery Barons Parts 1 and 2 is condensed from the book, Staten Island’s Brewery Barons. To purchase a copy please visit the Bookshop page on this website.


[i] New York Herald, “Out of Town,” July 24, 1871.

[ii] Webb’s Consolidated Directory of the North and South Shores, Staten Island, 1882-3, New York: Webb Brothers & Company, 1882.

[iii] Steinmeyer, Henry, “South Beach: The Resort Era,” Staten Island Historian, Vol. XIX. No. 3, Staten Island: Staten Island Historical Society, July-September 1958.

Copyright 2016 by Patricia M. Salmon

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