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.



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