Some residents on Germania Street know that Samuel Adams beer and other products are made in the industrial complex on their street. But few seem to know the history behind the smokestack that stands at the end of the street, just beyond a maze of red brick buildings.
In the late 1980s the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, which owns the complex, had the top of the stack removed for safety reasons, leaving only the letters “NREFFER.” It is short for Haffenreffer, a brewery that was built over 125 years ago.
During its glory days, over 100 trucks moved in and out of the brewery yard each day, carrying lager, sparkling ale, stock ale and porter to the taverns of Boston.
Frank Coarr, 59, now a resident of Hyde Park, grew up half a mile from the brewery. He remembers when the Haffenreffer Brewery was the focal point of his Jamaica Plain neighborhood, especially to the kids. He and his buddies would steal bottles of beer from the backs of the trucks as they drove slowly through town. “We didn’t think anything of it and just hopped on the back of the trucks,” said Coarr.
But what Coarr remembers most is what happened every Thursday at noon. That was when the beer tanks were steamed-cleaned, and neighbors blocks away could smell the beer-filled mist that permeated the neighborhood. It was more than the noses of the small creatures could handle. According to Frank, the mist had an adverse effect on the pets in the neighborhood. “By noon we would see the cats and dogs teetering along the streets. They appeared to be drunk.”
The brewery, on five sprawling acres at the end of Germania Street, employed scores of German immigrants, one of whom was Wellesley resident Hal Knapp’s grandfather, George Hoerrner. Hoerrner was a fixture at the brewery for over 40 years, working his way up to chief engineer. The Haffenreffers and the employees nicknamed George “Oil Can” Hoerrner, because one of his duties was to roam the brewery to make sure all of the equipment was running smoothly.
As chief engineer, Hoerrner needed to be close by, so the Haffenreffers allowed him to live on the grounds in one its houses. It was there that Hoerrner died in 1978, joined at his bedside by his family and August Haffenreffer, one of the owners of the brewery.
Knapp told his grandfather’s story while sitting in his Wellesley home at an old bar that once was used at the brewery to entertain Haffenreffer’s wholesale customers. In the mid-1940s, the company offered George a gold watch upon retirement, but he asked for the bar instead.
“It was my grandfather’s when they retired it from the brewery,” said Knapp. “This is how much he meant to that family.”
That same bar, pulled apart and reassembled twice, made its way from Knapp’s uncle’s house on Dunster Street in Jamaica Plain to its current home in Wellesley, where Knapp reminisces about visiting the brewery as a boy. He remembers his uncle picking him up at his Eliot Street home and accompanying him on the walk to the brewery.
“I was in awe of the place because of the mountains of malt, sugar, and barley,” said Knapp.
Knapp’s memories, however, outlived the Haffenreffers’, whose fortunes began to wane in the 1950s. Like many small breweries in post-war America, it came under pressure from large national companies, and in 1965 Haffenreffer & Co. closed its Jamaica Plain landmark, marking the end of what was once one of Boston’s most vital industries.
In 1979, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) purchased the complex and began the arduous task of raising funds and rehabilitating the many mostly abandoned buildings for more modern light industrial uses that would provide neighborhood employment. The Brewery is now home to more than twenty local businesses as well as the JPNDC offices.
In the early 1980s, Jim Koch, the sixth oldest son of the sixth generation of Koch family brew masters from Germany, decided to try out a family recipe and start his own brewery. In 1984, after three years of renovation, the brewery that makes Samuel Adams opened its doors in the Brewery complex. Today, one of the main attractions of the brewery is its historical tours. Since the tours began in 1989, over 100,000 Boston residents and visitors have toured the Boston Beer Company facility, learning about the sweetness of fine barley, the Haffenreffer legacy, and the revitalization of the brewing industry in Jamaica Plain.
It is this revitalization that Dave Nathan, Jamaica Plain Historical Society officer and assistant archivist for the City of Boston, speaks about. According to Nathan, Jamaica Plain was created for manufacturing and brewing. At one time, brewing was the biggest industry in the area, using the Stony Brook, now underground in a culvert, as a source of water.
“Brewing at the Haffenreffer brewery once served as an anchor in the neighborhood,” said Nathan. “That is why the Haffenreffer brewery remained in Jamaica Plain for over 125 years.”
Nathan said that Jamaica Plain, specifically the Brookside area where the Haffenreffer Brewery was, is an example of a neighborhood that has not lost touch with its historical roots. Our Lady of Lourdes Church, where the German immigrants attended services, still holds mass. The modest white Victorian house where George Hoerrner once lived currently awaits new tenants. The red-brick buildings of the brewery still form a complex at the end of Germania Street. And the old smokestack, or what’s left of it, remains.
By Jenn Russo
This article originally appeared in the December 3, 1999 issue of the Jamaica Plain Gazette and is used with permission.