History of Beer Making in Jamaica Plain

ABC Brewery on Health Street

ABC Brewery on Health Street

As the 20th century dawned, it was said that within a mile of Roxbury Crossing there were twenty-five breweries. Now, as this 100-year era begins to bow out, none are still running, though a new one is about to start up.

Many of these necessarily big brick hulks still survive, doing yeoman duty as storage warehouses, mostly in the Highland section of old Roxbury. Even in their altered forms, the old breweries display keen attention to decoration of all sorts. The arched gates leading to a central court, as seen in the American Brewing Company on Heath St., take the imaginative viewer to cobblestone streets with horse-drawn beer wagons (like the famed Anheuser-Busch wagon drawn by Clydesdales moving out to unload barreled products.)

Beer has been made all over the world since earliest times, and is first mentioned in Egyptian texts of the 22nd century B.C. Thus, just as soon as they were established, the Pilgrims and Puritans established malt-houses, and in keeping with English university practice, Harvard students had a malt-house on campus.

Jamaica Plain's newest brewer, the Boston Beer Company at the old Haffenreffer brewery, takes its label from patriot leader Sam Adams, who inherited a malt-house from his father in 1748. But as his revolutionary ardor grew, the business fell apart according to biographers, and after the British left Boston; nothing was left on Adams' South End property near Fort Point Channel.

When the flood of European immigration began in the early 19th century, Boston was a natural port for those from the famed beer brewing countries of Ireland and Germany. By 1846, the Roseole Brewery was established on upper Columbus Ave., because the railroad was needed for receiving hops and other ingredients.

More Germans came with beer recipes brought from the homeland (in beer steins, by some accounts) and favored our area (though some beer was brewed in South Boston and Charlestown). Brewery addresses focused on Heath, Terrace, Parker, Station, and Tremont Streets, along with Columbus Ave., while another core grew up by Egleston Square on Germania and Washington Sts.

Perusal of city directories of 1890-1950 indeed reveals twenty-five breweries in the immediate area within a mile of Roxbury Crossing.

The pre-eminent beer barons were Rueter, Haffenreffer, Burkhardt, Roesoje, Pfaff, and Souther. Like other barons, the Rueters lived in Jamaica Plain, where the Jamaica Towers now stand, in large mansard-roofed Victorian houses that were later abandoned. National prohibition (1919-1933) was disastrous for the local beer industry (though some kept going by making near beer) and, if not knocked out by the Depression, the majority was gone by World War II.

In addition to the brick ghosts, the brewers left a legacy of Germanic street names in the area where their employees lived. Today a new minority who hope to prosper here, as did my grandfather and mother, who lived here in their first days in America in the 1920s, people these streets.

Many of the old German clubs are gone (like the Schwaben, Turnverein, and Arbeiter) or have been recycled (like the Schulverein on Danforth St., now home to a health club) and the large brick, former Trinity Lutheran Church building (1892) at Parker and Gore Streets on Parker Hill was built with beer money. This might also be true for Mission Church. One wonders how many other traces of their existence these sources of heady suds left behind.

Written by Walter H. Marx. Reprinted with permission from the Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.

Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology

An industry in the Stony Brook valley of Jamaica Plain provided the initial wherewithal for a transported Boston beer baron to secure a fine seaside estate along Mount Hope Bay in Bristol, Rhode Island.

Everyone in our area at some time gets to know the old Haffenreffer Brewery behind Amory and Boylston Streets, now a center for light industry, owned and managed by the non-profit Neighborhood Development Corporation. It is also the New England home of Jim Koch's Boston Beer Company. The old brewery's yellow-brick chimney, depleted of its top three identifying letters is visible for blocks. A Saturday noontime visit will yield not only a sprawling complex of brewery buildings of various dates but also a tour of the Koch operations complete with its own ratskellar.

Rudolph Haffenreffer arrived in Boston after the Civil War, intent on starting a brewery in an area teeming with German immigrants and already thick with Yankee breweries (as a drive along Heath and Terrace Streets will quickly show). After buying the old Peter's Brewery, Haffenreffer began operation in 1870, tapping into the aquifers of Stony Brook (now buried under the railroad bed). In addition, he built many neighboring row houses for his employees and other workers. Anyone just off a boat from the old country could work there.

Many people today can tell brewery stories featuring their parents or grandparents, for Haffenreffer was the last of all the thirty breweries in Roxbury to survive. The operation closed in 1965 after 95 years. Legends abound about the spigot where one could always get a beer and about the employees' own biergarten for lunch hours.

Son Theodore, married to a President of Wellesley College, early on lived in the house by the brewery at Brookside and Germania. Son Rudolph Frederick left the Boston area after learning the business and set out for the Narragansett Bay area, where he established a brewery that produced a beer named after the Bay. He lived in Fall River and also owned a mine in Utah and receivership for the Mount Hope Toll Bridge. These non-brewery interests led the beer baron to collect American Indian artifacts from both the West and New England.

In 1916 he bought land alongside the Bay that included "the throne of King Philip," the son of the famous Massasoit of Plymouth Colony fame, which had been turned into an amusement park named for the chief, who had tried to drive the English out of New England in the war named after him (1676-78). Haffenreffer converted it into a fine dairy farm with choice Guernsey cattle. Fire two years later brought disaster and left only a shed and a barn.

At that point he decided in favor of his growing aborigine collection. By 1928 major additions to the site were completed, and the place became known as the King Philip Museum. It was beautifully enhanced by display cases of mahogany wood built by the nearby Herreshoff Shipyard.

The Haffenreffer summer home, a converted 18th century inn, was nearby for easy access to the collection. Haffenreffer hired a Wampanoag Indian from Nantucket as his advisor and opened it to Boy Scouts and those who expressed and interest in it.

The Haffenreffer collection's reputation grew, and by trading and discussion Rudolph Haffenreffer became a major player and expanded into the Eskimo culture. Upon his death in 1954, his family gave the land and collection to Brown University and the lovely place is now known as the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. It is well worth a visit south of the lovely Rhode Island town of Bristol off Route 136.

Written by Walter H. Marx.

Haffenreffer Museum Notes #11, Jamaica Plain Historical Society Archives

Reprinted with permission from the September 11, 1992 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.

Two Grand Breweries

Locally produced beer and ale has become a rare commodity for most Americans - but not so here in Jamaica Plain. Because of the Boston Beer Company's Samuel Adams Brewery, set up in the old Haffenreffer Brewery on Germania Street, beverages brewed in our neighborhood are once more for sale at the corner market and saloon.

Before Prohibition, there were 31 breweries in Boston, largely concentrated in the Stony Brook corridor of Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill. Haffenreffer became the last remaining brewery in Boston. It closed in 1964, and Jamaica Plain produced no beer until 1988 when Jim Koch started up his local company whose beer distribution has radiated outward from Boston year by year, spreading the name of Sam Adams.

Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill had no fewer than twelve separate breweries, because of the concentration of German and Irish immigrants in the area. Local distribution of ale, and later German-style lager beer, was the rule before refrigeration and modern roads. While local production ended in 1964, many brewery buildings still stand in our neighborhood. The two most beautiful breweries are along Heath Street - a legacy for locally-produced beer, a reminder of the rich manufacturing heritage in the valley between Mission Hill and the plateau of Jamaica Plain, and a glimpse of beauty in industrial architecture.

At 249A Heath Street on the corner of Lawn Street, the American Brewing Company is the most elaborately designed brewery still standing in Boston. The three-building complex is wrapped around a hidden cobblestone courtyard, and the access through a double-arched granite block doorway is watched over by three carved terra cotta heads. At the Lawn Street corner building, a tall conical metal roof sits on the round tower and reveals to a careful viewer several decorative clocks. Set at 7 and 5, they proclaimed to the brewery workers their daily work times. The light that came through the stained glass transoms still gracing the arched windows must have warmed second floor office workers. Who had built such an elaborate industrial building?

Designed by architect Frederick Footman of Cambridge in 1891, the American Brewing Company was just one establishment of James W. Kenney, an Irish immigrant to America in 1863. Mr. Kenney had already founded the Amory Brewery on Amory Street (1877) and the Park Brewery on Terrace Street (1882). He would later start the Union Brewery on Terrace Street in 1893.

By 1900, the alphabetically named American Brewing Company (ABC can still be seen posted above the great double arches) became the largest branch of the great ten-brewery consortium, Massachusetts Breweries Company, and was producing 100,000 barrels a year. The family members of Gottlieb Rothfuss ran the brewery and could walk to work from their houses on Zamora Street and Wyman Street in Jamaica Plain. During Prohibition (1920-1933), the buildings were used for wool and cotton storage under the American Storage Warehouse Company name. Our local Haffenreffer Brewing Company later bought the plant for storage of its own beer and bottles. From 1958 until recently, lowly storage was still the function of the complex, when Fraser & Walker Movers used the old brewery as a furniture and moving warehouse.

A short glide down Heath Street to numbers 123-125 brings us under the shadow of the imposing old Eblana Brewery. Started in 1885 by Dublin expatriate John R. Alley, Eblana brewed ale and porter in this distinctive building designed by brewery architect Otto Wolf who was imported from Philadelphia to work on the complex. The building is dominated along the Heath Street facade by a great three-story central bay front, made of brick supported by huge granite braces and topped by a metal-arched balcony. The brewery's central entrance still has its original wrought iron gate and beautiful granite block arches.

On the right side of the facade's second floor, a mysterious granite block with the letters "J.R.A." probably refer to the brewery's founder, John R. Alley. He lived in Jamaica Plain from the late 1880s to his death in 1898 at 3 Revere Street on Sumner Hill. He passed this grand brewery on to his sons Frederick, Arthur and George. The sons ran the business as the Alley branch of the previously mentioned Massachusetts Breweries Company. They produced 80,000 barrels of Jamaica Plain ale annually until Prohibition.

Wool warehousing and medical manufacturing occupied the building during "The Great Experiment". After that, Canada Dry bottled soft drinks in the plant. Since 1960, the Hampden Automotive Manufacturing Company has manufactured automobile repair machinery in this beautiful building.

These buildings are the silent giants of an industrial era shuttered by changing tastes in beer, temperance crusades, and economic consolidation. The smell of beer brewing no longer wafts from these two grand industrial buildings, nor from the ten or so others that used to produce it in the Stony Brook corridor of Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill. Only our lone Samuel Adams Brewery can lay claim to continuing the neighborhood tradition.

Copyright 1995 © Jamaica Plain Historical Society


Baron, Brewed In America; Boston Landmarks Commission, Parker Hill/Mission Hill Inventory.