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History of Beer Brewed on Staten Island Highlighted in New Book

By Nicholas Rizzi | March 30, 2016 12:33pm
 A new book by historian Patricia Salmon,
A new book by historian Patricia Salmon, "Staten Island's Brewery Barons," traces the history of beer brewed in the forgotten borough from the 1850s until 1963.
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New York Public Library

STATEN ISLAND — The history of beer on Staten Island is being explored in a new book.

"Staten Island's Brewery Barons," released last week by historian Patricia Salmon, follows the families and companies that made beer on the borough from the 1850s to 1963.

"It really had an impact on Staten Island," said Salmon, a retired history curator for the Staten Island Museum.

"A lot of these brewers were influential in many aspects of Staten Island’s history. Some would be involved in politics, some were involved in the resorts in South Beach."

The book traces the history of the major brewers of the era, including Rubsam & Horrmann Brewing Company and the George Bechtel Brewery, from the time they were opened by German immigrants to their eventual closure.

Salmon said many of the brewers left their mark far beyond influencing the tastebuds of borough residents.

The Staten Island Academy school was founded by two brewers from that time. Schmidts Lane was named in honor of Constanz Brewery owner August Schmid and some of the mansions built by brewery owners are still standing in the borough.

"There's not much left of them on Staten Island, but what is left is impressive," Salmon said.

When German immigrants first made their way to New York City in the 1850s, a large number of them settled in Stapleton, Clifton and Castleton Corners, then known as Four Corners, Salmon said.

Some took advantage of fresh water in the borough and opened up shop, helping to introduce Americans to a lager-style beer.

"The beverage just took off like a shot," Salmon said. "It was probably America's favorite beverage."

At its peak, the borough was home to five prominent breweries, but in 1910 business started to dry up as larger national companies like Anheuser Busch, Miller and Pabst started to gain traction.

The national companies took advantage of the country's railroad system to distribute their beer to other regions or open up second locations, forcing many of the smaller companies to close, Salmon said.

In addition, some of the businesses struggled when ownership passed from down to the next generation, with new owners not as interested in brewing or lacking the business sense of their parents, Salmon said.

Still, some were able to survive and several made it through Prohibition in the 1920s by selling a weaker version of "near beer," Salmon.

Others tried to skirt the law to keep their doors opens.

The Monroe Eckstein Brewing Company was bought by laborer John Dunne in 1923. Dunne became a millionaire by continuing to pump out regular beer from the Staten Island spot through Prohibition until it was shut down by police in 1926, Salmon said.

The book ends in 1963 when the last major brewery of the era, Piels Brewery, shut down.

Several smaller ones cropped up throughout the years, but they all closed.

Flagship Brewing Company reversed that trend when it opened its doors in 2014, Salmon said.

Salmon said that all of the buildings that housed the prominent breweries were demolished except for a section of the Constanz Brewery at 778 Manor Road, which is currently home to a Dunkin' Donuts and a Carvel.

A book talk with Salmon will be on April 10 at 2 p.m. at the Flagship Brewing Company, at 40 Minthorne St.