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History time: Boston's beer-making past

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  November 29, 2010 09:00 AM

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(Courtesy: Charlie Rosenberg)

American Brewing Company during recent conversion to condominiums.

Part of an occasional series highlighting a piece of neighborhood history.

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 twelve breweries. 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.

At 249A Heath 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.

By 1900, the American Brewing Company became the largest branch of the great ten-brewery consortium, Massachusetts Breweries Company, and was producing 100,000 barrels a year. The Rothfuss family 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, Fraser & Walker Movers used the old brewery as furniture and moving warehouse.

A short glide down to 123-125 Heath Street brings us to the imposing Eblana Brewery. Started in 1885 by Dublin expatriate John R. Alley, Eblana brewed ale and porter in this distinctive building. The building is dominated 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.

Alley died in 1898. The brewery then passed to his sons who ran the business as the Alley branch of the Massachusetts Breweries Company. They produced 80,000 barrels of 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 used it to manufacture automobile repair machinery.

These buildings are the silent giants of an industrial era shuttered by changing tastes in beer, temperance crusades, and economic consolidation. Only our lone Samuel Adams Brewery can lay claim to continuing the neighborhood tradition.

Michael Reiskind is a member of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.

To read more about the rich history of Jamaica Plain, visit the Jamaica Plain Historical Society website at: http://www.jphs.org/.

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(Courtesy: Charlie Rosenberg)

Rueter & Alley Highland Spring Brewery Refrigeration Building located at Heath and Parker streets. This brewery was active from 1867 to 1885.

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(Courtesy: Charlie Rosenberg

Detail of brick façade of American Brewing Company on Heath St. in Jamaica Plain.

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