Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Westchester County Brewing Company Operated in Pelham Before Prohibition

Earlier this week, I spotted an eBay auction offering a beer tray advertising beer brewed by the "Westchester County Brewing Company" of "Pelham, N.Y."  An image of the tray, showing a scene entitled "The Cockfight," appears below.  (Notice the reference to Pelham on the beer case behind the two men.)  

Advertising Beer Tray:  Westchester County Brewing Company,
Pelham, N.Y. Depicting "The Cockfight"

The story of the brewery and ice manufacturing facility operated, in part, in Pelham by the Westchester County Brewing Company (often also referred to as the Westchester Brewing Company and, occasionally, as "Westchester Brewery") is quite interesting.  The brewery once was located along the Hutchinson River near Sparks Avenue in an area where, today, Tiffany & Co. has back office operations and a large parking lot behind in the area behind Pelham Village Hall.

In late 1909 and early 1910, that area was desolate and low-lying; it was adjacent to the Hutchinson River.  There were virtually no residences in the area except for a few homes (and businesses) along Wolf's Lane.  The map below, published in 1910, shows the area only months after construction of the new brewery and ice manufacturing plant was completed in May, 1910.  

Detail from 1910 Map Showing Location of the Westchester
County Brewery Company Ice Manufacturing
Plant Denoted as "HYGEIA ICE CO." on Upper Right.  Source:
"Map of the Town and Village of Pelham" (Plate 18) in G. W.
Bromley & Co., Atlas of Westchester County, New York, Vol. I
(Philadelphia, PA:  G. W. Bromley & Co. 1910).  NOTE:
Click on Image to Enlarge.

According to one source published at the time the brewery and ice manufacturing plant was being built:


Plans have been completed and contracts let for the erection of a brewery near Mt. Vernon, N. Y., which is a northern suburb of New York City, just above the Westchester county line.  The plant is being erected by the Westchester County Brewery, recently incorporated for $400,000 and formed on the co-operative principle.

The officers and directors of the company are as follows:

President, Gen'l Geo. O. Eaton, of New York City.
Vice-president, Wm. H. Ebling, Jr., of Pelham, New York.
Treasurer, Wm. Hobby, of Mount Vernon, New York.
Directors:  The above officers and Judge Sydney A. Syme, of Mt. Vernon, New York.

The offices of the company are at present located at 21-25 Prospect Ave., Mt. Vernon, and the brewery is being erected on the line of the New York, New Haven & Hartford R. R., near that town.

The brewery will have an annual capacity upwards of 50,000 barrels, ale, porter and lager, and is being erected from plans of Bollinger Bros., the well known brewery architects and engineers of Pittsburgh, who are also the general contractors for the equipment of same.  Construction work was begun December 27 [1909] and it is contemplated to have the plant ready for operation by May 1.

The buildings will be entirely of brick, steel, stone and concrete construction.  The roofs will be of reinforced concrete.  There will be no wood whatever used in the construction except window frames and door-ways.  The plant will be equipped with two 125-ton tandem compound condensing engines, driving ice machines; two 75 K.W. direct connected generators, with compound condensing generator engine; and all machinery throughout will be motor-driven direct-connected. 

The boiler-house will have two 264-H.P. water tube boilers.  The brewhouse equipment will be 200-barrel net capacity, copper steam brewing kettle, etc.  The ice plant will be 100-ton daily capacity, using the center freeze plate system.  This system will make cakes of ice weighing six tons, which will be sawed by electric driven saws into cakes of 300 pounds each."

Source:  "NEW BREWERY AT MT. VERNON, N. Y." in The Western Brewer:  and Journal of the Barley, Malt and Hop Trades, Vol. 35, No. 1, p. 16 cols. 1-2 (Jan. 15, 1910).

BROS., PITTSBURG, ARCHITECTS."  An Artist's Rendering
of the Brewery and Ice Manufacturing Plant the Under Construction.
The Western Brewer:  and Journal of the Barley, Malt and Hop Trades,
Vol. 35, No. 1, p. 16 cols. 1-2 (Jan. 15, 1910).  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

Laminated Wood Advertising Sign for Westchester
County Brewing Company Depicting the Structure Shortly
After it Was Completed in May, 1910.

The company included ice manufacturing at its Pelham location because the population of the New York metropolitan region was becoming increasingly concerned with the safety and quality of so-called "natural ice" cut from frozen rivers and lakes.  The Westchester County Brewing Company created the brand of "Hygeia Ice" and marketed it as manufactured from safe water taken from Artesian wells tapped near its Pelham location.  The company's advertising touted its ice as "artificially made" and "absolutely free of impurities; while natural ice is largely a potential cause of typhoid and similar ailments."  (See advertisements below.)

As an aside, the company's touting of its "safe" Artesian well water ice was an advertising master stroke.  Although the Artesian wells were sunk on the company's property, the company did not drill all of those wells.  Rather, at least six were drilled by the City of Mount Vernon in an effort to replenish the drinking water held in the Pelham Reservoir after a frightening and difficult drought the year before.  See CITY WILL SINK SIX ARTESIAN WELLS TO FEED SUPPLY IN PELHAM RESERVOIR, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Apr. 29, 1911, p. 1, cols. 4-5.  It seems, however, that as demand for Hygeia ice grew, the need for Artesian well water did as well.  At least twenty-six artesian wells were drilled on the property of the brewery.  One reference noted:  

"A Plant Sufficient to Supply County With Ice.

The Westchester County Brewing Company, of Mount Vernon, expect to manufacture daily sufficient ice to supply the demand of this county with its population approaching 300,000 and to deliver the same by automobile to customers desiring a hygienic product.  The company has one [of] the most perfect ice manufacturing plant[s] in the United States.  Their water supply consists of twenty-six artesian wells which furnish an inexhaustible flow of absolutely pure water."

Source:  A Plant Sufficient to Supply County With Ice, Westchester County Magazine, Vol. VII, No. 1, p. 9 (Apr. 1911).

Extremely Rare, Only Known Example of a Beer Stamp with
Possible Tie to the Westchester County Brewing Company; Stamp
Sold at Auction in 2006 for $16,000.00.  The Stamp Contains
a Perforated Cancel that Reads "WCBCo. +9+3-18" Which May 
Reference Either the Westchester County Brewing Company, Pelham,
N.Y., or the Watertown Consumer's Brewing Company, Watertown, N.Y.
NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

Although somewhat sparse, there are some records regarding the nature of the equipment contained in the facility built in Pelham by the Westchester County Brewing Company.  In addition to the brief description quoted above and published at the time the plant was being built, there are a few additional clues from period publications.  For example, according to one source published in January, 1910:  

"Westchester County Brewery, being erected on the line of the New York, New Haven & Hartford R. R., between New Rochelle and Mt. Vernon, and near the latter town, has awarded contract for the equipment of same through Bollinger Bros., the architects.  The brew house equipment, a 200-barrel outfit complete, will be furnished by the Goetz & Flodin Mfg. Co., of Chicago, and the refrigerating machinery by the Frick Co., of Waynesboro, Pa.  The latter company will install a complete plant for the production of 100 tons of ice daily on the center freeze plate system."

Source:  "New Plants & Improvements. . . NEW YORK" in The Western Brewer:  and Journal of the Barley, Malt and Hop Trades, Vol. 35, No. 1, p. 26 & p. 28, cols. 1-2 (Jan. 15, 1910).  

It also appears that by early 1911, there were plans to install a Blitz-Blank filter at the brewery.  See "Building Operations and Improvements" in American Brewers' Review, Vol. XXV, No. 2, p. 57 & p. 58, col. 1 (Feb. 1, 1911) ("NEW YORK. . . . Pelham.--The Westchester County Brewing Co. will install a Blitz-Blank filter.").  Similarly, a trade publication issued in 1912 indicated that the Eureka Machine Company of Cleveland, Ohio had sold to the Westchester County Brewing Company "Single and Duplex Branders, Bilge Brands and Attachments."  See "TRADE ITEMS - EUREKA MACHINE CO." in The Western Brewer:  and Journal of the Barley, Matl and Hop Trades, Vol. 38, No. 4, p. 197, col. 2 (Apr. 15, 1912).  

Likewise, by 1915, the brewery installed a "120-ton flooded freezing system and distilling system, furnished by the York Mfg. Co., of York, Pa."  See "New Plants and Improvements" in The Western Brewer:   and Journal of the Barley, Malt and Hop Trades, Vol. 44, No. 2, p. 78, col. 2 (Feb. 15, 1915).

Both the brewery and the ice manufacturing plant operated successfully for nearly a decade.  Period records and news reports reflect deliveries of the breweries products throughout Westchester.  

During World War I, however, President Woodrow Wilson was given the authority to halt the brewing of beer to conserve foodstuffs.  He invoked that power.  Shortly afterward, the Westchester County Brewing Company sold its brewery to the Knickerbocker Ice Company, although a subsidiary of the Westchester County Brewing Company continued to use part of the brewery building for the manufacture of lactic acid until 1921 or 1922.  

According to one account:

"The present structure near Sparks Avenue was built in 1910 by the Westchester County Brewing Company and was designed as an ice plant in part and a brewery in part.  It was subsequently operated by that Company, chiefly as a brewery.  In 1918, the operation of the brewery having become unprofitable, it was discontinued and abandoned voluntarily.

In 1919, the Westchester County Brewing Company sold and conveyed the premises to the Knickerbocker Ice Company which adapted and used the property for the manufacture of icce, and the Westchester County Brewing Company removed from the premises all brewing equipment and machinery.  Upon their sale to the Knickerbocker Ice Company, the premises were described in the contract as 'formerly a brewery.'  For a time after 1919, under an arrangement with the ice company, the Westchester Chemical Company manufactured lactic acid in a part of the premises, but this was voluntarily discontinued in 1921.  Meanwhile, at the beginning of 1920, more than a year after the use of the property as a brewery had been voluntarily discontinued by the then owner, the Eighteenth Amendment became effective.

In the zoning ordinance of the village [then the Village of Pelham, known today as Pelham Heights] enacted in 1921 and 1924, and adopted in their present form in 1928, the property of the Knickerbocker Ice Company has been in the district zoned for residential uses only.  Brewing and bottling works are prohibited in even the business district along Wolf's lane."

Source:  BRIEFS ORDERED IN INJUNCTION SUIT OF BREWERY, The Pelham Sun, Jun. 16, 1933, p. 1, col. 3 & p. 8, cols. 4-6.  

Another article published in the New Rochelle Pioneer on January 4, 1919 described the process of selling the brewery facilitated to the Knickerbocker Ice Company.  It read as follows:

"Brewery To Become Ice Plant?

Negotiations for the purchase of the Westchester Brewing Company's plant in North Pelham by the Knickerbocker Ice Company are pending and the deal will likely be consummated within a short time.

The purpose for which the plant will be used is to manufacture ice for consumers in Mount Vernon and New Rochelle and their environs, according to the Mount Vernon Daily Argus.  While persons interested in the transaction declined to discuss the price, it is said that the plant is placed at $200,000.

For several days there have been reports to the effect that the sale of the brewing company's property was contemplated, Wesley M. Oler, president of the Knickerbocker Company, stated that his company had signed a contract to buy the North Pelham plant, subject to clear titles, etc.  The time set in which to consummate the deal extends to January 6.  It was said that this transaction had not been completed as yet.  The Knickerbocker Ice Company has been furnishing considerable natural ice to people of the southern part of Westchester county, but there has become a profound preference for artificial ice.  The company being desirous of conforming with the consumers' wants, concluded, it is said that it would be advantageous to locate at the North Pelham plant for the purpose of manufacturing ice there for this section.  

There is an ice manufacturing equipment in the brewing company's plant and the Knickerbocker concern has frequently bought ice made there and distributed it in this vicinity."

Source:  Brewery To Become Ice Plant?, New Rochelle Pioneer, Jan. 4, 1919, p. 6, col. 2.

During the Roaring Twenties, the nature of the area around Sparks Avenue changed dramatically.  The population surged and more residences dotted the area.  In recognition of such changes, the Village of Pelham (today's Pelham Heights) enacted and amended the zoning ordinances referenced above in an effort to preserve the budding residential character of the area, even though the Knickerbocker Ice Company plant was grandfathered and permitted to operate despite the new ordinances.  
In 1933, as Prohibition came to a close, a company known as the "Metropolis Brewing Company" leased a part of the Knickerbocker Ice Company plant in preparation for the manufacture of 3.2% "near beer" intended to serve as a facilitator beer as "practice" for the manufacture of "real beer" when Prohibition was fully lifted.  The Board of Trustees of what then was known as the Village of Pelham (today's Pelham Heights) fought the new brewery on the grounds that it would violate the residence-only zoning ordinances implemented during the 1920s.  Village building inspectors stopped work on the site and at least two lawsuits followed.  One of those suits eventually resulted in a decision to relocate the proposed brewery.

Westchester County Brewing Company Advertisement
for Sale of "Artificially Made" Hygeia Ice Manufactured
at its Brewery Located in Pelham, New York.  Source:  
[Advertisement], The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY],
Jul. 19, 1912, p. 9, cols. 1-7.

Westchester County Brewing Company Advertisement
for Sale of Hygeia Ice, Artificially Made from Artesian
Well Water at the Brewery Located in Pelham, New York.
Source:  [Advertisement], The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY],
Jul. 30, 1912, p. 8, cols. 1-7.

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