Sunday, October 9, 2011

The John F. Wiessner & Sons Brewery, aka the American Brewery

The J. F. Wiessner & Sons Brewing Co. Photo taken of print in the book
Maryland History in Prints 1743-1900 by Laura Rice.
The American Brewery building was built in 1877 for the J.F Wiessner & Sons Brewing Co., and was originally one of two dozen buildings in a five-acre brewery complex. This complex replaced the original Wiessner Brewery building that was much smaller and built in 1864.

The Wiessner Brewery reached its highest peak of productivity in 1919 by brewing 110,000 barrels of beer that year. They employed 61 people and they had competition just down the street. Both Wiessner and Bauernschmidt had erected modern breweries around the same time, both said to be "show places" of their time. The modern ice machines in these two breweries were the first of their kind in Baltimore. These two breweries brought employment and vitality to the neighborhood by bringing immigrants to the states for employment. In the 1850s, German immigrants established a shooting club, Baltimore Schuetzen Park. It was just north of the Wiessner Brewing complex.

The Wiessner Townhouse
 Across the street from the brewery is the residence of the Wiessner family. It's a three story townhouse with a brick and cast-iron fence. Its large size was strictly functional, for it housed not only the family, but workers newly arriving from Germany. Not only did Wiessner bring immigrants from Germany to work in the brewery, he brought skilled professionals to the area. This transition helped professionals move to Baltimore and helped to stabilize the neighborhood with potential homeowners. The buildings north of the townhouse contained the offices of the brewery.
Offices of the J. F. Wiessner Brewery
In 1920 the Wiessner Brewery had to close its doors due to prohibition. The Wiessner property was sold to the American Malt Company in 1931. In 1933 prohibition ended and the American Malt Co. started producing again as a brewery until the brewery shut down in 1973.

Original brewery complex and buildings taken most likely in the late 1800's.
The complex and buildings as they look today.

The bottling plant in the rear of the complex once had a zinc statue of King Gambrinus installed
in a niche above the door.

A picture of the King when the building that he was on was still standing.
The King Gambrinus statue was restored in 2003 and is now housed at the Maryland Historical Society.
The building sat empty and decaying for the next 30 some years until Humanim, a Columbia Md non-profit, secured $22.5 million for renovations of the American Brewery Complex into their new headquarters. The City of Baltimore approved the building permit in early 2004 and the work was completed in 2009.

The area around the brewery has long been in decline. Many, if not most of the houses are boarded up and there are very few businesses operating in an area that once thrived with industry of many types. The brewery rehab and the prospective rehab of the A. Hoen & Co. building, just a few blocks down, will hopefully bring new vitality and new jobs to this suffering neighborhood.

Basketball court at Collington Square Park. The American Brewery tower is in the background.
The newly rehabbed American Brewery Building.

The A. Hoen & Company Lithography Plant: The Stones Speak

The A. Hoen & Company was founded by Edward Weber and August Hoen under the name of Edward Weber & Company. In 1839 they printed the first color cards ever produced in the United States. They also printed the first lithographic maps in the country and in 1842 they lithographed the maps and illustrations for the Fremont Reports. In 1853 the company become the largest printer of smoking and chewing tobacco labels in the western hemisphere. A. Hoen firm’s corpus included posters, cigar boxes, sheet music covers, as well as maps.

August took the firm over with his brother Ernest Hoen and cousin Henry Hoen in 1848 upon Weber's death. August Hoen patented several methods of lithography which globally accelerated and refined the process for both business and art.

The firms main building (they had other buildings just a couple of blocks away), the Hoen Building, on Lexington Street was built across the street from City Hall in1880 and was destroyed by fire in 1902. The building was designed to complement City Hall and had a mansard roof and iron embellishments. After the fire gutted the building, the city bought it in hopes of renovating it for an annex to City Hall. The cost was too much and the city ended up demolishing this beautiful building in 1926. The Municipal Building now occupies this site.

Copyright © The New York Times
A Hoen & Co. rebuilt at 2101 E. Biddle Street. At their peak, they employed more than two hundred and fifty people. They extended their operation and built another plant in Richmond, VA.  that was run by one of August's sons, Ernest August Hoen assisted by his younger brother Edward Weber Hoen.
A. Hoen & Co. 1954.
Photo courtesy of the BGE Collection at the BMI

The Richmond branch continued into the early 1930s under Edward Hoen, concentrating on the envelope business. Albert Hoen, the youngest of the six sons and three daughters of the founder, continued to run the Baltimore office as president of the firm until his death on May 1, 1956 at age 93. The original Baltimore office of the Hoen firm continued in the lithography and printing business until around 1981 when it dissolved after filing for bankruptcy. The building has sat vacant ever since. I am happy to report that the building is being repurposed.

Above the entrance on Biddle Street a Latin inscription is written: "Saxa Loquuntur" or "The Stones Speak." 
Go Here for more info on the process that was perfected by A. Hoen & CO.:

Check out the digital collection at the Baltimore Museum of Industry:
BMI Collections

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The J.W. Crook Grocery Store on Edmundson Avenue

I always liked this photo that I found on the Pratt Library website some time ago. It reminds me of the neighborhood I grew up in and how everyone always congregated around the corner stores.

J.W. Crook Stores Co. 1929 From the Digital Collections at Enoch Pratt Free Library
 By the time I was growing up, these corner stores where dying off along with the City itself. The 60's and 70's brought many changes to Baltimore. The industries that supported our city started to leave or go under and little stores like this one became huge chains with "super" stores.
I remember going up to the corner store in Medfield called Rudy's to get freshly butchered meats with my mother or to buy penny candies with my friends. The owners knew us all by name, so if one of us "took" something, it would get back to our parents fast!
J.W. Crook Stores Co. was among one of the first grocery store chains in Baltimore. I found several listings for this chain in the 1922 Polk's Directory for Baltimore. Note the sign on the front of the store at 1626 Edmondson Avenue in this picture. It says "Stores Everywhere". Little did they know what was to come. This row of houses is now all boarded up and dilapidated much like the rest of the West side. I look at this picture and wonder where these people might be now. The children in the picture must still be alive. I wonder if they ever come back to the "old neighborhood". If they do, it must be sad for them. It makes me sad just to compare the "then and now" photos.

Screen shot from Google Maps from a similar perspective.

Photo I took in early Sept 2011

Check out the Digital Collections at Pratt Library here:
Digital Collections at Pratt Library
Take a look at some old and rare Baltimore City Directories:
Baltimore City Directories at University of Maryland

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lone mansard roof house

I stumbled on this house about two years ago while examining my favorite old map of Baltimore.

Franklin Street and Kirby Lane 1869. This was once a beautiful area on the edge of the city.

In 1869, it sat alone, across the street from what looks like a church and down and across the street from an enormous mansion that I was then in process of researching. For some reason I love houses with mansard roofs, so it stuck out. It was near the intersection of Franklin Street and Kirby Lane, a road has has been obliterated almost completely over the years. It wasn't until sometime later that Fulton Street was extended north of Franklin Street and Kirby Lane just didn't fit into the new grid. It can still be found, but now only as a small alley that extends for only a few blocks or so. In any case, the house with the mansard roof kept catching my eye. Since I wasn't having any luck finding info on the big mansion up the street, I took a shot in the dark. I looked on Google maps to see if the mansard roof house was still standing. To my surprise it was! This can't of course be confirmed 100% unless I delve into old property records, but I'm 99% sure it's the same house. All the pieces fall into place. I had the opportunity to photograph the house last weekend. It's now surrounded by rows of houses and a very busy intersection. From the looks of it, it has been incorporated into the church that fronts Fulton Ave. It appears to be in good shape, as well!

The old house is still in good shape.
The surroundings have changed dramatically over the last 130 or so years!

For more info on Kirby Lane, check out this great website:
Baltimore Ghosts, Kirby Lane
This site has not been updated in many years, but is full of information about Baltimore's
lost relics, streets and buildings.

Take a look at the  E. Sachse & Co. map of Baltimore:
Enoch Pratt Library
This map can enthrall me for hours at a time.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A. Aubrey Bodine's Photograph

 While reporting for jury duty on August 23rd, we had a 5.9 earthquake here in Charm City. All the folks working downtown had to evacuate the buildings they were in. We were told to leave for the day from jury duty. I was stuck for the rest of the afternoon because there was no cell phone service and I was dropped off and without a car. Not expecting to be picked up until after 5:00, I walked around and took photographs of the great architecture in Baltimore. I had recently been obsessed with A. Aubrey Bodine's photographs, and remembered one I loved of the old Post Office and old Maryland Casualty Tower building he took from Davis Street. I was right around the corner and thought I would try to capture the same scene on this chaotic afternoon. While the photo I took is not exactly in the same place, it is very similar in perspective. From what I can tell, there is only one building from Bodine's photo that is still standing. I think the smaller houses on the left side in the far distance are the same, but am unable to confirm at this time. Bodine's photo conveys a "feeling" of the past that captured me from the moment I saw it. He took the photo in the late 1920s. I plan on taking more of this view in the future, but for now here's what I took on "quake" day.

Photograph by A. Aubrey Bodine • © Copyright Jennifer B. Bodine • Courtesy of
Taken on "quake" day
Second attempt to capture this photo

The old1890 Romanesque Post Office building was torn down and replaced with the lovely Neo-Classical style building you see in my photo to be compatible to the Baltimore City Courthouse on the west side of Monument Square that was built in 1894
The wonderful eighteen-story tower building was designed by Otto B. Simonson and built in 1912. It originally housed the headquarters of the Maryland Casualty Company but was sold to William Randolph Hearst in the mid-1920s to house his Baltimore-based newspapers, the Baltimore News and Baltimore American. The building changed hands a few more times before being torn down by the Manekin Corporation in 1986 because of structural instability. The grounds where the building once stood are now a parking lot. 

For more info on A Aubrey Bodine, please check out his daughter's website here:
For more info on the old Maryland Casualty Tower Building go here:

For more info on the Old Post Office Building see this site:

The Sellers Mansion

This old mansion is a passion of mine. I'm not sure what draws me to it, but there is no denying that I am completely taken by its beauty. It is truly unique in our present day city. There are no more like it. While there are other mansions from this time period, there are none with this style of architecture in a virtually unaltered state. The only architectural elements known to be lost are the roof cresting and possibly an Italianate style cupola. Both went missing sometime in the 20th century.  The Sellers Mansion was the first home built on the east side of Lafayette Square in 1868-9. The owners of this once beautiful mansion hold a very interesting place in history. Matthew Bacon Sellers was the President of the Northern Central Railway and his son, also Matthew Bacon Sellers, was a great aeronautical inventor who laid the ground work for what we know today as NASA. His brother and sister, Samuel and Annabelle became recluses in the house and never left the house after 1930. Samuel was found dead in the dusty, dimly lit, high-ceilinged parlor wearing the 20 year old suit he always wore. An article in the Baltimore Sun Magazine written in 1955 states "Its era began in 1869 - and really didn't end until last September, when Matthew's son Samuel, a recluse who was virtually unknown in Baltimore despite his considerable wealth, died of old age among a jumble and tangle of old relics." The Sellers Mansion is now in a state of advanced deterioration. There is no more time left for this old majestic beauty. If it is to be saved, it must be saved now.

When she was still in her prime. Photo courtesy of

The mansion is in a serious state of decay.

Photo courtesy of

A close up from

E. Sachse, & Co.'s bird's eye view of the city of Baltimore

Similar view from Bing maps

For further reading about The Sellers Manison, check out these links:

Biography Matthew B. Sellers, II
This is an incredible website about the son of the original owner. There's a section about the mansion as well.

Maryland Historical Trust

Baltimore Sun Papers

Baltimore Heritage
Baltimore Heritage has been advocating for the Sellers Mansion for a long time. If anyone can save her it will be Baltimore Heritage! Please consider donating your time and/or money to this great non-profit organization!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Wm. Knabe & Co. Piano Forte Factory

A. Hoen & Co. lithograph of the Wm. Knabe & Co. Piano Forte Factory
Close up of the old factory from the E. Sachse & Co.'s 1869 Bird's Eye View map of Baltimore

Similar view in Google Earth
The cupola on the BMI lawn
This is an old A. Hoen & Co. lithograph of the Wm. Knabe & Co. Piano Forte Factory in Baltimore. These buildings used to be where the M&T Stadium is now located. The large building with the cupola was located on Eutaw and West Streets. The cupola now resides at the Baltimore Museum of Industry on Key Highway. I've included a close up of the old factory from the E. Sachse & Co. 1869 Bird's Eye View map of Baltimore.
Read about the history of these famous pianos here:
and here:

Welcome to Baltimore History Bits!

Hello and welcome to my blog! My goal is to photograph, research and post little history bits about Baltimore for those of you who love this great city's past (and present, as sad as it currently is). I plan on doing some "Then and Now" photographs and I hope to provide some inspiration to all of us to get involved and save Baltimore's historic places and buildings.