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