Jamaica Plain was the home of most of Boston’s 31 breweries before Prohibition outlawed the sale of alcoholic drinks in 1920. Twenty-four beer makers were located within a 1-mile radius of Columbus Avenue, Heath Street and Amory Street, and many of them have since been repurposed and found new lives as loft housing or office space.
The reason for the high concentration of beer makers lies hidden these days: the aquifer that still feeds the Stony Brook, a stream that now flows underground. Along the Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill line, the aquifer bubbled up into crystal springs.
Traditionally, beer has only four ingredients: extract made from malted barley, hops, yeast and water, the latter comprising about 90 percent of the finished product. So good, crisp-tasting water is crucially important for good brewing.
Coupled with the cheap cost of land in the area after the City of Roxbury merged with Boston in 1868, and the influx of German and Irish immigrants with a taste for lager and ale, it was a recipe for delicious—if temporary—success.
Most of the working buildings of the 24 breweries are gone, but some ancillary buildings still remain. Most are unoccupied and in rough shape, having never been repurposed after Prohibition was repealed in 1933.
Despite its poor condition, the only officially landmarked brewery in Boston is the A.J. Houghton & Co. “Vienna” Brewery, located at Station and Halleck streets in Mission Hill. It operated between 1870 and 1918. The Burkhardt Brewery, active from 1850 to 1918, once stood on the site of a parking lot at Station and Parker streets.
Most of the skilled brewery workers there were Germans and Austrians, and included Rudolph Haffenreffer, head brewer. Haffenreffer would eventually found his own brewery at 284 Amory Street in Jamaica Plain.
Now known as “The Brewery Complex,” that 14 building complex was active from 1870 to 1964, before doing time as a storage facility and being revitilized by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) in the 1990s. Today, it is a home for various local businesses, including a gym, the JPNDC itself, the Bella Luna restaurant, an industrial kitchen and the Samuel Adams test brewery.
Some of the old buildings are still gasping for new life. The John R. Alley/Eblana Brewery at 117-127 Heath St. is currently being considered for redevelopment by Triad Alpha Partners.
The Rueter & Alley “Highland Spring” Brewery, active from 1867 to 1885, still stands on Terrace Street in Mission Hill. This plant closed in 1919 and was thereafter used as a warehouse by Oliver Ditson Company, the Boston music-publishing firm. Also known as “The Pickle Factory,” it has been renovated into luxury housing.
At 251 Heath St., the American Brewing Company is the most elaborately designed brewery still standing in Boston. The three-building complex, now American Brewery Lofts, wraps around a hidden cobblestone courtyard, and the access through a double-arched granite block doorway features three carved terra cotta heads. On the building at the corner of Lawn Street, a tall conical metal roof sits atop the tower and includes several decorative clocks, which announced the shift hours to the brewery workers.
Designed by architect Frederick Footman of Cambridge in 1891, the American Brewing Company was just one establishment of James W. Kenney, an 1863 Irish immigrant. Kenney also founded the Amory Brewery on Amory Street in 1877, the Park Brewery on Terrace Street in 1882 and the Union Brewery on Terrace Street in 1893.
The Roxbury Brewing Company at 31 Heath St. has also found new life, as the new home of the Family Service of Greater Boston, one of the oldest and largest health and social service organizations in the city. Work has been ongoing to convert the 30,000 square foot four-story 1896 brick building into offices since 1998. The building was previously vacant.
Burton Brewery, located on the current site of the Bromley-Heath housing development, survived Prohibition by bottling a soft drink called “Moxie,” currently the oldest continuously manufactured soft drink in America. The drink was created in 1884 in Lowell, Mass. Before Prohibition, Burton was known for Burton Ale, Bull’s Head and Special Porter.
The Stony Brook springs in the Stony Brook Reservation in Hyde Park and flows along the Muddy River through Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill to the Fens, behind the Museum of Fine Arts. After its culverting in the early 20th century, its course changed from a meandering brook to a mostly-straight path that runs along the path of the Southwest Corridor Park.
Information for this article was taken from the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. Its website is jphs.org.