Saturday, April 4, 2015

Henry Fleckenstein: Portland’s Peripatetic Pioneer

At Henry Fleckenstein’s death in Portland, Oregon, a Morning Oregonian headline read “Pioneer Laid to Rest,” and hailed his fifty years as a local resident and successful businessman as senior member of local wholesale liquor firms.   The newspaper, however, failed to note the round-about route that Fleckenstein, shown right, took in getting to Portland and achieving prosperity by selling whiskey. 

Henry was born in 1838 in the historic city of Worms, in the province of Rhine-Hessen, along the banks of the Rhine River in what is now Germany.  His father was Daniel Fleckenstein, likely in the brewing or wine trade that was so important to that region. The third son, after receiving an elementary public education, at the age of sixteen Henry was apprenticed to the brewery trade where he labored for the next six years.   

At that point, Henry’s peripatetic ways took hold.  Not likely to inherit his father’s wealth and seeking better opportunities, in 1860 he left for America.  The trip was made by sailing ship, subject to both wind and calm, and took 35 days before he landed at New York harbor.   Almost immediately he headed off across the continent to St. Louis, Missouri.  It was city with both a large German population and a brewing center. 

Fleckenstein worked in a brewery there for three years, before the wanderlust took over once again.  Retracing his steps to New York, he sailed on a ship for Latin America, disembarking at a town then named Aspinwall, now Colon, Panama.  It was the Atlantic terminus of the Panama Railroad, constructed as a fast route to California during the Gold Rush.   Henry took the train across the Isthmus to the Pacific side.  There he went on board a steamer for San Francisco.  He spent a year there, apparently working in a California brewery.  

Once again he got itchy feet and looking even further westward saw the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) which increasingly were an interest of the United States, but still independent. From San Francisco, he shipped out for Honolulu.  He was intent on starting a business, probably a brewery to provide beer to the growing number of foreign workers coming to the islands.  Possibly because of the growing influence of anti-alcohol Protestant and Mormon missionaries, he was denied a license and ended up working for someone else.  His 1903 biographer related what happened next:  “After thorough test of the prevailing conditions on the islands he found that his health was impaired and a change of climate was imperative.”

Making yet another move, the peripatetic Fleckenstein took a ship back to San Francisco.  Things there did not suit him, however,  and with a short time he moved to Portland, Oregon.  There he found employment as a foreman in the Weinhard Brewery.  Weinhard in 1864 had purchased an existing brewery and then moved the operations to a larger site where business boomed.  Fleckenstein was still intent on running his own business, however, and by 1866 had established his own bottling works.  This enterprise also must have proved unsatisfactory:  the very next year Fleckenstein began the wholesale liquor house for which he became locally famous.

He also found time for marriage.  His bride was Christina Whitman, the daughter of Nicholas Whitman and Genovefa Holinger.   Born in Cincinnati, Christina had arrived in Portland in 1865 with her family.  The young couple married about 1868 in Portland.  She was a decade younger than Henry, twenty years old when they married.  The couple would have four children, Henry, Amelia, Ellie and Bernard (called Ben).
City directories indicate that Fleckenstein’s first location for his wholesale liquor store was 168 Front Street.  Exhibiting some of his earlier restlessness and likely needing to expand, he moved a year later to 147 First Street.    After ten years as single proprietor at that location, in 1876 Henry sold a half partnership to Julius Mayer, a local businessman.  They called their company Fleckenstein, Mayer & Co.  Henry was president and Julius served as secretary and treasurer.  Not long after creating the partnership,  they moved to 12 Front Street and subsequently  to even larger quarters at 24 Front Street.  By 1883, they had expanded their space to include an adjoining store front.   Their next move was in 1890 to 235 Oak Street at the northeast corner of Second Street, the large building shown here.  
They also opened an office in Cincinnati, likely to access supplies of whiskey.  Fleckenstein and partner were rectifiers as well as importers and wholesalers.  They were mixing up whiskey and other liquor in their establishment and slapping on their labels, many of them colorful.  They also were putting their products in amber bottles and flasks with their monogram embossed on the front.   Among their brands, either proprietary or imported included “Billie Taylor,” “Elk Tooth,” “High and Dry,” “Old Hickory,” “Our Monogram” and “The Penwick.”  They also sold a line of fruit brandies and even Damiana Bitters, a male potency builder. As advertising they gave out particularly attractive shot glasses.
During this period Fleckenstein also was making a name for himself in politics, serving in a number of offices in Portland, including a term as councilman for the Fifth Ward.  For a number of years he was a member of the City Parks Commission and credited with his “practical interest in the development of the park systems of Portland.”  Socially he was identified as a member of the Elks, Odd Fellows and United Workmen fraternal orders, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and the Commercial Club.

For 12 years Fleckenstein, Mayer Co. remained a stable, successful enterprise. It was able to open a second outlet at 204 to 206 Second Street.  In 1902, however, Henry sold out his half interest to his partner.  Mayer stayed at the Oak Street address, doing business under the old name.  Fleckenstein moved to the Second Street address and opened a new firm under the name Henry Fleckenstein & Co.  A photo below shows that location.  Henry appears to be standing in front of the business with his dog.
This firm merchandised its own set of liquor brands.  Among them “Bear Valley,”  “Belle of the Pacific,” “Buck Valley,” “Diamond Hill,” and “Old Elkader.”  Earlier he had not bothered to trademark his brands;  now in 1908 he registered both Buck Valley and Diamond Hill.  Gone from his embossed bottles was a fancy monogram, to be replaced by a griffin (mythical beast) trademark.  As he had earlier,  Fleckenstein provided giveaway advertising shot glasses to favored customers like saloon keepers and bartenders.
Even with competition from his old firm, one still bearing his name, Henry’s return to single ownership proved successful.   In 1903 one Portland publication declared:  “This venture has proved a success and Mr. Fleckenstein is now supplying a constantly increasing trade in this and other states.”

As he aged, Henry turned more and more of the business management of his liquor operation over to his son Ben.  Fleckenstein died in July 1910 at the age of 72, hailed for his fifty years of in business in Portland.  With the vicar of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church presiding, his funeral was a major affair with many dignitaries attending.  Among his pallbearers was the mayor of Portland.  Henry was buried in Section 8, Lot 94 of Riverview Cemetery.  His wife, Christina lived another 34 years before joining him.  Shown here is the family plot, but strangely a headstone is missing on both graves.  

The businesses Henry had built over almost half a century had only five more years of life.  In 1815 Oregon voted statewide prohibition of alcohol sales and both liquor companies that bore his name went out of business.  Accounted a “pioneer” in Oregon, Fleckenstein had traveled over much of the globe in search a place to settle and a prosperous career.  When he found both in Portland, this wandering German never left. 

Note:  This post was informed by a number of sources.  A key one was John L. Thomas’s book “Whiskey Bottles and Liquor Containers from the State of Oregon.”  His account was particularly valuable for sorting out the tangle of two liquor firms existing simultaneously with Fleckenstein’s name prominent on both.

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