When Frederick G. Goetzmann, a Jewish immigrant, took proprietorship of his own liquor business in the midst of the U.S. Civil War, he likely dreamed of building this enterprise into major whiskey wholesaler in Rochester, New York, and he succeeded. Frederick could hardly foresee the fate that would befall his liquor house after his death, and luckily so.
The Goetzmann story began in 1828 in a German-speaking part of France, called Rittershofen, Bas Rhin (Lower Rhine), Alsace Province. Frederick was the son of David aka “Dahfeat” and Jean Frederic aka “Sarah” Goetzmann. When he was just a small boy, his father during the 1830s uprooted the family and emigrated to the United States, settling in Rochester. Frederick likely received primary and perhaps some secondary education in local schools, before going to work.
In 1850 Frederick made the public record in Rochester by getting married. His bride was Sarah S. Feiock, apparently known as Salome, who had been born in the same French-German town as he had. Since they could hardly have been sweethearts in the homeland, it suggests that they met on American shores. They would go on to have nine children, girls: Louise born 1851; Julia, 1856; Elizabeth, 1857; Clara, 1871; and Wilhelmina, 1873; and boys: Frederick Jr., 1855; Henry, 1860; Charles, 1863; and William, 1873.
Census data from 1860 indicates Frederick began his career working as a machinist. By 1863, however, he was reported in local business directories as a partner in Goetzmann and Caring, liquor dealers located at 14 South St. Paul Street. The following year Caring had departed the scene and Goetzmann was listed as sole proprietor of the St. Paul Street business, described as a distiller and liquor dealer. This occurred during the waning years of the American Civil War and Rochester, like many other Northern manufacturing cities, was booming from war work.
Goetzmann met with considerable success and as the trade card above indicates had added importer and “rectifier” to his credentials. The latter meant that he was blending raw whiskeys in order to achieve particular taste and color and bottling them as proprietary brands. Among Goetzmann’s offerings were "Beaver Valley Rye,” "Blue Bell,” “Brookdale,” "Conemaugh Pure Rye,” "Fern Leaf,” "Spring Water,” "Star Light Pure Rye,” and "Tuscarora Pure Rye.” Of those labels, Frederick trademarked only Brookdale in 1890.
The growth of Goetzmann’s business and the requirements of rectifying meant that he needed more space. An artist’s rendering of his new quarters at 9 Atwater Street shows the building as three stories with large display windows in front, indicating retail as well as wholesale sales. The structure also became the centerpiece of one of the several trade cards the company issued.
Goetzmann like to claim the title of distiller, declaring as his “The Goetzmann Distillery Co., 23rd District of Pennsylvania.” That facility was reputed to produce his Brookdale Rye. It was, in fact, the Guckenheimer Distillery, one of the Nation’s most notable. Asher Guckenheimer and his family had made the Guckenheimer brand tops in America, scoring 99 out of a possible 100 points for quality at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and winning a gold medal. Although Goetzmann’s advertising that this distillery was his own was a stretch, such claims were commonplace in the whiskey trade. Wholesalers frequently made such assertions if they held major contracts for product from particular distilleries.
As his sons matured, Frederick took them into the business. Henry appears to have been the first. He was on board when likely needing even more space the firm moved from 9 Atwater to 134 North Water Street. A letterhead from 1882 shows significant differences from the earlier headquarters. Gone are the large show windows inviting retail sales. Now a center door allows horse-drawn wagons to carry barrels and jugs of whiskey and other spirits directly from the building to retail customers. The depth of the structure and two side ports also suggest a substantial wholesale trade.
By this time the Goetzmanns were claiming ownership of two other distilleries, both in Kentucky. The Spring Water Distillery was located outside Bowling Green at a place called Memphis Junction. Apparently a relatively small plant, the owner, according to court documents, was R. B. Meyler. The Fern Cliff Distillery in Jefferson County was located on the east side of Logan between Breckinridge and Lampton. Originally called “Pride of Anderson Distillery” it later was renamed The Fern Cliff Distillery, with its president listed as Joseph Schwab. It is highly doubtful that the Goetzmann’s had anything but contracts or minor investments in either of them.
By that time 67 years old and seeking other avenues for his growing wealth, Frederick was taking forays into insurance and banking. He was a founding member and first secretary of the Rochester German Insurance Company and became a director of the German-American Bank. Both were housed in the German Insurance Building on West Main Street, shown here. About 1888, F. Goetzmann & Sons Co. moved there with a street entrance. By that time another Goetzmann son, Charles, had joined Frederick and Henry in the liquor business.
In 1890, like many whiskey barons before him, Frederick decided to build a spacious house for his family and chose noted Rochester architect, Otto Block, to design it. The resulting structure was of sufficient interest that drawings of the exterior and interior of the building were featured in the October 1890 issue of the American Architect and Building News. The prestigious address was No. 9 in the Hyde Park District of Rochester. The interior illustration was of an unusual fireplace, replete with fancy moulding and shelves for treasured items.
In 1899, Frederick Goetzmann, age 71, died and was buried in the Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester. In the 1900 census, three sons — Henry, Charles and William — were all listed as working for the liquor house. Henry now was the president and chief executive officer. Then something went terribly wrong. Within months the business that Frederick painstakingly had built for more than 35 years was in bankruptcy.
The failure merited a substantial story in The Wine and Spirits Journal, a major trade paper. According to the account, company indebtedness approached $50,000 (equiv. to more than $1 million today) and its assets were only $22,515, including the value of whiskey in its warehouses. The claims against the Goetzmanns help tell the story. Guckenheimer Co. stated that it had delivered them goods — likely whiskey for their brands — amounting to $8,950 for promissory notes that had not be paid off. Fern Cliff Co. alleged it delivered $11,733 worth of product on the basis for an unpaid promissory note. P.W. Engs & Sons Co., a New York wholesaler, had the same experience with its $1,455 bill for whiskey supplies. The Goetzmanns defaulted on all of them.
Moreover, criminal intent was alleged. Valuable warehouse certificates, the property of Fern Cliff, reputedly had been transferred illegally to the German-American Bank to the favor of the Goetzmanns. Worse yet, Henry had disappeared. As related in the article: “It is charged that Henry Goetzmann, head of the company, left home in July for parts unknown….but that he has since been drawing funds from the company. It is claimed he has been heard from in Butte, Mont., Boston, and Chicago, but that he refuses to return to Rochester.”
In other words, Henry had left others, including his brothers, “holding the bag.” How low the House of Goetzmann had fallen! The bankruptcy proceeded and eventually the claimants received some compensation. The family sold their mansion and moved to a less pretentious homestead. William and Charles, both bachelors, went into business together manufacturing pianos. Henry eventually came back to Rochester. Frederick Goetzmann & Sons Co., however, disappeared forever.
Both Mother Sarah Salome and William died in 1914, Charles in 1934. Henry lived until 1921 when, apparently having contracted an incurable disease, he committed suicide. He was laid to rest in the New Hope Cemetery with other Goetzmanns, including his father. Shown here are the gravestones of the two men: The father whose energy and intelligence guided the Goetzmann liquor house to the top and the son whose business practices are alleged to have brought it to ruin.