Thursday, August 28, 2014

H. W. Huguley and His “Old Fashioned Honesty”


Today the men who own the distilleries don’t know anything about pride and honor;  they live in New York or Europe, get a report of each day’s run by mail and if the man in charge of the distillery can’t squeeze a full five gallons out of every bushel, he loses his job;  dividends come before quality every time.  The steam yacht and the cottage at Newport have to be kept going…Every extra pint squeezed out of a bushel of grain means so many more champagne suppers and so many more Havana cigars.”

The paragraph above reads as if it came from the screed of a Prohibitionist indicting the whiskey moguls of the time.  Not so. The quote is from a sales flyer from the company of H. W. Huguley, a Boston liquor dealer with a largely mail order business.  After running down the competition  Huguley had this to say about his own enterprise:

“We are sticklers for old fashioned honesty.  We believe people like to see sixteen ounces to the pound and thirty-six inches to the yard.  We may be a little behind the times but we can’t be convinced that the public ‘don’t care a d— for quality.’  On the contrary, we believe that the average man would rather have a straight article than a crooked article any day….”

This self-described pillar of “old fashion honesty,”  was born Harrison Whitfield Huguley in 1845 in Alexandria, Virginia,  the son of George and Sarah Huguley.  Although the Huguley name is said to be of German Swiss origin, the family on both sides had Virginia ties.  The senior Huguley ran a grocery store at the corner of King and Henry Streets in Alexandria.  The U.S. census-taker found the family there in 1850 with nine children, six boys and three girls, ages ranging from two to twenty.  Harrison, whose name was given as “Henry” by the census, was the seventh child.

Alexandria would become a Union focal point during the Civil War.  Invaded and occupied by Federal troops immediately after Virginia formally joined the Confederacy, the city was a military post and supply point for Federal forces.  Although many locals profited from their presence, Southern sympathies were strong in the town.  The Huguleys, however, likely were pro-Union.  Harrison came of age during the conflict but unlike many Alexandria youth did not escape South to join the Confederate Army.  Rather, he is recorded as having spent those years going to school in Washington, D.C., apparently receiving some medical training.

The idea that this native Virginian was a Yankee at heart is reinforced by Huguley’s post-war career.  While still in his early 20s he was hired as a clerk by the military government established in Virginia and elsewhere in the South by President Andrew Johnson.  No such position would have been available to him if his loyalties had been in question, nor would his subsequent employment as a Federal deputy collector of customs and later as a member of the staff of the surgeon general of the U.S. Army.

In 1866 Harrison married Helen C. Todd, called “Nellie.”  She was a New Englander, born in New Hampshire of parents who were originally from Maine.  The Huguleys would have three children, Harry born in 1868;  Alice, 1873; and Arthur, 1882.  Whether it was the desire of his new wife, or hostility from Southerners, or other causes,  Huguley early on decamped for Massachusetts, settling in Boston.   Although he had escaped service during the Civil War, in 1875 he enlisted in the Massachusetts Voluntary Militia with the rank of lieutenant and served a year.

Like many grocers of his time George Huguley had sold whiskey in his Alexandria grocery.  Harrison, apparently having learned the trade from his father, opened his own liquor business in Boston sometime between 1876 and 1880, claiming it had been founded in 1834.  The 1880 census recorded his occupation as “wholesale and retail liquors.”  Along the way he had become close to Benjamin Butler, a former Union general and ardent abolitionist, who was particularly hated in the South and faced hanging if he had been captured during the war.  In the post-war era Butler served as a Massachusetts congressman and in 1883, one term as governor.  As governor Butler appointed Huguley as his aide-de-camp and gave him the rank of “colonel,” a title Harrison would keep for the rest of his life.

When Huguley returned to running his Boston liquor business full time the local whiskey trade was booming.  Maine had barred sales of alcohol completely but it was still possible to send supplies by mail or railroad express into ‘dry” states and localities.  Huguley devoted himself to serving that customer base.  He advertised that express charges would be pre-paid anywhere in New England when money accompanied an order.  

H.W. Huguley Co., located at 135 Canal St., Boston, offered customers more than 30 different brands.  His flagship labels were “Amor” and “Myopia Club,”  both trademarked in 1906.  The latter was named for a Massachusetts establishment, founded by four brother with poor eyesight, that many believe was the first country club in America.  Myopia Club was featured on a distinctive label and on Huguley giveaway items such as shot glasses and decks of cards.  

All Huguley’s brands, his literature implied, came from his own distillery:  “We are distillers and operate one of the largest distilleries in the world.  Registered by the U.S. Government.  Distillery No. 13, First District Ohio, capacity over 12,000 gallons per day.  Storage capacity over 15,000 barrels.”  The company ads often showed a picture of the facility, reproduced above to open this article.  There was just one thing wrong:  Huguley did not own or operate this distillery, although he may have received whiskey from it from time to time.  The distillery was owned by Frieberg & Workum , as indicated by the photo below of its workers, an image that identifies it as “Frieberg & Workum Distillery #13, Lynchburg, Ohio.”  Other evidence comes from Federal records showing the nearby Cincinnati firm regularly withdrawing its whiskey from bonded warehouses at the distillery during the period 1898 to 1920.  Ohio historians further have confirmed their ownership.

Huguley was, in effect, a “rectifier,” not a distiller.  He was compounding and blending raw whiskeys, slapping on various labels, and selling them, mostly by mail order.  Because, as he boasted, he was not a member of the “Whiskey Trust,” he probably was in a continual scramble to secure supplies anywhere in the country he could find them.  Huguley was no more able to determine that five gallons had not been “squeezed” out of a bushel of grain than guarantee the “purity” of his whiskeys.  So much for Huguley’s “old fashioned honesty.” 

In whiskey merchandising “truth” often was a missing element.  Only occasionally did a liquor dealer suffer economically from misrepresentations and even outright lies.  Certainly Harrison Huguley did not.  Despite disparaging the “Newport cottage” he himself owned a Beacon Street mansion in the Back Bay area of Boston and was an active investor in local real estate.  He was a honored member of several bodies of the Masonic Order and the Boston Lodge of Elks.  He also was considered “one of the best known wine importers” of Boston.

In his late 60s, as his health began to fail, the “Colonel” Huguley with his wife in 1913 embarked on a long, supposedly recuperative, trip to Southern Europe to be followed by one to Latin America.  While in Madrid, Spain, in May, he suffered a stroke and died at the age of 68.  His body was returned to the United States and a funeral held at Sears Chapel, Longwood, Boston, shown here.  The company he had founded carried on until 1916 when the forces of Prohibition, including banning of mail order sales into dry areas, prevailed.  

In summary, Harrison Huguley's story suggests that when someone protests his honesty so insistently, it is prudent to count the silverware before he leaves the house.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Fred Kiesel Opposed Church Rule in Utah and Prospered

After a young manhood of restless wandering through America, German immigrant, Frederick “Fred” Kiesel, settled in Utah where he became a staunch opponent of religious domination in society and eventually an entrepreneur known throughout the West.  In his wide-ranging career, whiskey was his constant ally.

His willingness to tweak the nose of the religious advocates of prohibition and the Mormon Church was epitomized by an 1909 ad shown below that he placed in a magazine called The Western Monthly.  Claiming that “Uncle Sam Is Our Partner,” Kiesel boasted of being able to reach into “dry” Idaho Counties and other parts of the West where alcoholic beverages had been banned.  He said he was able to supply all demands of the thirsty, including “Ministers, Bootleggers, or even Politicians, from the Governor down to the least official.”

Kiesel had been born in 1841 in Wurtemburg, Germany, the son of an affluent shoe manufacturer and retailer who, ironically as it turned out, sent the boy to school to prepare for a career as a Lutheran minister.  At the age of sixteen in 1857, the youth abandoned his studies and sailed for New York and began an odyssey of wandering around America with stops in New York, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.  Kiesel was living in Memphis when the Civil War broke out and spent the next twelve months in the Confederate Army seeing action in the bloody battle of Shiloh.  Subsequently lured West by friends, his first stop was Salt Lake City where he found work in a general store.  Still restless, business interests, including liquor sales, took him back and forth from Utah to Idaho.

Settling down may have been the result of an 1873 trip back to his native Germany where he met, fell in love with, and married Julia Schausenbach, a woman who at 23 was nine years his junior.  Eventually they would have two children, Fred W., and Wilhelmine, called “Minnie.”  Julia accompanied Kiesel back to Utah where they settled in Ogden and with a partner he established there the first exclusively wholesale grocery business in the state, a company that featured liquor sales.

Kiesel had returned to find the Utah Territory riven by controversy.  The leader of the Mormons, Brigham Young, opposed mining, particularly for gold and silver, that many people believed was the economic future of the state, and for some was their livelihood.  The issue generated a territorial political organization called the Liberal Party that was opposed to government control by the Mormon Church.  Kiesel became an enthusiastic and vocal member.  Eventually he would become the first Liberal Party mayor of Ogden, serving from 1899 to 1891.

Although he was frequently involved in politics and served a term in the Utah Legislature in 1901-1902,  Kiesel was primarily an entrepreneur.  He incorporated his business in 1887 under the name of Fred J. Kiesel and Company,  of which he was both president and manager.  He had some 15 employees, both clerks and traveling salesmen who roamed the mountains west as far as Oregon and Washington.  In time the company’s annual sales climbed to the current equivalent of $17.5 million annually.

Kiesel’s wealth allowed him to invest in other enterprises, including some for which he apparently preferred being semi-anonymous.  In one of his Salt Lake City mercantile companies he had employed two young and talented clerks named F. J Rieger and C.J. Lindley.  Early in the 1900s Kiesel put his money behind their opening a wholesale liquor and cigar store and saloon, shown here, next to a major Salt Lake hotel called the Cullen.  Located on Second Street South not far from the Mormon Tabernacle, the business was named for Rieger & Lindley, although Fred Kiesel actually was president of the firm.  A photograph shows the company office with the saloon beyond.  The two figures evicent may be those of Rieger and Lindley, but are not identified.

Evidence indicates that these liquor dealers were also “rectifying” whiskey, that is, compounding and blending stocks and issuing the results under their own names and labels.  Their wholesale liquor, sold to saloons and hotels, was packaged in large stoneware jugs which might range from one or two gallons and upwards with “Rieger & Lindley” strongly stenciled on the front.  For retail sales they sold their whiskey in glass bottles, often with colorful labels as shown here.  “Cabinet Three Star Whiskey” depicted what appears to be the U.S. President, resembling Theodore Roosevelt, and his cabinet.  Their John C. Fremont brand was named for the famous explorer of the West and first non-Native American to climb Pike’s Peak.  Among the Rieger & Lindley brands Fremont Whiskey was the only one whose trademark the company bothered to register.  The company gifted shot glasses for its brands to favored customers.  Shown below are examples advertising “R & S Standard” and “Old Cabinet” whiskies.

Meanwhile Fred Kiesel was branching off into many directions, according to a biographer.  At Arcadia, Oregon, he had a large stock and fruit farm, comprising 1,000 acres, and a ranch at Palmer, Idaho, where he made a specialty of breeding thoroughbred Hereford cattle and Percheron horses.  He was the president and principal owner of a forwarding business at Ontario, a town in the far eastern part of Oregon, handling a stock of general merchandise.  He owned the second largest vineyard in California, located near Sacramento, where he manufactured Cordova grape wines and brandies.  In Ogden he pioneered the establishment of a sugar factory and was known for large investments in mining and real estate throughout the  West.

Despite Kiesel’s being identified as opposing church rule in a strongly Mormon state and a major purveyor of liquor in the West, this German immigrant was chosen as a member of the Constitutional Convention when Utah went from territorial status to statehood.  He also was appointed the commissioner from Utah for the 1893 World Colombian Exposition in Chicago.  He commanded a two and a quarter page biography in a 1900s history of Utah.  Citing railroad and irrigation development Kiesel had championed, the article claimed that he “…has done more perhaps than any other individual person to develop and open up the great northeastern country,” 

In 1917 the Utah State Legislature voted to ban liquor sales completely, the 21st state to do so, and the bill was enthusiastically signed by a non-Mormon governor.  F. J. Kiesel Co. of Ogden stopped selling whiskey and Rieger & Lindley shut down. The mail order business vanished when the U.S. enforced the Webb-Kenyon Act barring liquor sales from “wet” states to “dry.”  

By this time Fred Kiesel was 76 years old and probably resigned about ending his career in liquor, the commodity that had financed so many of his enterprises.  He could also take comfort in the knowledge that he was regarded, as one author put it, “…throughout Utah as a liberal, public-spirited man, ever ready and willing to support movements calculated to promote…welfare and prosperity.”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Quirin Brothers and “Geniune” Whiskey in New Hampshire

In 1908 the New Hampshire Board of Health decided to test the content of alcoholic beverages being sold in the state.  Of 301 samples taken and tested by its chemists 244 were allegedly whiskey, including a number of bottles collected from the shelves of a Manchester liquor store run by the Quirin brothers, Eugene and Joseph.  The results were sobering.
The findings of the study supported the contention of a doctor who had reported to federal authorities more than a decade earlier that within New Hampshire “almost all the whiskey and some drugs are adulterated.  The Board of Health asserted that less than 10% of the whiskeys tested could be classed as “straight” or, in the opinion of Dr. Irving Watson, its director, truly “genuine.”  The other whiskeys were termed either partially or totally “artificial,” among them all the samples obtained from Quirin Brothers.

The brothers had been born in Alsace-Lorraine, France;  Joseph in 1854 and Eugene, shown above, in 1865.  According to census data, both had come to the United States as young men -- Joseph in 1873, Eugene in 1883.  They settled in Manchester, a city with a large and sometimes discriminated-against French-Canadian population.   Eugene was the first of the Quirins to enter the public record, listed in 1892 as a grocer on Manchester’s Main Street at the corner of Marion.  With a partner named Duhaime by 1897 he also was the proprietor of a wholesale and retail liquor store located at 129 & 135 Merrimack.

By 1905, Duhaime had departed and Eugene was joined by brother Joseph in a liquor enterprise they called Quirin Bros., located at 85-89 Manchester Street.  In addition to selling well known brands like “Paul Jones Whiskey,” “Pepper Rye,” “Hunter Rye,” and “Old Baker,”  they marketed their own brand of whiskey, liquor they likely mixed up in a back room.  They sold it in large ceramic jugs both to local saloons and to retail customers.  The Quirins also sold wines, some of them in embossed blob-top bottles, as shown here.

Meanwhile, each of the brothers had wed.  Joseph in 1875 was the first. His wife was Mary Jane, a native of New Hampshire, who was barely out of her teens when they married.  Eugene was married in 1895 to Marie, who like himself was of French parentage and born in France.  The 1910 census found these Quirins with four children in their home, three boys and a girl, ages 14 to 3. 

Eugene Quirin appears to have been the more dynamic of the brothers.  He rapidly became a prominent businessman in Manchester with an import business and travel agency in addition to his grocery and liquor enterprises.  A member of a variety of social clubs, he also gained a reputation for his local philanthropic efforts.  Active in politics, Eugene was elected as a delegate to the 1904 Republican convention in Chicago. In addition, the younger Quirin was becoming increasingly wealthy.   As an expression of his rise, in 1906 he and Marie bought land on the west side of Manchester, a highly fashionable area of that day, and built an imposing Queen Ann style house, shown here as it currently looks.  Although Joseph was less prominent as a businessman, he appears to have been involved in operating a Manchester shoe store.

Given the Quirins standing in the community, the verdict of the Board of Health that they were not selling genuine whiskey must have come as exceedingly disturbing news.  The judgment came down particularly hard on the liquor the brothers were selling under their own name in the large jugs.  The Board of Health report branded it as an “imitation,” and “completely artificial,”  maintaining it contained no whiskey whatsoever, although it might have such ingredients as burnt sugar, “beading oil” and tap water.  

In what might have been the cruelest cut of all, the Quirins' brand additionally was traduced as being low in alcohol.
Moreover, “Green Valley Club” and “Royal Crown Old Rye” from the brothers’ shelves were cited for being misbranded because they were blends masquerading as straight,” i.e. “genuine” whiskeys.  Even when blends were identified properly the Board of Health took a dim view.  The label of Paul Jones Whiskey obtained from the Quirins was pictured in the report and shown above.  Although the bottle correctly identified its contents, the report still was critical:  “Not infrequently the conspicuous addition of the little word “blend” is made to serve as a license for, and in extension of, the boldest misstatements upon the face of the label."

Although there is no evidence of fines being levied on the Quirins or other negative effects from the state report, unexplained stresses eventually would end their partnership and each brother went his own way.  The 1914 Manchester business directory listed Eugene as now established under his own name as an “Importer & Wholesale Liquors”  with a store adjacent to his Main Street grocery.   Meanwhile Joseph remained at the old Manchester Street address  and was advertising as “successor to Quirin Brothers.”  He primarily emphasized his establishment as importing wines and brandies and advertised only a single whiskey, “Rosemount.”  That brand was not one singled out by the Board of Health report nor was “Old Home Week Whiskey” for which Joseph issued a shot glass, shown here.

Although both Quirins ultimately were shut down by National Prohibition, they might have had “the last laugh” on New Hampshire authorities. Shown here is a photo taken at a Manchester philanthropic organization designed to aid French-Canadian immigrants.  Eugene Quirin stands second from left.  The man sitting behind the table draped with an American flag is the President of the United States, William Howard Taft.  It was Taft who ultimately settled the issue of the authenticity of whiskey.  Against the recommendations of his staff and a presidential commission, in 1909 he unilaterally decreed that blended whiskeys should be considered just as genuine as straight — a decision that has stood to this day.  Had Eugene Quirin been whispering into the President’s ear?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

“Chalk” Beeson Brought Liquor, Law, and Sweet Music to Dodge

Dodge City, Kansas, above, was known as the roughest, toughest, most lawless town in the West.  It was, that is, until Chalkley McArtor Beeson, shown below, came to run the famous Long Branch Saloon, stayed to help bring law and order, and in the process organize a highly celebrated cowboy band that played at a Presidential inaugural.

Called “Chalk” all his life, Beeson was born in Salem, Ohio, in 1848,  the seventh child of Quakers Samuel and Martha Beeson.  His early career aspiration apparently was to be a musician and it was said of him that he was so talented that he could play any instrument in the orchestra,  In 1868 at the age of 19 he left home and moved to Denver where he found employment driving a stagecoach and working with a group of musicians.  At the same time he was gaining a reputation for his ability with firearms, claiming that he “drank bullets in his coffee for breakfast.”

His reputation caused the Grand Duke Alexis to seek him out at a Denver grand ball where the Russian was being honored and Beeson was playing the violin.  The Archduke asked him to guide what became known as the Royal Buffalo Hunt of January 1872.  In addition to the Romanoff imperial party, the hunt included two famous American generals,  Lt. Gen. Phil Sheridan, who had made his name as the fearless leader of the Union cavalry in the Civil War, and Gen. George Custer, who was about to enter his campaign against the Sioux and was killed two years later at the Battle of Little Big Horn.  The hunters encountered thousands of buffalo southeast of Carson, Colorado.  They killed about 200 and the Duke returned to Russia with hides and meat.

By the mid-1870s Beeson had moved near Dodge City, a bought a ranch, and rapidly became wealthy in the cattle business.  In July 1876 he married Ida M. Gause, a woman six years his junior.  They would have three sons, Merritt, born in 1878; Claude in 1881, and Othero in 1890.
Meanwhile Chalk with a partner in 1878 bought what would become one of America’s most famous saloons, The Long Branch, shown here.

This drinking establishment had been opened in 1873 in Dodge where there were nineteen places licensed to sell drink in a town that numbered only about twelve hundred inhabitants.  Under Beeson’s guidance the saloon sought to distinguish itself by maintaining a “high toned” atmosphere:  No dancing, no encounter rooms with women, and only high-grade liquor served. Patrons also could be served milk, tea, lemonade and sarsaparilla.  The clientele included leading citizens—railroad men, cattle barons, buffalo hunters and travelers.  Even the name “Long Branch” signaled class, taken from a celebrated sporting resort on the Atlantic seaboard.

Shown here is the interior of Beeson’s establishment with its carved wooden bar, large mirror topped with the horns of a steer, and vested bartenders.  The walls were covered with paintings, many of them of the typical saloon variety.  Among them is said to be one shown here of two prancing steeds pulling a cart on which a nude woman is reclining.  I believe this art work was the product of A.D.M. Cooper who ranged the West selling his pictures for liquor.

Whiskey was the drink of choice for most in Dodge City, some 300 barrels being consumed annually, it was said.  But as railroad service improved and the town became more prosperous and less rowdy, carloads of beer began arriving from St. Louis and elsewhere, much of it bound for Beeson’s Long Branch Saloon.  In 1879, this facetious note appeared in the Dodge City Times:  “A young lady, Miss An Heuser, is stopping in the city at present.  A great many gentlemen have called on her and express themselves well pleased with her general appearance.  The only criticism we have heard made is that the length of her neck is a little out of proportion to that of her body.”  The vintage bottles of Budweiser shown here give meaning to the story.

The Long Branch is where Chalk became acquainted with noted lawmen, gunmen and even outlaws of the time, men like Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Bill Hickok, and Bat Masterson. Throughout this period Beeson’s reputation as an outstanding citizen — and perhaps a steady gun — had been rising.  He was asked to run for sheriff of Ford County, was elected and served two terms from 1892 to 1896.  Among his accomplishments while serving as sheriff was when he killed a member of the notorious Doolin gang after it had robbed the Spearville Ford County Bank in broad daylight and escaped into Oklahoma Territory.  Without waiting for a posse and almost singlehandedly he tracked one of the bandits to his hideout and in the ensuing melee shot him fatally.  For that act, Beeson collected the rewards offered by the state, banks, the railroads, and the insurance company for apprehending, dead or alive, a member of the Doolin Gang. 

The newspapers of his time were high in their praise of Sheriff Beeson  They described him as “a quiet, almost noiseless man” who believed in stopping trouble before it began and yet someone who “always got his man.” “He came to Dodge City when every man carried a gun and the fittest survived,  Beeson survived.  But he is not fierce.” Then the writer added, likely in jest, that Beeson had “not shot a man in several days.”  After his stint as sheriff his fellow citizens elected Chalk to two terms in the Kansas State Legislature where he developed a reputation for avoiding bombastic speeches and working quietly among his colleagues to get things done.

Throughout all this time in Dodge, Beeson had not forgotten his music.  He first created a small orchestra to play at the Long Branch for the clientele as they drank, one in which he played violin.  In 1879 he organized the Dodge City Cow-Boy Band, a brass ensemble of men dressed in cowboy regalia and carrying six guns along with their instruments, as shown below.  Beeson appears to be sitting at the far right.  The band played nightly outside his saloon.  

When in the summer of 1882 Beeson’s band received an invitation to enter a competition in Topeka, Dodge City cattle men, merchants and ordinary citizens came forward with funds to outfit the members and defray band travel expenses.  Organizers, however, disqualified the Dodge City musicians on the grounds that they were “professionals.”  But Chalk and his cowboys had the last laugh when the band was invited to Washington, D.C., in 1889 to march and play in the Presidential Inaugural parade for Benjamin Harrison.

Chalk Beeson has been seen as a transitional figure, living long enough to see the wild West tamed or, as the Kansas City Star put it:  “One may now walk the streets of Dodge City and Abilene, and by exercising reasonable control of his mouth, may get back to the hotel without being carried on a screen door.”  One photo, showing Beeson, center, standing as repairs are made to an early automobile, epitomizes the changing times. The age of horse transportation was ending.

For Beeson, however, perhaps not soon enough.  In August 1912, he was sitting on a horse at his ranch watching a nearby construction crew.  A sudden noise spooked the animal.  It bucked and Chalk was thrown hard against the saddle horn causing internal rupturing. The man who had survived for years amidst the constant dangers of Dodge City could not be saved.  Three days later, Beeson died at the age 64.  

His funeral was held at his ranch while his grieving family and many local businessmen, political and civic figures, fraternal society members, and church representatives gathered to pay their last respects to man who, they said, had given so much to Dodge City and Ford County.  Chalk was buried at Maple Grove Cemetery, Ford County, where the family’s monument stands near his headstone.  One observer that day seemed to sum up the stunned feelings of many when he said:  “We just thought that one of Chalk Beeson’s strengths could withstand the worst kind of injury.”

Note:  Beeson sold the Long Branch Saloon in 1883 and it burned in 1885, not to be rebuilt.  A new establishment named Long Branch Saloon was built as part of the Boot Hill Museum entertainment and theme park in Dodge City.  The exterior, shown below, was modeled on photographs of the original building and is furnished with an 1881 bar backed by carved eagles said to have been owned by Chalk.  Oh yes, a Dodge City Cow-Boy Band is part of the entertainment.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Whiskey Built Charles Kraemer a DC Mansion on a Hill


When Charles Kraemer emigrated at the age of 12 to the United States, eventually settling in Washington, D.C., he lived with his mother and brothers in a rented row house.  Subsequently his residence was on the top floor of his downtown liquor dealership.  Revenue from selling whiskey in time allowed him to build his own house, a mansion on a hill that subsequently fueled a lawsuit and currently is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Born in Germany in 1854, Kraemer, about the age of 12,  came to America in 1866, just after the end of the Civil War, a conflict that had seen a tremendous growth in the Nation’s Capital.  The 1880 census found him living in a simple residence on Fifth Street, N.W., with his mother, Christeana, and his older brothers, Henry and John.  All the men were working and unmarried while their mother tended the home. Charles’ occupation was given as “clerk in a wine store.”

Kraemer was learning the liquor trade during those early years and saving his money.  Striking out on his own sometime around 1895, he established a firm he called Chas. Kraemer Wholesale and Retail Wines & Liquors, located at 735 Seventh Street in downtown Washington.  His business was housed in a four story building, shown here.  It featured a large bay window where his merchandise amply could be displayed.  1897 ad in a Washington newspaper provided an illustration of the interior.  Barrel after barrel and a long line of shelved bottles testified to the abundant stock of alcoholic goods Kraemer was offering.

It is likely that one of the upper floors contained a “rectifying” operation, that is, Kraemer was blending and compounding raw whiskies and selling them under his own name and in his own embossed bottles.   His flagship label, likely whipped up on the premises, went by the unusual name of “Fineza,” a brand he registered with the Patent and Trademark Office in 1901.  He advertised Fineza extensively in the Washington press.  It was a rye whiskey, he claimed, eight years old and “absolutely pure.”  Like other liquor dealers of his time, Kraemer championed the medicinal qualities of his whiskey.  In a 1904 ad he claimed endorsements from “leading physicians,” for Fineza, adding:  “In case of sudden illness it’ll prove of great value.”

Another widely advertised Kraemer medicinal was a bottled table water product called “Manitou,” an Indian sounding name that promised that for the stomach it would “expunge the record and renew the vigor.”  Once again said to be physician recommended, Manitou Water, Kraemer advertised, contained “…the best products to act on the stomach, liver, and kidneys.”

Water, however, was not the beverage that made Kraemer a success.  Washington has long had a reputation as a “drinking man’s town,” with Congress and Administration officials heightening the demand for liquor.  As a result many establishments like Kraemer’s dotted the DC landscape, creating intense competition.  One way to distinguish a business from the others was to wax lavish gifts upon both wholesale and retail customers.  Charles had learned that lesson well.  Not only did he distribute shot glasses advertising Fineza, but also gave out more expensive items like the metal match safe shown below.  Shaped like a whiskey flask with a screw top, it was made to house wooden matches before the age of the safety match.

While his business grew, Kraemer was having a personal life.  About 1880, he had left his mother and brothers on Fifth Street NW and married a woman named Johanna.  She was six years junior to Charles and, depending on the census, born either in DC or Germany.  The couple would soon have one child, Lillian, born in 1887 in Washington.  The 1900 Census found the Kraemers living in the 735 Seventh Street building, probably on the top floor of the liquor store.  This was not an usual household as many American liquor dealers thought living above their establishment had distinct advantages.  Not only were owners close to their stores for commuting purposes, they could be on alert against break-ins.   

Those arrangements often were temporary.  As whiskey men became increasingly wealthy — and perhaps their wives wanting something more elaborate — they often found it expedient too move from above their businesses to a larger residence at a fancier address.  For Kraemer it signaled the opportunity to build himself and his family a mansion.  For the location he selected a location then on the outskirts of Washington called Mount Pleasant. Originally a bucolic country village, by 1900 Mount Pleasant had become a fashionable streetcar suburb.  Choosing a lot on a high hill at 1841 Park Road in 1906, Kraemer engaged a talented architect from a prominent Capitol Hill family named Clement Didden.

Didden & Son designed a frame house for the whiskey dealer that subsequently has been described as: ”The finest of several large   Colonial Revival houses built in the Mount Pleasant area in the early 20th Century.”   One of its most notable features, shown here, was an entrance pavilion surrounded by Ionic Greek pillars and topped by a second floor balcony.  Kraemer clearly found the house much to his liking and spent the rest of his life there.  The 1920 Census found him, his wife and daughter, Lillian, now 23, living there.  Kraemer’s was listed as having no occupation,  his liquor business having been shut down about 1917 when Congress, in a fit of Prohibitionist fervor, voted to make the District of Columbia “dry.”

Even then Mount Pleasant was changing, becoming more of a working class and immigrant neighborhood.  During the 1920s the all-white Mount Pleasant Citizens Association began promoting a covenant binding homeowners never to sell their houses to “Negroes.”  Charles signed it, seemingly forgetting his own past as an immigrant to America.  When he died he left the house to his only child, by that time married and known as Lillian Kraemer Curry.  With a more enlightened view, in 1950 she sold the house to a prominent black gynecologist.  When the Citizens Association erupted in a firestorm and sued Lillian, the story made newspaper headlines.  Down the road in DC, the U.S. Supreme Court had already declared such covenants unconstitutional and the association lost in District Court.  The gynecologist lived in the house for the next 50 years.

Shown here is a current photograph of the house that Charles Kramer built.  It is on the National Park Service’s roster of historic places for its “architectural and historical” value.  Part of that history is the German immigrant whose success in the liquor trade took him from a row house in the center city, to an apartment atop his business, and finally to one of the grander mansions in Washington.