Thursday, May 30, 2024

The Successes & Sorrows of Boston's John E. Cassidy

 As an Irish immigrant boy of ten, John E. Cassidy found in America a promised land, rising from “butcher’s boy” to become a Massachusetts millionaire through his prosperous Boston liquor house.  Cassidy’s journey to success and wealth, however, was plagued with tribulations and personal sorrows beyond any which he, or anyone else, might have anticipated.

Born in Fermanagh, Ireland, in May 1836, John was the son of Mary McGovern and Peter Cassidy.  When he was about eight years old,  Ireland suffered a period of starvation, disease and emigration that became known as the Great Famine. The potato crop, upon which a third of Ireland's population was dependent for food, was infected by a disease destroying the crop.  Irish by the thousands left their homeland for the United States, many choosing to live in Massachusetts.

The Cassidys fetched up in Lowell, shown below about 1850.  It was a city thriving as a major industrial center during the mid-19th century, attracting immigrant workers, including many Irish to its mills and factories.  Peter Cassidy went to work as a laborer but died two years after arriving in America.   Mary Cassidy, identified in the 1850 federal census — perhaps whimsically — only as “Mama,” was head of a household that included her six children and five boarders.

As the eldest son, John Cassidy likely went to work as early as possible but likely received some elementary education in the Massachusetts public school system,  then accounted America’s best.  His first recorded job was in a butcher shop, cleaning up and doing odd jobs.  That occupation reputedly was followed by working as a stone cutter and then opening a grocery store in Lowell at No. 6 Lowell Street.

By that time Cassidy was married.  In April 1859, in a Catholic ceremony, at the age of 23 he wed Mary Ann Haviland, 20.  The couple would go on to have a family of four children, two daughters and two sons.  The arrival of their first child, Mary Tracy, may have spurred Cassidy to leave Lowell and move 30 miles south to the Boston area where he was recorded as a “tradesman” and eventually opened a liquor business. The family resided in Watertown, a suburb ten miles from downtown Boston.

This period in Cassidy’s life encompassed the Civil War and there are some  references to his having served in the Northern Army during the conflict.  Helped by the researchers at the Watertown Historical Society (see below), I have been unable to confirm that service.  By the time a draft was initiated, Cassidy was 27 years old, married with one child, and gainfully employed.  No evidence so far has been found of his having enlisted or been drafted.  One possibility is that, like my own (yes) grandfather, he participated in a “home guard” during the conflict. 

Cassidy quite clearly had a excellent business mind and rapidly built the reputation of his liquor house, initally located at Boston’s No. 11 Central Wharf, on the waterfront, shown above.  The proprietor was advertising as an importer of “brandy, wine, and gin” and “receiver of “Kentucky bourbon & rye whiskey.”   Before long the need for more space occasioned a move to 50-52 Broad Street at the corner of Milk Street.  It would become Cassidy’s permanent location.

As a merchant, Cassidy featured a blizzard of liquor brands, including "Atwoods 
Pure Alcohol,” “Beech Grove,” "Boat Club,” "Charles River,” "Chestnut Hill,” "Cumberland Club,”, "G.O. Taylor,” “Grave’s," "Grave's Maryland Malt,” "Hub Punch,” "Judges Favorite,” "Kentucky Union,” "Old Heritage,” "Old Neptune,” "Pine Hill,” "Pure Old Neptune,” "Salt Mash Bourbon,” "Ye Old Pilgrim Rum,” and  “Old Kentucky Club House Whiskey.”  Those labels included liquors obtained from other Boston dealers, like Chester Graves (see post of February 15, 2023).  Cassidy’s flagship brands were “Machinaw Whiskey” and Machinaw Rye,” advertised on shot glasses given to wholesale and retail customers.

In addition, Cassidy was marketing other proprietary brands, trademarking “Old Neptune” and “Salt Marsh Bourbon” in 1875.  He must not have felt the official stamp was worth the money and effort, however, and waited until 1906 when the trademark laws were strengthen by Congress to register “Mackinaw Rye,” “Pine Hill Whiskey” and “Old Pilgrim Rye.”  These liquors likely would have been “rectified” at his Boston headquarters from barrels purchased from distillers and blended to achieved desired color, taste and smoothness. 

Cassidy proved to be an excellent businessman, growing in wealth and prestige in the Boston area.  Although it was not a showy mansion, he ensconced Mary Ann and his children in a comfortable three story house in Watertown.  Shown above, it still stands at 227 North Beacon Street.  The whiskey man’s primary investments were in land.  A portion of an 1898 map of Watertown designates a number of parcels he owned.  Among them was a pine-covered parcel along the Charles River where Cassidy established a saw mill and rapidly harvested the timber.  Commented the Watertown Enterprise:  “To those who see this property since the trees have been cut it is a great surprise as the entire landscape has been changed.”

Cassidy had an plan for the timbers.  They would be part of a steamboat he would build on property he owned adjacent to the river.  As townsfolk watched in awe, the outlines of the first — and only — steamship ever constructed in Watertown began to take shape along a tributary leading to the Charles River.  In In a bow to his resident city Cassidy named it the S.S. Watertown.  Shown below in an artist’s painting of the scene, the steamship was launched on July 30, 1890, as  the thousands of locals looked on to applaud the achievement.

The S.S. Watertown, was 134 feet long, about 21 feet at its greatest width, and built to haul as  much as 400 tons.  During its short lifespan, the ship principally was used for excursion trips from Boston to nearby ports during the summertime and hauled goods from Boston to Lynn, Massachusetts, the rest of the year.  Barely two years after its launching, in September 1892 as the ship was headed to Lynn loaded with groceries, furniture and other merchandise, a fire broke out — ushering in the first of Cassidy’s travails.

As the fire spread, the captain wisely beached the ship to allow the passengers and crew to wade or swim to shore.  Unfortunately, one woman, afraid to jump, was thrown overboard by her husband to save her from the flames, dashed her head on the ship’s propellor and was killed.  The fire consumed the entire cargo and left the vessel a smoking hull.  Towed to Cassidy’s shipyard in April 1893 the S.S. Watertown was bought by a coal dealer planning to restore it.  The shipyard never built another.

The year 1893 also ushered in a series of legal problems for Cassidy as the Boston-centered Metropolitan Sewerage Commission, exercising “eminent domain,” seized a strip of Cassidy’s land twenty feet wide and totaling 50,000 square feet to construct an underground sewer.  Claiming damages for the value of the strip, as well as compensation for the effects of the seizure on his adjoining land, the liquor dealer was forced to launch expensive litigation that dragged on without resolution for almost a decade.

The resulting drain on his resources, estimated at millions of dollars,  eventually resulted in Cassidy being threatened with bankruptcy, a story important enough to make New York Times headlines.  His financial troubles sent a shock through Watertown and environs.  Strongly supporting the liquor dealer, the Watertown Enterprise told the story behind Cassidy’s plight.  While he had large debts and 115 creditors, only two were pressing him into bankruptcy.  The most notorious was the American Distributing Company, known an arm of the “Whiskey Trust,”  a liquor combine with a penchant for using dynamite and other underhanded means for forcing its competition to sell out to it.   The other claimant was a whiskey brokerage allied with the Trust, holding only a small fraction of the debt.  

With no other creditors willing to join their effort, the two ended their campaign to bring Cassidy down.  The Enterprise concluded its defense of Cassidy with this commendation:  “His many personal and business friends will rejoice that this trying time for him is over and that he is now in condition to reach again that ultimate success in business which his character and ability so deeply merit.”  

In an 1898 Watertown city directory amid the loom fixers, tanners and cabinet makers, Cassidy was listed simply as “gentleman.”  A 1904 ad shows Cassidy fully back in stride.  Still operating from his Broad Street-Milk Street headquarters, he was advertising “Old Pilgrim Rum,’  “Crown Gin” and “Fine Kentucky Whiskies.”  His son, William, was working with him and the company name had been adjusted to John E. Cassidy & Son.

Cassidy’s most enduring sorrows, however, seemed endless.  Within the space of 17 years, 1890-1907, he would experience the deaths of his wife and three of his four children.   Mary Tracy, the couple’s first child, born in 1860 a year after the couple was married, died in 1890, only 30 years old.   In March 1889, Cassidy’s eldest son, John Junior, died.  He was only 27.  In April of the same year, Cassidy’s wife, Mary Haviland, also passed away.  She was 67.  Nine years later, son and partner William J. followed in death.  He also was only 27.  Shown here, at the Watertown cemetery of the family’s Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church, Cassidy erected a memorial dedicated to his three children, shown here, — each taken away in the bloom of their young adulthood.

At the time of the 1910 census, Cassidy, now 73, was living with his daughter, Katherine, her husband Peter Palmer, their five children, and a servant girl.  He was recorded in the census as a liquor merchant, indicating continued management of his Broad Street business.  He died on December 8, 1911 at the age of 75.  His funeral was held at the Church of Our Lady in nearby Newton, Massachusetts, reported to have drawn a large attendance.  Cassidy’s obituary in the Watertown Enterprise hailed him “for more than 50 years as one of Boston’s most respected merchants.”

Notes:   This post was made possible by the assistance of two specialists of the Watertown, Massachusetts, Historical Society, Joyce Kelly and David Russo. Ms Kelly was responsible for researching the newspaper files on John Cassidy held by the Society and providing them to me quickly after my initial inquiry to their organization.  Mr. Russo is the author of a detailed article on Cassidy’s steam ship that was published in the April 2012 Historical Society newsletter, “The Town Crier.”  Available online, the article provides a detailed account of the ship’s history.  My gratitude to both for their help.  They demonstrate once again the value of local history organizations.



Friday, May 24, 2024

Booze and Bullets Revisited

On July 12, 2023, I posted an article entitled, “Booze and Bullets:  Mixing Whiskey and Hunting”  It focussed on the frequency with which pre-Prohibition liquor advertisements featured their products within a hunting motif.  As expressed by the bumper sticker above, drinking and hunting have a definite intimacy.  In the time since I have been able to gather other ads that make a similar point.

The first image leaves little to the imagination.  In this ad we see a hunter, shotgun at the ready, who has taken out a flask and is pouring himself a “snort” in the midst of his quest for game.  The text tells the story:  “A good time coming.”  Bagging his quarry is the only thing a sportsman enjoys more than the anticipation of “Cream of Kentucky Whiskey.”  This libation was a proprietary brand of the I. Trager Company of Cincinnati.  The company was being supplied by the Old Darling Distillery of Prestonville, Kentucky, and was in business from 1887 to 1918.

At left is a flask  and label of “Huntsman Straight Bourbon,” the product of the Wisconsin Liquor Company of Milwaukee.  Two hunters are about to join their dog by crossing a fence, a shotgun seemingly dangerously placed.  It suggests that the two have been nipping at their “Huntsman” already.  I have not been able to find much about the origins of this whiskey.  The Despres Company of Chicago sold a whiskey called “Old Huntsman.”

While the letterhead from R. B. Grainger Distilling Company does not overtly feature hunting, the Kansas City, Missouri, pre-Prohibition liquor house flyer that follows leaves nothing to the imagination.  It offers the public the a “handsome TRAVELERS FLASK with ALUMINUM DRINKING CUP with some extra fine OLD  R.B. GRAINGER Straight Kentucky Whiskey….This beautiful FLASK always comes in handy and they are especially convenient for your hip pocket when fishing and hunting….”   This company appeared in business directories from 1912 to 1917.

The Bernheim Brothers and their “I. W. Harper Whiskey” brought us the most subtle whiskey cum hunting image with the saloon sign shown here.  It has all the   familiar accessories of the well-decorated hunter’s cabin, replete with pelts, guns,  boots and a dog.  The I.W. Harper sign is hung discretely from trophy antlers and a wicker covered I. W. Harper jug sits awaiting on a table.  The colorful lithograph on tin is entitled “Here’s Happy Days.”

“Old Joe Perkins” was a whiskey from the Perkins & Manning liquor house of Owensboro, Kentucky.  They were “rectifiers,” mixing up whiskey received from a variety of Kentucky distilleries to create the desired taste, smoothness and perhaps even color.  The partners may have been doing their blending right at the providing distilleries, advertising that their whiskey was available by the barrel or in glass bottles by the case.  This image on a serving tray is a visual joke.  The hunter has killed a duck and instead of bringing him the bird, his dog has fetched a bottle of “Old Joe Perkins” to present him.

When Ohioans look around for the state’s most desirable whiskey bottles, the “Old Nimrod Rye,” shown here, should rank high on the list.  It was the brainchild of Leopold Adler who operated a wholesale and retail liquor house for almost three decades in Cleveland.  The liquor dealer registered this name and bottle image with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on May 12, 1905.  The description on Adler’s application  reads: “A representation of the head of a barrel having thereon the picture of  a man aiming a gun at a bear which stands erect beside a tree with a log in front of him, associated with the words “Old Nimrod Rye Whiskey, Rich, Pure.”

Old Scenter was far and away Henry L. Griesedieck’s flagship brand.  The large sign here was given to saloons carrying his whiskey and indicates what the name meant.  The picture shows a stage coach passing a group of riders returning from the hunt.  With them are their hounds, some of them sniffing.  They clearly are the “scenters.”  A ghost-like billboard declaring “Drink Old “Scenter” Rye” appears on a stone wall behind the tableau.  At age 33 Henry had opened his wholesale liquor establishment located at 713-715 North Sixth Street in St. Louis — the address for its entire business life.  The success of this enterprise may be judged by the fact that within three years Griesedieck had opened a second liquor store at 19 South Six Street.

In 1884 Paul Jones, a forner Confederate officer, relocated from Atlanta to Louisville as a whiskey wholesaler.  Five years later when a local distillery came up for sale at a bankruptcy auction, he bought it for $125,000 and never looked back. With an assured supply of whiskey the Paul Jones Company became one of America’s largest distilling organizations.  Jones provided his client saloons with plenty of decorative signs for their walls, including this picture of dead fowl.

 This addition of another eight hunting motif whiskey ads, labels, and artifacts to those already posted provide ample testimony to the strong links that have existed for time immemorial  between alcohol and hunting — a relationship as fresh as the present.  The moral is:  If you don’t have a gun, stay out of the woods during hunting season and maybe even if you do.

Note:  A several of the “whiskey men” featured here have merited longer biographical treatment on this website in the past.  More detailed biographies may be found at:  Trager, July 10, 2019; Bernheim, Dec. 10, 2014; Griesedieck, Nov. 29, 2014, and Paul Jones, September 4, 2014.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

John Connolly — How a “Home Boy” Built Elmira, N.Y.

Of the liquor dealers featured on this website, more than a few were important for advancing their ciies economically, socially or culturally.   Born in Elmira, Chemung County, New York, in 1850 John M. Connelly, who lived there throughout his life, was a force in his home town on all three fronts.  At  his death in 1929, the local newspaper hailed Connelly this way:  “…His vision was broad and he found his greatest pleasure in doing for his fellows.  He loved Elmira and its people, and in his time and efficient way, did much to make it the fine city it is today.”

Connelly was the son of  Margaret O’Brien and Cornelius Connelly, immigrants from Ireland during the Great Potato Famine.  The couple settled initially in Syracuse, New York, moving to Elmira prior to 1850.  Cornelius was a skilled stone mason, said to have been the foreman on the construction of major Elmira buildings.   The family was far from wealthy, however; the father was idled through the five month frigid winters of northern New York.

The parents seem to have recognized the unusual intelligence and drive of their son and made it possible for him to progress beyond his elementary education and graduate to the Elmira Academy, shown here.  This was a secondary school where Connelly concentrated on business-oriented courses.  Barely a year after leaving school, the youth had entered on his lifelong career in the liquor trade.

Connelly’s first employment was working for C. W. Skinner, who advertised himself as “Wholesale Wine and Liquor Merchant.”  With partners Skinner had established his liquor house in 1868, located at Nos. 2 and 3 Opera House Block on Elmira’s Carroll Street, shown here.  Eventually Skinner became the sole proprietor and hired Connelly who worked for him for the ensuing nine years.  One observer commented that during that period, the youth “thoroughly mastered the business in every department and enjoyed to an unusual degree the confidence and trust of his employer.”

When Skinner died in 1890, Connelly was chosen one of that whiskey man’s executors and asked to manage the business during probate.  The following May he was allowed to buy the company, operating from the same address but changing the name of the enterprise to his own.  Connolly also stepped up sales efforts, hiring traveling salesmen to expand the liquor house markets beyond Elmira and Chemung County to other parts of New York and into Pennsylvania.Commented one biographer:  “Under his capable management the business has increased and annually renders him a good income.”

Not a distiller but a “rectifier,” Connelly was blending whiskeys received from regional distilleries by rail and marketing the results under his own name.  He packaged those liquors in distinctive ceramic jugs.  As shown above, some containers simply had his name slanted along the front.  They were the creation of the Farrington ceramic works, a local Elmira pottery.  As shown below, Connelly also made use of other jugs to market his whiskey to wholesale customers in saloons, hotels and restaurants within his marketing area.

The same year Connelly acquired the liquor house, he also married.  His bride was Catherine Sheehan, a woman 13 years younger and only 18 at the time of their nuptials.  She was the daughter of Peter and Catherine Sheehan, both immigrants from Ireland.  Her father was listed in the 1870 census as a laborer.  The mother of their four children, Catherine, Gerald, Harold and Helen, Catherine proved to be an able helpmate and achieved her own reputation in Elmira for her civic work.

As the 1890s progressed, Connelly grew in his reputation as canny  businessman in the estimation of his peers in Elmira.  As a result when a Chamber of Commerce was created in the city he was chosen as its founding chairman.  Working out of the building shown here, he would hold the office for a decade or more, during which he was credited with bringing new industry and employment to Elmira, helping to swell its population.  

Kennedy hydrant

Among the industries attributed to Connolly’s leadership was the Kennedy Valve Corp. that located in Elmira in 1905 and is still in business there today, having provided employment for thousands of workers for more than 119 years. The company  is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of products for waterworks distribution, potable and wastewater treatment and fire protection.  Kennedy Corp. is most famous for its fire hydrants found worldwide.  

Hilliard factory

Also established in Elmira in 1905 with Connolly’s leadership and still operating there is the Hilliard Corporation, a manufacturer of filters, brakes, clutches and starters for industrial and commercial uses and for consumer equipment.  Its work requires an employee force of skilled machinists, as shown here.  Connolly’s obituary noted:  The impetus given Elmira’s industrial and commercial life at that time is felt to this day.”   The sentiment is equally valid in 2024.

Majestic Theater

Connolly also played a role in the cultural life of his native city, fostering the opening of a state-of-the-art theater to present live performances.  Asked to speak at the opening of the Mozart Theater on East Market Street, Connelly, as Chamber president, told the assembly:  “The year 1908…the beginning of a new era in Elmira history.  The dream of a bigger, better and busier city is fast being realized.”  Later he was part of a 1922 committee that acted in an advisory capacity when St. Joseph’s Hospital began a building program to construct a new surgical center.

Meanwhile, the liquor dealer’s wife, Catherine, was active on behalf of a project known as “Federation Farm.”  This was a residential treatment center opened in Elmira in 1917 for children who were under-nourished, anemic, or exposed to tuberculosis.  Funded by private donations raised by Mrs. Connelly and a partner, the farm property, shown here, became a haven for youngsters whose wellbeing was imperiled.  They were removed temporarily from hazardous living conditions while building up their health. 

Forced to shut down his liquor house with the coming of National Prohibition, Connelly, now 70 years old, could occupy himself with his investment portfolio.  He was vice president of the Columbia Gold Milling and Mining Company of Colorado and also had substantial investments in the oil fields of New York and Pennsylvania.  Dying in late May, 1929, as Connelly approached 80 years old, the liquor dealer extraordinaire was buried in Elmira’s St. Peter and Paul Cemetery.  Catherine joined him there 20 years later, dying at the age of 87.

A fitting final word about this local boy who stayed at home to make his city a better place to live and work was provided by an unsigned editorial in the Elmira Star-Gazette:  John M. Connelly was a leader in business, civic and social affairs in Elmira during many active years.  His name is indissolubly connected with numerous enterprises, all of which throve under his leadership, and whether public or private, invariably achieved success.

Note:  This post was composed from a variety of sources available on the Internet.  Principal among them was Connelly’s biography in the 1902 publication “Biographical Record of Chemung County, New York,”  The S.J. Clark Publishing Co., New York & Chicago. and his obituary in the Elmira newspaper of June 1, 1929.  Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate photographs of Connolly or his wife and hope some alert descendant will see this article and provide them.