Watertown Consumers’ Brewing Company Becomes Northern Brewing Company (1892 – 1943)
The Northern Brewing Company, formerly the Watertown Brewing Co., began in 1892 making Indian Pale Ales, Cream Ales, and Porter. Though its original offices were located on Mill Street, the brewing was actually done in Cape Vincent. Shortly afterward, the office relocated to 457 Poplar Street, off W. Main St near the river and a stumble (or crawl!) from Court Street Bridge.
In 1893, The Argus from Mount Vernon, N.Y., reported on March 18 about the Brewing Co. “draughting” a major league baseball player–
Michael J. Griffin, the centre (sic) fielder for the Brooklyn base ball club, has become a member of the Watertown Brewing Company, just formed. It is not known here that this means Griffin’s retirement from base ball, as he is in Watertown on business connected with the new enterprise, but thus far has not signed a contract to play this season.
Mike Griffin would eventually sign and play with the Brooklyn team that year, but his role in the Watertown Brewery was never revealed. He would have the distinction of being the first Major League Baseball Player to hit his first home run in his first major-league at bat in 1887 with the Baltimore Orioles. While the Brooklyn Bridegrooms, he would also perform duties as an occasional coach.
When Griffin unofficially retired from baseball, he returned to his hometown of Utica and managed local breweries but passed away at the early age of 43 in 1908 from pneumonia.
In April of 1893, the Watertown Brewing Company landed brewmaster Frank Winslow of Utica Brewing Company who left for a more lucrative opportunity with the burgeoning brew-business in Northern New York.
By 1904, the Watertown Brewing Company had changed its name to Watertown Consumers’ Brewing Company and acquire the local agency of the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company. In 10 years, the former Watertown Brewing Company experienced growth to the effect of considerably more than three-times its original size, allowing it to make the acquisition. Oddly enough, in the press, both names were used.
In 1925, a raid on the brewery would result in the seizure of a freight care with beer valued at $5,500 and a subsequent investigation that the Watertown Daily Times reported–
(By the Associated Press.) Syracuse, Jan. 2 — Robert Angell, new prohibition director for central New York, celebrated his fire day in office, officially, by seizing two carloads of beer, each valued at $15,000, according to popular wholesale price quotations.
The first car was seized at Watertown and the second in this city. A third car was sought en route between the two cities.
The refrigerator car of the New York Central railroad, containing 100 barrels of three and half per cent beer, which was seized by federal agents and county officers on Thursday morning at 9 on the new building of the Watertown Consumers’ Brewing Company, 457 Poplar Street, is being held on the siding under guard until a federal prohibition officer arrives from New York City. Agents also have charge of the brewery.
The confiscation, which is the biggest made in Watertown and Jefferson County since the Volstead act went into effect, was the result of a two weeks’ investigation by Sheriff W. E. Button and his deputies. Since the middle of December the sheriff has had the brewery under guard following information that ‘near-bear,’ which contained more than the legal amount of alcohol, was being shipped out of the city in refrigerated cars.
In 1927, troubles had continued to mount for the Watertown Brewing Company. Two judgements were made against them for not paying over $4,000 combined in malt purchases made to create near-beer. The Watertown Daily Standard reported at the time–
At present the Consumers’ Brewing Company is closed and three federal agents are guarding the place. Very little business has been conducted since two car loads of beer were seized in the local freight yards. James Cleary, owner of the brewing plant, can not be located and much discussion is under way as to what will become of the brewery.
The Watertown Brewing Company evidently operated a soda bottle plant next door and, during prohibition, continued operation unbeknownst to local authorities via an underground tunnel connecting the two structures. It was only after a box car full of ‘soda’ derailed in Syracuse that the operation was discovered and shut down.
In 1933 the Watertown Brewing Company was leased to the Troy, N.Y, outfit, Northern Brewing Company. Two years later, according to the Syracuse Journal, May 3, 1935 issue–
Negotiations for the sale of the Northern Brewing Company, formerly the Watertown Consumers’ Brewing Company, 457 Poplar Street, to Francis K. McEvoy and other local persons, and Frank K. Winslow, Utica, were in progress Thursday at the law offices of Sexton & Sexton, Utica.
The Watertown Consumers’ Brewing Company Plant, owned by the late Frank J. Winslow, Utica, who recently died, was shut down before the repeal of the national prohibition act, but was leased before repeal became effective to Edward Wachter, Charles Wachter and Joseph E. Spain of Troy, who opened the plant under the Northern Brewing Company.
Winslow, who passed away at age 66 in 1935, was one of the original owners of the Watertown Brewing Company and served as its brewmaster for 10 years.
The Northern Brewing Company continued on until WWII and then fell into financial trouble. In January 1943, it closed under the sheriff’s levy upon its property. Having failed to make payments to creditors and unable, with its limited capital, to compete against other breweries that were gaining market shares, the Northern Brewing Company was forced to file for bankruptcy with liabilities nearing $80,000 against assets of $38,000 and never reopen.