Located on Hauxhurst Avenue, on a tall cliff overlooking the Lincoln Tunnel Approach and Helix is a German-style castle that dominates the landscape. Completed in 1904 at the cost of $75,000, the mansion has 17 rooms, ornate woodwork, marble, stained glass, and several fireplaces. It was once the home of Wilhelm Joseph Peter, a German immigrant turned successful beer baron.
Now long deceased, Peter was an avid painter, once having an artist studio located within the home. He continued this hobby up until a few weeks before his death.
When the 1930s rolled around, the homes along Boulevard East were acquired by the Port Authority to make way for the construction of the Midtown-Hudson Tunnel. Somehow, the Peter Mansion remained and was given over to the town. It was opened in 1942 as the Weehawken Public Library.
Wilhelm Joseph Peter, also known as William Peter, was born March 16, 1832 in Archen, Germany during the German revolutions of 1848–49. The revolutions were a series of protests and rebellions in the states of the German Confederation, which included the Austrian Empire. He had no choice but to escape for fear of persecution, as he was the son of one of the leaders in the revolution. Starting in boyhood, he had always hoped to be a brewer and this made his parents more than unhappy, but he continued on with his dreams. Eight years after immigrating to the United states, he rented a place for $44 a year, with the option to buy and started a little brewery in West New York, with a kettle capacity of three barrels a day. His business thrived for many years. When his time was up he decided against buying there, and settled on the cheaper properties in Union Hill and was closer to the the summer shows and other entertainment that was taken in by the people of New York.
Not too far from the library on Peters Street is what remains of his business, the The William Peter Brewing Corporation. It is now home to a storage facility. Peters Street was once called Weehawken Street.
Across from the storage facility was a structure I had the pleasure of photographing a few times the past two years.
Sadly, on a recent return trip the structure pictured above had been demolished and was no longer there.
The brewery operation was shut down by Prohibition in 1920. In 1933, the brewery was issued a U-Permit No. NJ-U-329 allowing the resumption of brewing operations.
Trade Names for the brewery at Peter Street between Hudson & Park Aves, Union City, NJ:
William Peter, Palisade Brewery (Hudson Avenue & Weehawken Street) 1859-1889
William Peter Brewing Co. 1889-1920
The William Peter Brewing Corp. (Readdressed to 651/653 Hudson Avenue) 1933-1940
The William Peter Brewing Corp. (Readdressed to 3315/3317 Hudson Avenue) 1940-1949
George Ehret Brewery, Inc. (Readdressed to Peter Street between Hudson & Park Aves) 1949-1950 :http://www.eberhardschneider.com/
In June of 1918, William Peter passed away and now lies in rest at the Flower Hill Cemetery in North Bergen. At the time, it was the largest funeral in New Jersey history and every famous brewer attended.
Flower Hill Cemetery
Early Breweries of New Jersey By Harry B. Weiss and Grace M. Weiss
Drinking In America: A History By Mark Edward Lender, James Kirby Martin
It all started in 1847, when a freed black slave named Mrs. Elizabeth Sutliff Dufler purchased 87 acres along the river and began selling clay to the potteries in New Jersey. Dulfer was born a slave, but went on to became a successful businesswoman in Little Ferry after her clay company along the Hackensack River soon became the second-largest in the nation. She passed away at 90 and is buried at Gethsemane Cemetery in Little Ferry.
Little Ferry was formed during the "Boroughitis" phenomenon that swept through Bergen County, during the late 1800’s from portions of Lodi Township and New Barbadoes Township. It began as an important ferry crossing between the region's towns at Bergen and Hackensack and this ferry is what influenced the name of the town, "Little Ferry", "little" being that it was smaller than another ferry which crossed the Hudson from Jersey City and Hoboken to New York City.
But back to my story..
The first brickyards were established by Cole and Shower in 1872, but soon passed into the hands of John Thume before passing into the hands of the Mehrhofs. Little ferry became a hotbed of activity in the brick industry due to its extensive beds of clay which led to hundreds of people being employed in the brickyards. Bricks on barges floating down the Hackensack River were a common sight.
Many more brick companies would find their place in Little Ferry; W. Felter, Charles E. Walsh, Treviranus & Gardner Brick Yards, and James Gillies were just a few. In 1895, the combined output of the four large yards reached 100,000,000 bricks annually, making Little Ferry the second largest producer in the United States.
By 1904, Little Ferry had in total eight brickyards operating, but soon after World War I, the brick industries of Little Ferry began to decline. In 1923, the number was down to four, and finally the Hackensack Brick Company was the last brickyard to go out of business.
At the eastern end of Main Street is the Classic Mable and Tile.
If we went back 100 years , we'd find this to be the location of Treviranus & Gardner.
Treviranus & Gardner was once the scene of a race riot In which the white residents of the town opposed 75 colored men employed in the brick yards of the company.
The Mehrhof’s were a major family in the brick business. Not only did they have the Mehrhof Brick Company at the foot of Mehrhof Road, but also had the the E. N. Mehrhof Company at the foot of Treptow Street. After the finished product was complete, the Mehrhofs loaded up the bricks into the four schooners to make their way to the markets in Paterson, Newark, New York and Providence, Rhode Island. A schooner is a type of sailing vessel with fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts, the foremast being shorter than the main and no taller than the mizzen if there is one. The Mehrhof firm owned one of the fastest river schooners in the country which was under the command of Capt. "Joe" Kinzley, who retired in 1915. The schooners were later replaced by barges. Horse-drawn vehicles were used for over-land transportation.
The Mehrhofs were originally from Hesse Darmstadt, Germany until 1841, when the father of the family, Philip, left for America and soon found himself in Croton Point where he worked as an architect. He moved to Oneida where he lived out the rest of his life until 1869. The brothers started in the brick industry almost immediately upon coming to America, when they found themselves working for the A. Underhill Company.
The middle child, Peter Mehrhof, was the first to come to the town of Little Ferry where he purchased 120 acres of land and set up shop. He was sooned joined by his brothers.
I visited the Losen Slote Creek Park which has a trail that encircles Mehrhof Pond, which was formerly a clay pit for a brick manufacturing company that occupied the property until the 1940’s. The park is named for the Losen Slote (Dutch for “winding creek”), a Hackensack River tidal tributary. This was once the location of some of the Mehrhof Enterprise.
After visiting the park, I headed up to Washington and Pickens to see Willow Lake. In 1884 it was the site of the Felter brickyard.
Heading further north in Little Ferry, I make my way to Lakeview Field, which is situated around Indian Lake.
The pond was once a clay pit for the brick industry as well.
The clay pits of Mr. Gardner were once the scene of a horrible tragedy when his daughter, just one month shy of her wedding, accidentally fell and slipped into the clay pit and drowned.
Today the brickyards are gone, but one can go and see what is left, the three lakes of Little Ferry; Willow, Indian and the pond at the end of Mehrhof Road. After the brick yards stopped operating, the pumps were left idle which let the ponds fill in.
Thomas Edison was born in Ohio and grew up in Michigan. From a newspaper boy to an American inventor and business man, somewhere along the way he found himself in West Orange, New Jersey. It was here that Edison earned a majority of his 1,093 U.S. patents that he accumulated in his lifetime.
The laboratory complex he once worked out of on Honeysuckle Ave in West Orange, New Jersey is maintained by the National Park Service as the Thomas Edison National Historical Park aka Menlo Park. For a few bucks you get access to an a extensive collection of antiques from Edison's time and the archives which contain approximately five million documents. You also get to see the Glenmont Estate, which was the estate of Thomas and Mina Edison, located down the block in Llewellyn Park.
Out of the West Orange laboratories came numerous inventions including the motion picture camera, sound recordings, silent and sound movies and the nickel-iron alkaline electric storage battery. The first major invention to emerge from Menlo Park was the phonograph in 1877.
Many motion pictures were made at the lab, including the first one ever copyrighted. He even built the first motion picture studio, commonly referred to as the “Black Maria,” in 1893. The studio could be rotated on tracks and the roof opened so that the best natural light could be obtained for a given scene. Demolished in 1903 after Edison moved motion picture production to New York, a full-size replica of the “Black Maria” was built at the laboratory site in 1954 which can be viewed today.
Menlo Park is also known as the birth of the modern industrial research organization and many companies followed his lead. The lab acted as a model for later industrial research labs such as Bell Laboratories.
The lab is definitely worth a visit and is one of my all time favorite museums I have been too.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Gonzalez is a photographer, blogger and historian currently residing in Newark, New Jersey.