In the February 1, 1913 issue of The Power Wagon—”The National Authority on Motor Road Transportation”—the publication applauds the replacement of thirty-two delivery horses by eight electric trucks in a story titled “No Horses for Theodor [sic] Finkenauer.” Finkenauer’s brewery, on the triangle of land between Germantown Avenue, North Fifth Street, and Columbia Avenue (now Cecil B. Moore), had kept its horses in a three-story stable and carriage house just across Fifth Street. Now freed of the horses which were either sold or retired to the country, the stable’s property value increased to $20,000. Ninety-nine years and many incarnations later, it sold for $375,000 more, with an idea of returning the former stable to its brewing roots.
Tim Patton, founder and head brewer of Saint Benjamin Brewing Company, purchased the property at 1710-14 North Fifth Street last February. An enthusiastic home brewer taking his craft (beer) to the next level, he’s fitting out the interior now in preparation of installing the tanks that will serve the nanobrewery’s three barrel production, or six kegs at a time. It’s a small operation—just how he intends it to be.
“I want to distribute to Philadelphia and stay at a moderate size,” Patton says. “I don’t need to market up and down the east coast.”
Specifically, he aims to serve his immediate South Kensington neighborhood with something that does not currently exist. “This is going to be a real pub, not just a tasting room,” Patton asserts. “I really want to provide something you can eat and drink.”
The once bustling Workshop of the World now exists more in local lore than in the many empty lots it bequeathed, but the resultant neighborhood is by no means a wasteland. In fact, Saint Benjamin shares its home block with 85 loft apartments operated by Lasdon Real Estate and spread across three former industrial buildings for which the lofts are named: Lamp Factory, Tie Factory, and Sewing Factory. These names, though, could have been picked from a hat, as the operations housed in the buildings run the gamut from hosiery mill to print shop, goat skin leather factory to new and secondhand machinery concern. (The John B. Stetson Company’s hat empire was centered just across Germantown Avenue from the Finkenauer brewery.)
Even Finkenauer’s brewery went through a number of iterations. Rich Wagner’s 2012 beer bible Philadelphia Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Cradle of Liberty notes that the Germantown Avenue location was originally established by Carl Kramer in 1868 as a small weissbeer brewery, taken over in 1873 by Anton Walz, and finally purchased in 1876 by Theodore Finkenauer. By 1890, Finkenauer had increased production to 15,000 barrels of lager, necessitating a new brew house, boiler house, fermenting cellar, and more room for all the horses transporting the barrels of beer.
A third floor was added to the two story stable and carriage house at some point in the late 1800s. Carriages were kept on the ground level, and an interior ramp led horses up to the second floor, where 40 stables provided shelter. Each one of them was engineered with a slight slope toward a drain to channel out the urine the 32 horses would naturally make.
Finkenauer’s brewery continued to grow until 1919, when the 18th Amendment established prohibition of the sale, production, and transportation of alcohol. In March 1921, the federal government seized and placed several illegally operating Philadelphia breweries, including Finkenauer’s, under guard, spelling their end.
By the 1950s, the Finkenauer brewery was demolished, becoming instead the Motor Cargo company. The stable, meanwhile, was repurposed as a sewing machine factory. In the 1970s, it was converted again, for general warehouse storage, which it remained until its last few years as a garage before Patton’s purchase in 2012.
The building looks like it’s been used as a garage, but Patton is aiming to change that. With a crowdfunding campaign at Lucky Ant which runs through May 8th, Patton hopes to raise $20,000—the building’s 1913 post-horse value—to remove the cinder blocks and restore the original doorway. In short, he wants Saint Benjamin to honor the building’s brewing ancestors better than a bricked over entryway does. And he had a surprise contributor to the campaign to make that happen.
“I was contacted by a distant relative of Theo Finkenauer,” Patton says. “He heard about the campaign through a mutual friend, made a small donation, and connected me to the direct descendants. A lot of them seem to be in the region or South Jersey.” Patton expressed interest in meeting the latter day Finkenauers and giving them a tour.
Of course to do that, a brewery must be there first. Renovations are ongoing and brewing equipment is to be installed this summer, with the intent of brewing on site by September. The full scale 35 seat pub, which Patton says will be open until 2AM with a kitchen that’s open late, will likely come in early 2014. And once growth allows for it, the second floor stable is ready made for expansion.
While Patton has only been home brewing for four years, he’s spent a lot of time researching nanobreweries and traveling to them in beer towns like Portland and Seattle. He also attended the Craft Brewers Conference in Washington, DC last month. The repertoire he’s built from his fast tracked legwork includes the bourbon barrel aged ‘Imperial Cream Ale,’ the Belgian witbier ‘Wit or Witout,’ the ‘Baltic Imperial Stout’—which is actually a porter, but made with grains that give it a stout-like taste—and the flagship ‘Transcontinental,’ a malty amber ale.
Patton says he has plans to do a session lager made with Schmidt’s yeasts, another nod to the city’s rich brewing history. This in addition to the most conspicuous allusion, that to Philly’s most famous beer drinker, Saint Benjamin himself. While Mr. Franklin never said the line so frequently attributed to him on t-shirts—what he actually said, in a letter to André Morellet in 1779, was, “behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy”—he certainly raised a pint or two to keep his throat limber for the ladies.
Saint Benjamin is not scheduled to begin brewing in Kensington until September, but previews of both the beer and the space will be available during Philly Beer Week. They’ll be among the breweries at Opening Tap. Two days later, Patton will lead a bike tour from Franklin Court in Old City, through Northern Liberties and Kensington’s historic beer related sites, such as Ortlieb’s, Schmidt’s, and the plaque marking the first lager brewed in America. The bike tour will end at Saint Benjamin for a tour and, without question, the clinking of glasses.
The author would like to thank Hidden City Daily intern June Freifelder for her assistance on this story.
I’m happy to see yet another old brewery “reincarnated” as a new brewery. Philadelphia Brewing Co. is in the old Weisbrod & Hess brewery complex. When I discovered those buildings in the 1980s I never thought it would be inhabited, much less be converted into a brewery. Pour Henry’s was in the family’s old bottling house and Red Bell (briefly) turned the old Poth brewery in Brewerytown into their production brewery. Here’s wishing St. Ben’s all the best and hopes for a sustainable business venture.
Rich an interesting note about our family. My grandfather Theodor Finkenauer was introduced to his future wife, Bertha Poth who was part of the Poth clan.From what I understand she was only 4’11” and he was about 6’4″. He came to the USA in 1865 from Biebelnheim Germany(this is my grandfather, mind you)While the Civil War was still being waged. They married and had 7 children one of which was my father Frederick Jacob born Jan 15 1881. I was born Sept.28,1935 after my father and his 3rd wife, my mother, moved to the Atlantic City area with my sister. The rest is history. Unfortunately my half-brother Fredrick Finkenauer who was born in Phila around 1908 and was basically raised by his aunt at the homestead at 1610 N Broad St.never put any history in writing which would have provided a great family link.I,my nephew,my wife, and my fiancée who lived in Germany a short distance from Biebelnheim,visited with my 2nd cousin and his family.They all spoke german and he was delighted that someone from the states could talk his native tongue. Hope I am not boring you with this old history, but it shows how hard work and taking chances paid off.
Many greetings from Biebelnheim!
I am looking to the family of Finkenauer and find this notice.
You can look something about Biebelnheim in Wikipedia org