FOCUS ON HISTORY: The last hurrah for Bowler’s Brewery

Former Bowler Brewery building on W Main Street in Amsterdam on Thursday, September 29, 2022.

Former Bowler Brewery building on W Main Street in Amsterdam on Thursday, September 29, 2022.

Time caught up with Bowler’s Brewery and its ghost sign on Route 5 in Amsterdam’s West End this month.

Emergency demolition of the former brewery and All Seasons Motor Sports building at 399 W. Main St. was ordered by city officials who said the structure had become unstable.

Phil Bowler said some years ago he really wishes he had the formula for the long lasting paint his ancestors used to write the name Bowler’s Brewery on the building. Phil also said he never got the family beer making formulas or any of the money either.

Harry Fitch Bowler started his Amsterdam brewery in 1889. Born in Ipswich, England, Bowler came to Troy at age four where his father, also named Harry, operated a brewery.

Young Bowler grew up in Troy, then worked for a brewer in Virginia. Two of his brothers ran a brewery in Worcester, Massachusetts.

He married Julia Imogene Millard of Palmyra, and honed his beer-making in several cities before coming to Amsterdam. To brew beer, he used water from the Mohegan Spring on the firm’s property on Carmichael Street.

Bowler expanded his wooden Amsterdam plant in 1894. The facility was destroyed by fire in 1895. He then built the five story brick structure in 1896. The New York Central Railroad built a siding adjacent to the brewery in 1905.

In 1912 a Bowler’s newspaper ad stated, “For the sake of the health of everyone in your family, take my advice and tell your mother to always have in the house a supply of Amsterdam Brew, bottled lager beer and still ale.”

Harry’s wife Julia died in 1913 at age sixty. Harry married an Amsterdam woman, Anna Wood, in 1915. He suffered from heart disease and traveled to Newark, New Jersey, to consult with a heart specialist. Bowler, 63, died in his hotel room in Newark on February 9, 1917 before he had a chance to see the doctor. The wake was held at his 24 Grove Street home. He was buried next to his first wife in her hometown of Palmyra.

Bowler was eulogized as a charitable, community minded family man, a Democrat, although he never ran for public office. Pictures survive showing him hosting gatherings for employees and customers, with plenty of beer in sight.

Bowler’s offspring — Arthur, Harry, and Sarah Bowler Burnham — continued brewing after their father’s death but Prohibition of alcohol became law in 1920. 

Beer lovers had a temporary reprieve that February. The federal government let breweries sell beer to those who had medical prescriptions for it. The medicinal beer had nearly twice the alcohol content of beer sold before Prohibition.

“Tell the glad tidings to suffering men!” wrote the Recorder. “The hop hounds are howling in happy hilarity.”

However, Prohibition did take hold and the alcohol industry went underground.

Bowler’s became Chuctanunda Dyeing and Dressing Company to make non-alcoholic products such as soda, at least some of the time. Buildings, land and equipment were sold to the John P. Dugan Company in 1923. 

The operation was renamed Amsterdam Cereal Beverage Company. In 1924 federal agents staked out the plant and impounded a truck leaving the property which appeared to contain real beer.

Historian Hugh Donlon said federal agents raided the former brewery “with crippling frequency.”

In 1927 what had been Bowler’s was purchased by George Largay, a Waterbury, Connecticut, brewer. Largay and Leo O’Mella of Fonda resumed beer production as the Amsterdam Brewing Company when Prohibition ended in 1933. 

Products included Amsterdam Porter, Amsterdam Stout and Linden Lager Old German Style Beer. Beer production ended there in the early 1940s.

Categories: Opinion, Opinion

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