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Cudmore: Harry Bowler’s popular Amsterdam brewery

Cudmore: Harry Bowler’s popular Amsterdam brewery

A faded ghost sign for Bowler’s Brewery on an empty building on West Main Street in Amsterdam is still there, at last report. but its days may be numbered.

Earlier this month, the city demolished a smaller adjacent building that had started to crumble.

Amanda Bearcroft, Amsterdam’s director of community and economic development, said, “Our goal has always been to demo(lish) that whole Bowler’s Brewing Complex, Dudka’s and the Sandell building next door.  They are all in such bad shape that there is no way to rehab anything that is left.  I would love to have a shovel ready site for developers.”

With the smaller building demolished, Bearcroft said the city will “see what funds are available in the future to safely take down everything else.”

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

Young Bowler married a woman from Palmyra, New York, Julia Imogene Millard, and honed his beer-making skills in several East Coast cities before coming to Amsterdam.  To brew his beers, Bowler 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 a five story brick structure in 1896.

The Bowlers had two sons, Arthur and Harry, and a daughter, Sarah Bowler Burnham.  Bowler’s great grandson, Phillip Malcolm Bowler of Burlington, Vermont, said he never got the family’s beer making formulas or any of the money.

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.”

Julia Bowler died in 1913.  Harry married an Amsterdam woman, Anna Wood, in 1915.
He suffered from heart disease and traveled to Newark, New Jersey, in 1917 to consult with a heart specialist.  Bowler, 63, died in his Newark hotel room before he had a chance to see the doctor.  He was buried next to his first wife in her hometown of Palmyra.
Bowler was eulogized as a charitable, community minded family man, politically a Democrat, although he never ran for public office.

Bowler’s sons continued brewing after their father’s death but Prohibition 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.

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