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Kreischerville Workers' Houses, Kreischer Street | by Emilio Guerra
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Kreischerville Workers' Houses, Kreischer Street

Kreischerville, Staten Island

 

The Kreischerville Workers' Houses are a group of four identical double houses, are some of the most readily identifiable of the worker housing erected during the nineteenth century in Kreischerville and other small Staten Island villages that grew up around manufacturing enterprises. The houses, were built around 1890 on a site that was quite near to the Kreischer brick manufacturing works (no longer standing) where the first occupants worked, and originally faced a row of similar houses on the west side of Kreischer Street. The structure survives as an element of the company town character that prevailed in Kreischerville, as the village of Androvetteville came to be known during the nineteenth century when the Kreischer brick works was a thriving concern. The houses were developed by Peter Androvette, a prominent member of a local family, who participated in the nineteenth-century evolution of the hamlet of Androvetteville into the village of Kreischerville.

 

The construction of these houses by Androvette demonstrates the quasi-company-town nature of Kreischerville, where the control of the dominant industrial firm was tempered by older development and local interests which gradually combined. The modest size and lack of ornamental elements of the wood-framed, shingle-clad structure, which has entrances made more private by their side porch location, are characteristic of worker housing of the time, particularly the common semi-detached cottage. The company-town setting of the houses is reinforced by the siting of the houses close together and near the street, and is enhanced by the picket fence and a walk laid in Kreischer brick. They were leased by Androvette to laborers who were employed at the brick works in Kreischerville and other nearby industries.

 

The Development of Kreischerville

 

During the early and mid-nineteenth century, the town of Westfield on the southwestern side of Staten Island, was a rural area with scattered small settlements; the hamlet near the juncture of Arthur Kill Road and Sharrotts Road was known as Androvetteville because of the extensive land holdings of the Androvette family.1 Sharrotts Road connected the community with the village of Woodrow to the east, while the Arthur Kill Road led north to Rossville and the Blazing Star Ferry and also south to Tottenville and additional ferry service to New Jersey. Several small lanes led to the waterfront, much of which was salt marsh, and homes not located near the main roads were near the shore. The residents of Androvetteville included fanners, oystermen, ship joiners, and watermen. By 1850, there were two stores in the hamlet, and the West Baptist Church stood north of the intersection of Sharrotts Road and Arthur Kill Road.

 

The Industrialist and the Waterman. The area around Androvetteville changed dramatically in the mid-1850s with the discovery of refractory fire clays in the vicinity, and the purchase of clay deposits and subsequent development of a fire bricks manufacturing works by Balthasar Kreischer.2 In 1845 Kreischer and a partner had established a business in Manhattan to produce fire brick - a fire-resistant brick used in many industrial applications. Kreischer soon was sole proprietor of the operation that was one of the first in the United States to provide fire brick.

 

In 1853 Kreischer became aware of refractory clay deposits in Westfield. He acquired several tracts with clay deposits and purchased the rights to mine clay on nearby land. Two years later Kreischer established a brick works at the edge of the Arthur Kill (Staten Island Sound), and in 1858 he enlarged his works on Staten Island with the construction of an addition to the factory for the production of clay retorts (vessels made of fire clay in which coal was heated to produce gas). As Kreischer's brick works and clay mining began to dominate Androvetteville, the area became known as Kreischerville. In 1876 the Staten Island facility was enlarged and at that time the Manhattan plant was closed; the newly-expanded works were destroyed by fire in 1878 and were immediately rebuilt. The Kreischer Brick works was a major producer of building materials in the metropolitan area, and like many operations, maintained a headquarters in Manhattan.

 

Balthasar Kreischer, who retired from active management of the brick works in 1878, died in 1886; the firm of B. Kreischer & Sons was continued by three of his children: George F., who had joined the company in 1870, Charles C., and Edward B.3 In 1887 George Kreischer entered into an agreement with the New York Anderson Pressed Brick Company and the Anderson works was built adjacent to the Kreischer facility. The brick works were again badly damaged by fire and rebuilt in 1892. The Kreischer family's involvement with the firm terminated in 1899, its sale forced by financial problems.

 

Several members of the Androvette family remained in the area, many of whom made their livings in maritime occupations. Among the most prominent was Captain Peter Androvette.4 During the 1870s and 1880s, it appears that he lived on the eastern portion of Androvette Street (perhaps at No. 53 or No. 65) where he owned several houses. Androvette became associated with the Kreischer firm as manager of transportation for the brick works; he was master of, and part owner of, several of the Kreischer vessels5 which were used to transport raw materials and fuel to the works and finished products to local points and rail heads.

 

In 1872 Androvette began to build a fleet of steam tugs, lighters, and barges which appear to have been separate from the Kreischer operation. In 1887 Androvette purchased from the Kreischer firm a lot on the north side of the slip adjacent to the Anderson New York Pressed Brick facility; on that site he established an ice, wood, and coal supply business. In 1891 Androvette founded the Androvette Towing and Transportation Company of South Amboy, New Jersey, which operated a fleet of tugboats. He was also one of the founders of the Perth Amboy Dry Dock Company and served as a director and president. Peter Androvette was an officer of the Methodist Chapel at Kreischerville during the 1870s and 1880s, and was later a member of the Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church of Tottenville.

 

Peter Androvette's property management and business skills became evident at the close of the nineteenth century, as the manufacturing heyday of Kreischerville drew to a close. On July 5, 1899, at a public auction following the foreclosure of the property, Peter Androvette acquired the extensive landholdings, buildings, equipment, and stock of the Kreischer firm. In 1902 he incorporated the Kreischer Brick Manufacturing Company for the purpose of manufacturing front and fire brick and other articles.

 

An Industrial Community The main impetus for the growth of the village of Kreischerville was the provision of housing within walking distance of the brick works. Some of the properties Kreischer acquired for his company's clay deposits already had dwellings on them and he erected several additional dwellings to house the work force; by the early 1890s the Kreischer family owned around twenty-five houses in Kreischerville. On the parcel immediately north of the works, stood one of die existing houses, an old Androvette family dwelling (now No. 122 Androvette Street). By 1875 Kreischer had built two large tenements: a frame building east of the older Androvette house that housed six families and a larger brick structure for twelve households (neither of the tenement buildings is standing).

 

During the 1870s, a significant portion of the residents of Kreischerville lived in the tenements and in the boarding houses of Christian Neilsen (who had eleven boarders) and others, a condition that would change by the 1890s. In 1874 the road that became known as Kreischer Street was laid out along that boundary of a parcel of Kreischer's and a plot to the east owned by Peter Androvette. It appears that soon after that, the Kreischer firm erected a group of five double houses and two additional dwellings on the west side of Kreischer Street and five double houses on Androvette Street. Double houses, or semi-detached cottages, became the dominant housing type in the village, with nearly twenty such structures built.

 

Peter Androvette had a role in the development of housing in Kreischerville second only to that of Kreischer. Androvette, like the industrialist, more often leased rather than sold his property although he did sell a house lot on Androvette Street in 1886 to his son-in-law, Henry Scott. Another of Androvette's lots was sold to Washington Hook & Ladder Company No. 1 in 1897. Androvette's property included a three-acre lot on the south side of Androvette Street that he acquired in 1867 as part of the farm of the late Charles Androvette. In 1892 Androvette sold a large parcel at the southern end of that property on which William Cutting built a house and an attached store (now Nos. 63-67 Kreischer Street). It appears that around the same time Androvette built the four double houses on the east side of Kreischer Street, one of which is Nos. 71-73.10 Androvette's houses faced a row of similar semi-detached dwellings on the west side of Kreischer Street, and the Kreischer Street structures formed the core of the worker housing in the village.

 

The relative geographic isolation of Kreischerville prompted the development of an entire village with numerous services as well as its own company town culture. In 1863 a Kreischerville post office was established. Among

the first businesses established in the village were the store Kreischer helped Nicholas Kilmeyer to establish in the building that stands at 4321 Arthur Kill Road (at the comer of Winant Place) and J. Sutton's blacksmith shop on Arthur Kill Road. There were several religious congregations active in Kreischerville. The West Baptist Church (1847) stood near to the community cemetery that remains.

 

The Androvette Chapel, or the Androvette Methodist Episcopal Church, owned a building on the east side of Arthur Kill Road from 1870 until 1884, when the church corporation dissolved. In 1883, B. Kreischer & Sons purchased a lot on the north side of Winant Place as the site for the small church building Balthasar Kreischer erected for St. Peter's German Evangelical Reformed Church of Kreischerville (now Free Magyar Reformed Church, a designated New York City Landmark). The Kreischerville school, District School No. 7, which during the mid-1880s served over 200 students, was located just north of the center of the village on Arthur Kill Road. During the last decades of the nineteenth century, houses lined Androvette Street, Winant Place, Kreischer Street, Manley Street, Arthur Kill Road, and Sharrotts Road.

 

According to reminiscences of residents, Kreischer considered the town named after himself to be a family community, and in a paternalistic manner he advanced money to purchase homes and assisted employees through sickness and trouble. Having become an American citizen, he encouraged his employees - mostly German immigrants like himself - to attain citizenship. His force in the community is reflected in memories that there was a "good tight fence around the entire village," and that "the gates were closed early in the evening,"12 which perhaps have exaggerated the role of the extensive picket fencing enclosing the yards of village houses that is documented in historic photographs. As was common in industrial towns, the Kreischer family maintained conspicuous residences. Kreischer built a grand villa-type residence (probably in the 1860s, no longer standing) on the crest of the hills above the factory (on the east side of the Arthur Kill Road) that visually dominated the village. Around 1886 Charles and Edward Kreischer moved into a pair of similar Stick Style wood villas on the east side of Arthur Kill Road; the house built for Charles Kreischer still stands at 4500 Arthur Kill Road (attributed to Palliser & Palliser, it is a designated New York City Landmark).

 

During the 1880s and 1890s, more residents of Kreischerville resided in houses that they owned as skilled workers joined businessmen as property owners although laborers renting houses continued to be interspersed throughout the village. The skilled and supervisory workers who became property owners included Christopher Biel, a retort maker, who acquired No. 122 Androvette Street in 1888, and Jasper Heitman, a store keeper and superintendent of the clay works, who owned property on the east side of Arthur Kill Road.

 

The division between the old families in the village and Kreischer employees was straddled by men like Charles A. Winant, a member of the family for which Winant Place is named, who entered the employ of the Kreischer brick firm as a carpenter and served as superintendent of the works for over twenty years. The existence of several stores, in addition to William Cutting's on Kreischer Street, implies that there was no traditional "company store" and that private enterprise thrived. Louis Hersher and Albert Heiber were the village bakers, perhaps using the bake shop on the east side of Kreischer Street (between Androvette Street and Winant Place). Some non-essentials were provided by a confectioner and a florist. In addition to Mrs. Sweeney's boarding house, lodging was offered by the Kilmeyer Union Hotel and Saloon (at the corner of Arthur Kill Road and Sharrotts Road) and the Neilsen Hotel (at the corner of Androvette and Kreischer Streets). Respite from the working world was offered by the saloons of August Huth, John Kennedy, Wilt Marshall, Michael J. Morrissey, and Christian Neilsen.

 

The Order of Germania Lodge No. 26 met in Kilmeyer's Hall; either that group, or the Society for the Support of the Poor of St. Peter's Church, was probably the benevolent society established by 1886 to provide aid to sick or injured workers. During the 1890s, most of the village residents worked at the brick works, the clay pits, the International Ultramarine Works (between Kreischerville and Rossville) and the S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company at Prince's Bay. The village residents also included blacksmiths, masons, carpenters, bricklayers, and a tinsmith and plumber. Many of the watermen who lived in the village were members of families that had long resided in the area: Pilot Reuben Simonsen (who would later operate the Kilmeyer Hotel), oystermen James Hannaway and Darius Marshall, and Captains John Lewis, Al Storer, and Daniel Androvette.

 

Around the turn of the century, the population of Kreischerville began to change as did the employment situation. The Federal Census of 1900 routinely listed "day laborer" as the occupation of many residents, although there were still men who operated small service businesses in the town. As the more limited operation of the brick works after 1899 diminished employment possibilities, more workers traveled to the White dental works and the Atlantic Terra Cotta Works (established 1897) in Tottenville.13 A significant addition to the predominantly German population was the influx of many workers from Hungary and neighboring areas in Central Europe. In 1900 most of the recent Hungarian immigrants in Kreischerville were single men who boarded in the homes of Anton Killian and John Laslacasca on Arthur Kill Road, George Lasco on Androvette Street, and others. Hungarian families soon occupied other types of housing in the village, as well as Nos. 71-73 and the neighboring double houses; the Magyar population and its social institutions would remain a highly visible portion of the population of Kreischerville during the twentieth century.

 

Nos. 71-73 Kreischer Street is a two-story wood-framed double house on a masonry foundation. The nearly flat roof, from which a brick chimney (stuccoed) projects, slopes to the rear of the house. The exterior walls are sheathed in wood shingles.19 A fascia and molding terminate the upper edges of the walls. The Kreischer Street facade (as does the rear facade) has four bays of windows which have one-over-one double-hung sash in plain frames. The entrances to the dwellings are through porches that extend along much of the side facades; the shed-roofed porches are open toward the front, with a square wood post supporting the corner of the roof The rear portions of the porches are enclosed and have a window in the side wall and a door facing the street which is approached by a low stoop. The porch of No. 73 has been widened so that there is room for a window beside the door. The side walls have no window openings at the second story.

 

A narrow lawn, lined with trees and mail boxes on posts, separates a sidewalk laid in various hues of Kreischer brick from the street. The front and side yards of the structure are edged by a wood picket fence which has gates supported by square posts at the brick walks that lead to the entrances; a perpendicular section of fence divides the front yards. South of Nos. 71-73, a wide gate gives vehicular access to the yard. The structure is located near to the street, leaving much of the rear of the lot free for gardens and outbuildings.

 

- From the 1994 NYCLPC Landmark Designation Report

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Taken on March 24, 2010