by Cliff McCarthy, 2015
In 1854, Balthasar Kreischer established one of the nation’s most important brick manufacturing plants, known as B. Kreischer and Sons, on Staten Island in what is now Charlestown. He was a 19th-century immigrant from Hornbach, Bavaria, who first settled in Manhattan and became a master firebrick oven builder.
Kreischer arrived in New York in 1836, shortly after the Great Fire had destroyed much of Manhattan. Originally his specialty was making bakers’ ovens, but after discovering rare clay beds in New Jersey, he shifted to manufacturing fire bricks which were much in demand. His operation began in Manhattan, but the cost of land there became prohibitive and so he built a larger plant on Staten Island, along the Arthur Kill between Rossville and Tottenville, which he christened Kreischerville. The plant was near another clay bed that he found; Staten Island’s rich clay is among the best in the country. He began operations on Staten Island in 1876 and his Manhattan location was torn down to make way for tenements. Kreischer’s business flourished.
The factory burned to the ground on New Year’s Eve 1877, but Kreischer simply rebuilt and expanded his factory, which re-opened on April 23, 1877. The brick works now occupied three acres of land and employed between 100 to 150 men. They made 20,000 bricks a day — some 3.5 million per year! Kreischer’s bricks were used in the construction all over lower Manhattan.
Kreischer was extremely wealthy. He promoted the Staten Island Railway Company and was a Trustee of the Dry Dock Savings Bank. He was a philanthropist, as well, being actively involved in the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor of New York. He was involved in the German American community in New York and fraternized with the likes of entrepreneurs Andrew Schilling (spirits), Philip Schaefer (beer), and Franz Ruppert (beer). His daughter Louisa married Albert Steinway and it is said that Kreischer’s gift of $75,000 enabled the expansion of Steinway & Sons piano company.
Kreischerville grew and prospered and eventually a post office, a school, and a church were established. However, during World War I, anti-German sentiment compelled the town to change its name to Charlestown, apparently named after Kreischer’s son Charles. The factory finally shut its doors in 1927.
Balthasar Kreischer died in 1886. He never lived in Kreischerville, himself. He did, however, build the Kreischer Mansion, which still stands on Arthur Kill Road, for his son Charles in 1885. No longer occupied as a dwelling, the landmark stick-style Victorian housed a restaurant for many years. The mansion also had a twin which no longer exists.