History of the Point Brewery, Pittsburgh


June 30, 2014

Brewing came to Pittsburgh with a Union Jack. Seven years after the British Army started construction of Fort Pitt they built a brewery. No evidence has been found if they built a sports pub or just had tailgate parties every Sunday. The party lasted for another seven years when they packed-up and left for good. Twenty-three years would go by until a Scotsman from New Jersey came to town to help put down the whiskey rebellion but also saw opportunity. George Shiras wrote to his father and asked him to buy property and here is where it begins.

Actually, the flag at the time was the King’s Colours, which had the blue field of Scotland, the red cross of Saint George and the white cross of Saint Andrew. The diagonal red cross of Saint Patrick was not adopted until 1801.

The British Army Brewery and any beer brewing in homes notwithstanding, the Point Brewery was Pittsburgh’s first commercial brewery and was getting underway just as Pittsburgh was becoming a borough in 1794.

Location Number 1
Summary of Key Dates

1755 Fort Prince George (British)
1755 Fort Duquesne (
French)
1758 Fort Pitt (
British)
1764 Blockhouse built by the British
1765 Brewery built
1772 Fort Pitt (
British) abandoned. The stones, bricks, irons, etc. were sold for £50 New York currency. The fort was sold to Ross & William Thompson by Captain Charles E. Edmonstone of the 18th Royal regiment much of the outlying structure of the fort was recycled.
1772 Alexander Ross buys the land of the fort.
1772 He sells the Blockhouse to Alexander McKee
1774 Fort Pitt was in position of the Virginal militia.
1776 Big day for us
1781 Ross & McKee (
loyalist) have their land confiscated
1784 Penn family laid out lots
(
Wood’s Plan of Pittsburgh and assisted by Vickroy)
1779 Penn family (
loyal to the crown) had their land divested
1791 Fort Pitt demolition
1794 Purchased by Peter Shiras
1802 O’Hara buys the land at the point

British Army Brewery
The British occupied a fort at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers at Pittsburgh from 1758 until 1772. Tavern Trove suggests the British operated a brewery at the fort between 1765 and 1780 but these dates are suspect. It is a historical fact that the land at the point was sold in 1772 to Alexander Ross and William Thompson. It would be reasonable for the British to brew but research is void of evidence to its location at the fort. A story in The Pittsburgh Press, April 20, 1901 stated that Craig and Bayard established a distillery in the old brew house, which would have been the British brewery. The Keyon map (below) gives the location on the site of the old Fort Duquesne and this is where Shiras had his brewery.

Mary Carson Darlington was the author of
Fort Pitt and letters from the frontier. Page 151 (below) describes an order given on June 4, 1763 that each man was to have one pint of beer issued to him to-morrow at noon by the Sergeant major. Obviously this supports the notion that a brewery certainly existed during their occupation.

William Trent kept a journal of the activities at Fort Pitt in 1763. Some of the women were used to cut spelt, which is a grain. It would be reasonable to have this in use for cooking and brewing.

Douglas R. Cubbison in Th
e British Defeat of the French in Pennsylvania, 1758, writes that Forbes’ army marching on Fort Pitt (in 1758) had a brewery in his service. Captain John Hambright (b. May 12, 1719 Prussia) was with the 3rd Pennsylvania Battalion (AKA Augusta Regiment after Fort Augusta). Captain Hambright was from Lancaster, Pa. and was known to have had a malt house there as well as a brewery within the Borough. He was to have brewed small beer and spruce beer on route. Cubbison notes that Forbes took hops with him on the exhibition but he makes no mention if Hambright brewed in Pittsburgh after taking control of the fort.

Keyon Map Location
The
1835 Keyon map of Pittsburgh shows a brewery at the tip of the point sitting over the remains of the French fort Duquesne. This is adjacent to Penn Avenue and matches that of the Shiras brewery as shown on a map in the history of Fort Pitt.

Whiskey
All sorts of the trades were being undertaken after Pittsburgh was established as a borough in 1794. Brewing was not one of them. Distilling was however performed by many on small scales at home. Whiskey was valuable and many depended on it to sustain a living.

The government was operating under the Articles of Confederation until the Constitution was ratified in 1789. Until then it could not levy taxes. A tax on whiskey was not well received in western Pa. and in 1791 an insurrection resulted in 1791 causing George Washington to send troops to put it down.

George Shiras was a member of the New Jersey State Militia, sent to western Pennsylvania in 1794 to aid in suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion. He had to have seen opportunity here as he stayed and sent for his father. Peter Shiras acquired land at the confluence and was to have partnered with Robert Smith in this acquisition.

Conflicting Information: Some sources have stated that Peter Shiras bought Ft. Pitt from the Federal Government whereas one source indicated that he only purchased the bricks. Another site said that the fort was auctioned off.

Craig & Bayard
Isaac Craig & Stephen Bayard bought lots at the point in January 1784. They set up a distillery and it is believed to have been in the old brewery. There were private stills making whiskey for home consumption but they are credited in having Pittsburgh’s first distillery and being one of Pittsburgh’s first manufacturers. It may have been closed during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. Craig owned the fort and his family lived in the blockhouse. The 1794 date fits in with Shiras buying the fort that year. Bayard left the firm in 1788.

The
Pittsburgh Press, April 20, 1901: Notes of a Saunter in Brewery Alley.
Brew house in 1872. With respect to Craig & Bayard, the article has them establishing a distillery, having bought the land in January 1784. The article has “They set up a distillery, and did they not do so in that old brew house?”

It was believed that Ft. Pitt was to have been sold off by the government in 1795. However, Trunbull & Co. demolished Ft. Pitt (1792?) and sold off the material. They owned the land until 1797. If this date is correct then it somehow conflicts with the date Shiras bought the land in 1795.

As Peter Shiras was to have sold his land to James O’Hara in 1802 he would have had to purchase this land originally. Bricks were used to build Point Brewery, which suggests that the old brewery was removed or in another location. Notice was given to area residents of an auction of all salvageable remains (brewery included?) of the fort on August 3, 1797 after the U.S. Army decommissioned the site.

It should be noted that Peter Shiras was born in 1738 and George in 1774.

Peter Shiras & Robert Smith Brewery (1794 – 1802)
George Shiras (b. 1774, son of Peter) arrives in Pittsburgh in 1794.
Peter arrives and opens a brewery in 1795.
Peter Shiras and Robert Smith acquired land at the point of Pittsburgh. Peter Shiras built a home there as well as building a brewery. Robert Smith sold his interest to the land to Peter Shiras (unknown date) but Peter retires in 1802 (age 64) and sells the land back to Smith. George Shiras returned as manager when Smith first left and continued as manager when Smith re-acquired the land and brewery.

Retirement Dates for Peter & George Shiras
George Shiras was brewing by 1794 when he was 20 years old but discontinued after the land sale to O’Hara in 1802. Peter Shiras retired in 1802 and moved back to Mt. Holly. George left brewing at the age of 36 in 1810 and retired to his farm, which was 22 miles from Pittsburgh. His sons, William and George Jr. continued in brewing.

O’Hara – Reed – Coppinger Brewery (1802 – 1814)
George Shiras departs as brewer and Coppinger becomes the brewer.
It is believed that Smith was acting as O’Hara’s agent so that O’Hara could take control of the land and brewery in 1802. When O’Hara took control, Shiras once again left. O’Hara was more interested in the land so he partnered with master brewer Joseph Coppinger. Coppinger leaves Pittsburgh in 1814 and once more, Shiras (b. 1774) returns as manager.

Fleming, in
The History of Pittsburgh & Environs, page 470 has an entry of Coppinger opening a brewery in 1803. This could be in partial reference to he and O’Hara partnering to buy the Point Brewery. Coppinger left Pittsburgh in 1814. O’Hara died in 1819.

O’Hara Brewery (1814 – 1819 & beyond)
Coppinger departs as brewery and Shiras returns to become the brewer.
After Coppinger leaves Pittsburgh in 1814, O’Hara has full control over the land and brewery. George Shiras had retired from brewing in 1810 but two of his sons continue at the brewery for O’Hara and his heirs. The brewery operated until 1835 when it was moved closer to the center of town. (This date should have been closer to 1826 and the brewery should have been the one associated with George W. Smith) George Shiras Jr., son of George, was owner of the Point Brewery at this time.

Fort Pitt Block House Bottle Storage
Emily M. Weaver in her 2013 book, The Fort Pitt Block House describes large amounts of glass fragment were found during an archaeological dig of the floor of the Block House. She submits a theory that the house was used to store beer bottles for the brewery. James O’Hara, who owned the land and brewery, also operated a glass house that produces bottles. There were virtually no other buildings at the point and the house was ready made.

Mary Elizabeth Schenly owns a brewery (I’m stretching this)
1835 Error in Brewery Closing
After James O’Hara died in 1819, his land holdings and businesses were left to his daughter Mary O’Hara (William) Croughan. Mary gave birth to a second daughter who passed away shortly after her birth. Thus, when Mary died in 1827 her first daughter, Mary Elizabeth (who was only a year old) became heir to the O’Hara holdings, including the (now closed) brewery. Mary Elizabeth went on to become Mary Schenly, and every Pittsburgher should know who she is? The book, Ft. Pitt suggests that Shiras operated the brewery until 1835 but I believe that cold be an error. Shiras moved his operations to Pitt Street (Location No. 2) in 1826 and it stayed under his control until 1835. I wonder if this is the date the Daughters of the American Revolution are referring to?

The O’Hara Misconception
It is common to read publications stating that James O’Hara “founded” or “built” the Point Brewery. This is not true as the brewery was operating prior to his ownership. He was more interested in the land and had a brewery not been in place he would have purchased the land anyway.

Point Brewery Advertisement
The
Pittsburgh Gazette carried an ad by George Shiras (for J. O’Hara) for the Pittsburgh Point Brewery. The date of the Post was May 5, 1807, but the date for the ad was November 3, 1806. The ad was to inform the pubic that the brewery was in operation and that its Porter ($6/barrel) was fit for the Natchez and New Orleans market. The Best Strong Beer was for export or home consumption for $6 and the middling quality was for families at $3.50/barrel. The family beer was available by the barrel or half barrel anywhere in the Borough. “Orders from the Town or Country, directed to the subscriber, will be carefully attended to.”

Pittsburgh: A sketch of its early life. By Charles William Dahlinger:
As Dahlinger specifically mentioned beer I take this as the brewing of beer was opposed to the brewing of ale. As the people of Pittsburgh were predominantly English at this time the brewing of ale (without hops) would be common. As the English were brewing beer (with hops) at the time I can assume that hops were coming into Pittsburgh for this purpose.

Note:
George Shiras placed an ad for O’Hara in 1806 (above). Yet he was not to have been with the brewery from 1802 to 1814 when Smith was present. George had a son, George Jr., but it could not have been his placing the ad as he was only born in 1806.

George Shiras Jr. Brewery (1826)

The O’Hara heirs sold the brewery to George Shiras Jr. in 1826.

Pittsburgh Fire 1825
In The Standard History of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by Weston Arthur Goodspeed 1898, he cites the Niles Register of December 1825 on a large fire in Pittsburgh that started on December 13, 1825. The fire destroyed an “extensive” brewery.

Brewery Alley
Brewery Alley, named for its association with the Point Brewery, was east of the rear line of the brewery and led to it. The alley was only 9 feet wide and ran parallel with Penn Street and about 98 feet north of Penn. Eight feet north of the alley was the Redoubt, known today as the Blockhouse. Later it became a part of Exchange Way. Reference: Fort Pitt by Charles William Dahlinger, 1922, page 73.

Point Brewery Malt House
Penn Street near Point Alley
The house is shown on the Hopkins 1882 Atlas, Plate 1 but the 1871 atlas does not describe the property and the owner’s name is un-readable. The
Pittsburgh Gazette Times, July 24, 1911, mentioned a substantial brick building that was used as a malt house. A brick wall supported two of the ramparts where officers played ball. This supports the claim that the Point Brewery had a malt house from the former officer’s quarters. Pugh places the malt house on Wood’s Plan of Pittsburgh at lots 3, 4 & 5. These are the lots also identified with O’Hara. This house was destroyed by fire in 1813.

Location Number 2


Point Brewery – George Shiras Jr. (1826)
Goodspeed, in Standard History, has George Shiras Jr. operating the brewery at the Point (Location No. 1) as late as 1825. George announced in 1826 that a new brewery of brick is to be built. This is the brewery (Location No. 2) shown on the Keyon map of 1835.

Point Brewery – George W. Smith (18??)
Thurston also identifies the brewery being established by Shiras in 1826.
The George W. Smith, Point Brewery was listed in Thurston’s 1857 Directory of Pittsburgh being located at Pitt Street and north of Duquesne Way. Page 313 indicated that the brewery was there from 1848 to around 1860. Smith was a malster and hop merchant and made celebrated Kennett and East India Pale Ales in wood and glass. Beer in the wood means that it is stored, transported, and served in wood casks. In the glass means that it is bottled beer.

About George W. Smith
George (b 1799) worked for Brown & Verner for three years starting in 1829 and then became a partner. He then bought the brewery but sold it in 1862 when he moved to East Wheeling, Virginia. He also had a brewery in East Wheeling since 1847 that he operated until his retirement in 1865. Henry Moore built the (Wheeling Brewing) in East Wheeling in 1822. Reference: West Virginia became a state on June 20, 1863.
George Smith came to American in 1819.

Keyon Map of 1835
The 1835 Keyon map of Pittsburgh shows Shiras’ Brewery on Pitt Street between the Allegheny River and Penn Street. Musson has this brewery being built in 1826 and belonging to George W. Smith. This is correct as noted in the George W. Smith entry (above) and the clarification (below). The map also shows the brewery at the site of Fort Duquesne.

Clarification: Evidence shows that George Shiras built a new brewery in 1826. George W. Smith did not come to Pittsburgh until 1829 when he worked for Brown & Verner. He bought the B&V Brewery in 1835. The Brown & Verner Brewery is shown on the Keyon Map at Liberty at Barker. The Shiras Brewery is shown at Pitt and Duquesne. Thurston in Pittsburgh, as it is has Smith at the Point Brewery (between 1804 to 1840 as a general range) at Pitt Street. Thurston also identifies the brewery being established by Shiras in 1826.

Evidence is stronger on the side of Smith owning the Pitt Street brewery, formerly owned by Shiras and not retaining the Brown and Verner Brewery along Liberty. I suggest the Smith sold the B&V Brewery on or after 1835 and bought the Shiras Brewery.

End of Location Number 2


Franklin Brewery

Front & Second, between Smithfield and Grant
The brewery was noted in the Harris
General Business Directory of 1841 having O. P. Shiras as proprietor. The 1837 Directory of Pittsburgh lists George Jr. Shiras and O. P. Shiras at the brewery on Pitt Street. This was a separate brewery from Franklin.
Oliver P. Shiras (b. October 22, 1833) was born in Pittsburgh but he would have been too young to be the Shiras mentioned.

Virginia Brewery

James E. McWilliams in A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America, Columbia University Press, Nov 1, 2007, page 315, denotes Shiras and Smith opening “their Virginia Brewery” Smith and Shiras advertized that they would offer 5 shillings for a bushel of barley. McWilliams also notes that Thomas Jefferson was brewing beer from Indian corn. Jefferson was actively seeking Coppinger’s book, The American Practical Brewer and Tanner, on this matter.

1774 the fort in Pittsburgh was taken over by the Virginal militia, but reclaimed by the Continental government. I do not think McWilliams was alluding to the take-over. I think Virginia Brewery was a serious error on his part.

Fort Pitt Blockhouse
Daughters of the American Revolution
(Henry Press, Charleston, SC 2013)

The book Fort Pitt Blockhouse by the Daughters of the American Revolution (Henry Press, Charleston, SC 2013) is an excellent source of information on the history of the Point. I have taken material relevant to the brewery and tabulated it below along with my comments.

-Trunbull & Co. demolished Ft. Pitt (1792?) and sold off the material.
-The Point property was owned by Turbull, Holker, & Craig until 1797 when it was sold to Peter Shiras. (
1797 may be an error)
-George Shiras came to Pittsburgh in 1794.
-George’s father Peter Shiras and his business partner Robert Smith came to Pittsburgh in 1795 at the request of George.
-Peter and Robert founded the brewery in 1795.
-Robert Smith sold his interest to the land and brewery to Peter.
-Peter retires in 1802 and sells the land and brewery back to Smith.
-George Shiras is brewery manager.
-It is believed that Smith was acting as O’Hara’s agent so that O’Hara could take control of the land and brewery.
-O’Hara partners with Joseph Coppinger in 1802 and buys the brewery.
-George Shiras leaves
-Coppinger leaves. George Shiras returns as manager. (
Fleming indicates that Coppinger left Pittsburgh in 1814)
-Robert Smith continued to own the brewery until September of 1805 when O’Hara bought the land and took full control of it.
-The Shiras family continued to operate the brewery on behalf of O’Hara and his heirs.
-The brewery operated until 1835 when it was moved closer to the center of town. (
This date should have been closer to 1826 and the brewery should have been the one associated with George W. Smith)