The History of Jamaica Plain’s Breweries

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Jamaica Plain cures the thirst and desire for ice cream!

Howard Johnsons

In Jamaica Plain Through Time, I examined the history of Jamaica Plain's neighborhoods with photographer Peter Kingman. We explore the many aspects of the history and development of Jamaica Plain through chapters on Early Jamaica Plain, Along Centre Street, Places of Worship, Schools, Hospitals, Institutions & Clubs, Businesses, Residences and A Streetcar Suburb.

One thing that was of great interest was the number of breweries in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury that provided beet and ale, the Moxie Plant that has a decidedly acquired taste that some New Englanders still cherish and a local Howard Johnson’s restaurant.

The plethora of breweries in Jamaica Plain was one of the major employers during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. On Heath Street, the Highland Spring Brewery had been operating since 1867, and in the 1880s, the Eblana and Park Breweries and the American Brewing Company opened, employing local German and Irish immigrants to fill jobs. The Franklin Brewery extended the beer making district to Washington Street. These and other breweries were all closed during Prohibition, and few survived to reopen after repeal, although many found other uses, and some were repurposed as condos and commercial space. An exception was the Haffenreffer Brewery, which continued until 1964. The former brewery now houses a number of commercial establishments, including the Boston Beer Company, brewers of Samuel Adams beer.

A notable company that moved to Heath Street after prohibition was the Moxie Soft Drink Company. Invented by Augustin Thompson in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1876, the company marketed the distinctively flavored Moxie to shift it from medicinal “tonic,” as it was known, to a soft drink, much like Coca-Cola, which it outsold in the 1920s. The company stopped advertising their distinctive product during the Great Depression, and it never was able to recover their lost market. After the Moxieland Plant closed in 1953, it was torn down by the city of Boston for the building of the Bromley Heath Housing Development -- now known as the Mildred C. Hailey Apartments.

However, one of the iconic restaurants of the 20th century was located at the Arborway Rotary. Howard Johnson’s Restaurants were founded in 1925 by Howard Deering Johnson (1898-1972) in Wollaston, Massachusetts, and were attractive white Colonial Revival restaurants, with eye-catching orange porcelain tile roofs, illuminated cupolas and sea blue shutters. They were described in Reader’s Digest in 1949 as the epitome of “eating places that look like New England town meeting houses dressed up for Sunday.” This restaurant, a franchise that would total hundred by the 1950s, was at Morton Street and Yale Terrace in Jamaica Plain, and today is the site of the Franklin Park Villa Co-op Apartments.

So, with beer, ale, Moxie and the 28 flavors of ice cream, Jamaica Plain was truly a special place.

Anthony Sammarco will be presenting a Zoom lecture on his new book Jamaica Plain Through Time, sponsored by the Jamaica Plain Historical Society, on Wednesday April 7, 2021 at 7 pm.