In the New York City of today, the existence of a company town seems an unlikely prospect. However, during the second half of the 19th century, it was a prime location for such a kind of enterprise where all the stores and housing are owned by a sole employer. There were a variety of factors at play, like optimal location, proximity to the harbor, and an ample labor force, to name a few.
Arguably the most famous company town of New York City is Steinway Village in Astoria, Queens, built by Steinway & Sons (who continues to manufacture pianos there to this day.) Yet another such company town once existed on Staten Island. That company itself no longer exists, but some historic treasures from Kreischerville remain to give us a glimpse of what life was like for the Kreischer family and its workers.
Balthasar Kreischer emigrated from Germany in 1836 and within ten years, opened a brick factory on the Lower East Side. Given New York City’s propensity for fires at the time, brick manufacturing was very lucrative due to the material’s "fireproof" qualities. In 1854, he relocated his business to the south-western shore of Staten Island, in present-day Charleston.
The site was advantageous due to its rich clay deposits—as evidenced by the nearby Clay Pit Ponds State Park Reserve—an essential ingredient of brick-making. The factory produced "facing and fire-brick, roofing tiles, ornamental moldings and objects" and its work can be seen in "the terra cotta decoration at Barnard College, the ceramic construction materials and bricks used in the building of St. Luke’s Hospital and the large outdoor gray ceramic urns at Columbia University."
Kreischer’s new facilities for brick manufacturing and clay mining dominated the area, but it was his construction of worker housing that was the impetus for the growth of Kreischerville. The earliest homes, which were tenement houses, were constructed in 1875. By 1890, Kreischer’s firm built the first double houses or semi-detached cottage worker housing on Kreischer Street and Androvette Street. That housing prototype would become the "dominant housing type in the village, with nearly twenty such structures built."
These wood-framed, shingle houses were developed by Peter Androvette, a prominent member of a local family (prior to being called Kreischerville, the area was known as Androvetteville, as the Androvettes were one of the earliest families to settle on Staten Island, circa 1699). Four of these identical houses still remain on Kreischer Street, where the sidewalk is laid with yellow Kreischer brick. The houses have since been deemed New York City landmarks.
According to the NYC LPC Designation Report, Kreischerville’s isolated location prompted the development of other services and buildings that would further contribute to the company town. A post office was set up in 1863 as well as a store Kreischer helped family employee Nicholas Killmeyer establish at 4321 Arthur Kill Road. The store, a mansard-roofed structure built around 1865, still exists today but is not protected by landmark status.
The country store would serve Kreischerville for over 30 years. Killmeyer’s name is still popular today: in 1855, Kreischer sold the property which is now the present home of Killmeyer’s Old Bavaria Inn, a neighborhood treasure esteemed by many.
Several religious institutions existed in Kreischerville as well, yet the only one remaining is the one Kreischer built in 1883, the Free Magyar Reformed Church formerly known as St. Peter’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church. Unlike Killmeyer’s country store, the church has been deemed a New York City landmark.
It wasn’t only Kreischer’s workers who lived in close proximity to the factory. His family also inhabited their namesake company town. During the 1860’s, Kreischer had a massive 26-room Italianate villa erected for himself atop a nearby hill, overlooking his operations. Two decades later he commissioned two identical houses built in the Victorian Stick-style for his two sons, Edward and Charles. Today, only the house for Charles C. Kreischer remains standing at 4500 Arthur Kill Road. This highly-decorated house has been described as "abounding in a variety of jig-saw ornament," evoking "memories of Mississippi river boats" and being reminiscent of a "nineteenth century Swiss chalet."
Charming descriptors aside, the house has quite the gruesome history. The senior Kreischer died only a year after the house was completed, and his son Edward committed suicide with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in 1895 amid financial woes regarding the business.
In 2005, the house gained notoriety when its caretaker was hired by the Bonanno crime family to murder an associate who had fallen out of favor. The victim was stabbed, strangled, drowned, dismembered and deposited into the house’s coal-burning fireplace. Not surprisingly, many contend that the house is haunted.
The house on Arthur Kill Road also has an interesting real estate history. This 4,500-square-foot seven-bedroom, three-bathroom mansion is currently on the market along with its surrounding five acres for $9.5 million. The house was last on the market in 2012 for $11.5 million.
Prior to that, the site was purchased with the intent to develop a senior residential community. The project was later abandoned due to financial concerns. Although the future of the site may be uncertain, it is safe to say that the house will remain a stark reminder of the storied (or perhaps, haunted) past of the innovative company town of Kreischerville.
- Killmeyer's and the Kreischer Mansion: Meat and Murder in Staten Island [Village Voice]
- Curbed Classics archive [Curbed]