Beginning in 1879 John Fennell managed a wholesale wine and liquor business in Boston Massachusets. He owned the business for over 30 years from 1886 to 1919.
Census records indicate that Fennell was born in Ireland sometime in the early 1850’s and by the mid-1860’s had relocated to Canada where he became associated with Thomas Furlong. Furlong ran a wholesale and retail liquor business in St John, N. B. where he was listed in the St. John and Fredericton Business Directory as early as 1862. That directory also included an advertisement touting his wines, liquors and a product called “Allsop’s Ales.”
When Furlong opened a branch location in Boston he named Fennell as his manager. The notice announcing the opening of Furlong’s Boston branch appeared in the March 14, 1879 edition of the Boston Globe.
MR. THOMAS FURLONG, the well known wine merchant of St. John, N. B., has opened a branch of his establishment at 161 Devonshire Street and 22 Arch Street, under the management of Mr. John Fennell, who has been with Mr. Furlong for twelve years, and in whom he reposes every confidence. He has just issued a neat and comprehensive catalogue, embracing the wines of Spain, Portugal, France and Germany… Mr. Furlong has had experience of twenty-five years in the wine trade, and his selections can be relied upon as of the very best.
It wasn’t long before Furlong was advertising in the local newspapers. Advertisements for “Furlong’s Irish Malt Whiskey” began appearing as early as the March 30, 1879 edition of the Boston Globe.
The Boston branch continued to operate under Furlong’s ownership and Fennel’s management up until October 16 1886 when Furlong turned the business over to his long time manager. Fennel announced the change in ownership in the October 17, 1886 edition of the Boston Globe.
161 DEVONSHIRE STREET, October 16, 1886.
Mr. Thomas Furlong has relinquished the wine and spirit business carried on by him at 161 Devonshire and 22 Arch Streets, Boston, through me and under my superintendence for a number of years past. I have, therefore, the pleasure of announcing that I have opened at the old stand, and that in the future the business will be conducted as heretofore, but in my name solely.
My stock of wines, Cognac brandies, whiskeys, etc., is a very extensive one; and all goods being personally selected, I am in the position to give my customers, as in the past, the same pure and reliable goods at reasonable prices. Soliciting a continuance of the support given in the past, I am most respectfully,
An advertisement that appeared in several 1893 editions of the Fall River (Mass) Daily Herald provided a general overview of Fennell’s wine and liquor menu along with his related sales pitch.
FINE WINES – Having visited most of the wine-producing districts of Europe last summer, and personally selected a large line of fine wines, that are not held at fancy prices, but are honestly graded according to age and quality, I would call particular attention to my stock of sherries and ports. They embrace every variety, from the sound young wine to the rare old vintage of 1847, and ranging in price from Eight to Fifty dollars a dozen and from $2.50 to $10 a gallon.
OLD BRANDIES – have been selected from leading houses of Cognac, and I am in a position to offer my customers pure and reliable goods from the celebrated vintage of 1858, costing $48 per dozen, and fine champagne brandies from $6 to $14 per gallon.
PURE WHISKIES – that are stored in sherry wine casks have a mellowness not found in other whiskies, and being honestly aged are free from those heating qualities usually found in so called old goods. Buying all whiskies from the distillery direct, I can sell fine goods from $8 a dozen up to the celebrated O.F.R., costing $30, and ordinary and special, in wood from $8 to $10 pre gallon.
As evidenced by this March 24, 1887 Boston Globe advertisement, he also continued to sell the same “Allsop Ales” that Furlong marketed back in 1862.
Up through 1902 the company address continued to be listed as 161 Devonshire and 22 Arch Streets. Actually one location, the building occupied the short block between Arch and Devonshire with addresses on both streets. Then, sometime in 1903 or 1904 their address changed to 177 Devonshire and 38 Arch Street.
Fennell’s 1904 liquor license notice described the property like this:
No.s 177 Devonshire St., 38 Arch St., and elevator entrance to cellar at 40 Arch St. in said Boston, in two rooms, first floor, cellar for stock only, of said building.
The company remained at that location until, according to this May 29, 1919 story in the Boston Globe, they closed the doors for good, a victim of Prohibition.
Prohibition claims its first victim in Boston today, when John Fennell will lock up for all time his long-famed wine shop at 175 Devonshire St. and 34 Arch St…”Prohibition is coming and you can’t stop it,” mused Mr. Fennell yesterday amid the mellow atmosphere of jugs, dust laden bottles and ambrosial liquids. “It’s coming like a great wave headed for the bow of a ship and its going to break soon. But it’s going to miss me.”
Here’s some information. Whisper it about. In the past year $200,000 in liquor has passed out of the Fennell shop – and not all, certainly, for immediate consumption. Are the bugs loading up?
“Why look here,” said the veteran liquor merchant, “six weeks ago I said to myself I never could unload my stock by this time. But here I am cleaned out. Not a bottle in the shop.”
Nine years later John Fennell passed away while on a trip to England. According to his obituary published in the June 2, 1928 edition of the Boston Globe:
Mr. Fennell went to England in April and was taken ill on the trip across. He recovered while on a visit to relatives in Liverpool but then had a sudden relapse and died Thursday.
The bottle I found is a cylinder that likely contained a fifth of whiskey. Blown in a three piece mold it’s embossed John Fennell, Boston, so it was likely manufactured no earlier than 1886 when Fennel took over the business.
Fennell’s obituary stated that he was born in St. John, N.B. This conflicts with census records from 1880 through 1920 that list his birthplace as Ireland. For purposes of this post I chose to accept the census records.