Owen Clark operated a mineral water manufacturing and bottling business in Long Island City, New York from the early 1870’s through the turn of the century. Over the life span of the business Clark was forced to completely start over on two separate occasions as a result of devastating fires.
Census records indicate that Clark, an Irish immigrant, arrived in the United States in 1849. While his first decade in the United States is a mystery, by the early 1860’s he was serving as a Union officer in the Civil War. According to his obituary, published in the October 17, 1906 edition of the Brooklyn Times Union:
He served through the Civil War as a second lieutenant of Company C, Seventy-seventh Regiment, N. Y. V.
After the war he settled in Long Island City, New York. Located just across the East River from Manhattan, Long Island City operated independently of New York City at the time. It wasn’t until 1898 that it was consolidated with New York City becoming part of Queens County.
Clark’s Obituary went on to say:
In old Long Island City he served several terms as Alderman, and also served as Police Commissioner under former Mayor Petry, and was a member of the General Improvement Commission under former Mayor Gleason. He conducted a bottling business and owned considerable real estate in Long Island City and vicinity.
As early as 1868, Curtin’s Long Island Directory listed Clark with an address of “Jackson Avenue, near 5th Street,” and the occupation “liquors.” It’s not clear if the bottling business was up and running at this point but it was certainly active by the early 1870’s.
The business listed that address until 1875 when a fire swept through the facility. The June 15, 1875 edition of the New York Times reported on the blaze.
About 2:20 o’clock yesterday morning a fire was discovered in the mineral water establishment of Mr. Owen Clark, on Jackson Avenue, Hunter’s Point, and before assistance could be rendered the building, together with two others adjoining, were enveloped in flames…
The loss is estimated at $14,500. Mr. Clark’s establishment, together with two horses and a crate of bottles valued at $3,000 was totally destroyed; there was no insurance.
Afterwards Clark re-established the business. Likely nearby or at the former location, it was listed at 53 Jackson Avenue in the late 1880’s and early 1890’s. (I don’t have access to any directories from the early 1880’s).
Tragically another fire claimed this facility as well. The blaze was described in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s July 21, 1893 edition as “the most disastrous conflagration that ever occurred in Long Island City.”
The most costly square block in the city was entirely wiped out with the exception of a few gutted buildings and standing walls, which today tower above the smoldering debris. The loss is very heavy and roughly estimated by the sufferers at between $500,000 and $600,000 of which fully two-thirds is covered by insurance in the various companies. Beside the entire square block obliterated two other blocks were partially destroyed…
The story went on to describe the fate of Clark’s property.
…At this point the wind shifted a little to the east and the fire swept down Fifth Street in the direction of Jackson Avenue, where two three two story frame dwelling houses owned by Samuel Dennison helped the flames creep down to the new $75,000 triangle building of Colonel H. S. Kearney that was nearly completed on the corner of Jackson Avenue and Fifth Street.
Around the doomed triangle building the flames burned fiercely and communicated with Clark’s soda water establishment, a two story frame dwelling and sheds. The fire spread to Clark’s brother’s house, a three story tenement adjoining on Jackson Avenue, and from there to a new four story brick house owned by Owen Clark…
Clark once again rebuilt nearby, now listing his factory and home address as 130 5th Street (now 49th Ave.). A news item published in the January 22, 1905 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle indicated that the Clark family lived on the second floor above the business. This coupled with the fact that 1900 census records reported that two of Clark’s sons, James and Edward, were also involved in the business, all lead me to believe that it was a small family run operation.
The business was still located at 130 5th Street at the time of Owen Clark’s death in October, 1906. I suspect that he remained active in the business until the end as evidenced by an item that appeared a little over a year before his death in the March 15, 1905 edition of the American Bottler.
OWEN CLARK, the worthy veteran bottler, 130 Fifth Street, Long Island City, N.Y., still marches right along with the boys and never gets left.
After Clark’s death the business was not listed in the directories under the Clark name and 1910 census records don’t appear to connect any of his sons with the business. This all suggests that the family was not involved after 1906. That being said, an item published in the American Bottler noted that on April 21, 1908 detectives raided the 5th Street location, levying a fine against the company for using bottles owned by another business.
April 21st: made a seizure of ten filled siphons from Owen Clark’s mineral water establishment at No. 130 5th Street, Long Island City; he was fined $15 by our Board of Directors. This was his second offense.
Recognizing that Owen Clark had passed away over a year earlier, it’s not clear who was actually operating the business at that point.
The found bottle is a mouth blown pony with a blob finish. It includes the embossed address of 23 Jackson Avenue. This address doesn’t correlate with any of the addresses that are associated with the business in the directories or newspapers. This leads to several possibilities:
1. The bottle is associated with the earliest location listed for the business; simply referenced in the directories as “Jackson Ave near 5th Street” (early to mid-1870’s) or
2. The embossed 23 is a typo and should have been a 53 with the 5 mistaken for a 2 by the bottle maker (late 1870’s to 1893).
That being said, the company included Jackson Avenue within their address from the early 1870’s up through 1893, so I suspect it’s safe to say that the bottle’s manufacture falls somewhere within that time frame.