Rediscovering Frank Jones

Brewer, Statesman, and Portsmouth legend

FJ MaplewoodAve2 ps0020 largeJones’s 1,000-acre summer residence, Maplewood Farm, on Woodbury Avenue, Portsmouth.

This article continues the story featured in the Winter 2016 issue of Coastal Home.

When Frank Jones opened his famous brewery, he had intense local competition from another Portsmouth brewery, the Eldridge Brewing Company, and the two remained rivals until Prohibition hit the Granite State years later. Until then, both businesses thrived, and competed with top brewers from New York and Boston. Jones continued to expand and modernize his brewery, adding two malt houses and a cooperage, enlarging the brew-house, adding a bottling shop, and raising a 140-foot tall clock tower to the top of the main brewery, which was already five stories tall. At the height of his brewery’s success, Jones had 500 employees, was developing local springs and aqueducts to supply production, and had opened a Boston office. In 1882, a national trade journal listed him as the largest brewer in the country--he was producing 150,000 barrels of ale per year. The clock tower, which could be seen for miles, epitomized his place at the top. In 1889, Jones sold the brewery to a British company for $6.3 million, although he continued to run the business for a number of years afterward. Frank Jones Ale remained popular until after World War II, and production ceased around 1950. It was brewed locally until 1917 when Prohibition became law in New Hampshire.

Jones was not content to merely be a captain of industry; he had political ambitions as well. In 1867, at the age of 35, he was elected mayor of Portsmouth, then was re-elected in 1868. Both times he donated his salary to local schools and libraries. A fight with the Democratic Party kept him from running for a third term. Instead, he became a U.S. representative to Congress from 1875 to 1879. Jones greatly enjoyed Washington society but his wife did not. This was most likely because she was aware of his ongoing affair with the wife of a fellow New Hampshire politician. Jones’s political career was not illustrious, although he was competent.

As soon as Jones’s term was up, he returned to New Hampshire. He later campaigned for governor but lost to his pro-Prohibition rival. Jones used his considerable influence to aid Democratic presidential candidates, most notably Grover Cleveland who, once elected, offered him the position of Secretary of the Navy. Jones had to decline as his wife still would not go back to Washington. However, Jones pressured Cleveland to keep the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard open, thus greatly aiding the local economy. Eventually, Jones became a Republican because of his dislike for Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.

Growing Portsmouth’s Industry

Like many high-powered businessmen of his time, Frank Jones loved the game of buying, growing, and selling businesses. While running the brewery, he also bought real estate, owned early telephone companies, electric utilities, and several banks; presided over a shoe button factory, purchased several mills, launched the Portsmouth Shoe Factory, and was an owner of the Laconia Car Works and the Granite State Trotting Park in Dover. He founded Granite State Insurance Company (which still exists) and served as its president. He was president of the Boston & Maine Railroad, owned two newspapers (including a predecessor to The PortsmouthHerald), and even had his own steamship, the Frank Jones, which carried passengers and freight along the North Atlantic Coast.

Jones’s many businesses benefited Portsmouth, but the brewery shaped the look of the North End. Imagine nearly the upper end of State Street, both sides of Islington Street, and beyond engulfed by massive brick buildings with the Boston & Maine tracks running in between. The enormous buildings formed a village unto themselves and indeed a mini railroad named the Frank Jones Brewing Company Line connected the complex. In addition, underground networks of tunnels helped expedite the moving of finished product and raw materials. (In 1965, local contractor William Morgridge was excavating on upper State Street for a new gas line when they uncovered an underground opening. His boss urged him to keep digging and soon the framework of one of Jones’ tunnels appeared. “It was covered in granite and down in the tunnel were a number of brewery artifacts including beer bottles and barrels,” Morgridge says. “In those days, people didn’t recognize the value of items such as these so they were just left where they were, but it was an indication of how extensive the underground operations of the brewery really were.”)

At the height of Frank Jones’s success, he constructed the dramatic clock tower atop the main brewery building, a beacon for all to see. It stood 40 feet taller than the rest of the brewery; its face measured 11 feet across, and the tower bell weighed over 3,000 pounds! The clock was taken down sometime before World War II, thus signaling the end of an era. The building was later ravaged by fire, which destroyed the tower. Today, that entire building is gone; only a parking lot remains.

The brewery was not the only Portsmouth real estate Jones invested in. He purchased and ran numerous businesses, and also made good on his boyhood promise to buy the Rockingham Hotel, purchasing it in 1870. He enlarged the building, remodeled it, then refurbished it again even more extensively after a fire struck in 1884. During Jones’s day and beyond, the Rockingham hosted many dignitaries, including U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Chester Arthur, and John F. Kennedy; Arthur was a guest of Jones. During Jones’s tenure in Washington, many high-ranking politicians and businessmen enjoyed the hospitality of the elegant Rockingham Hotel. He would later add the Wentworth and the Music Hall to his acquisitions, leaving each one in far better shape than when he found it.

FJ brewing clocktower 08The Frank Jones Brewing Company. The clock tower rose 40 feet above the rest of the brewery.

Maplewood Farm

Frank Jones’s personal estate was a showstopper. His stately mansion was built in the Second Empire style and framed by gorgeous grounds landscaped with weeping beeches and rows of stately trees. Fountains, decorative ponds (some with bridges), Grecian statuary, and various themed gardens were a feast for the senses. Jones opened his estate to the public and locals strolled the grounds in wonder. The estate, known as Maplewood Farm, was also a working farm. It had its own vineyards, windmill, and irrigation system; provided meat, poultry, milk, and eggs; and had rows of glass greenhouses, which raised hothouse plants and flowers for the mansion.

There were also tennis courts, croquet lawns, a swimming pool, and since Jones was a fine horseman, stables of first class horses and racetrack.

Today, only bits and pieces of Jones’s fine home remain. Residences and shopping malls now fill the property, which has been divided many times. A weeping beech and the mansion remain, although the mansion has been converted to apartments. One of the ponds with a bridge can be found down a Woodbury Avenue side street. The rows of Norway spruce on Route 16 hark back to Jones. Several key landmarks are on land owned by Fred McMullen of Portsmouth Gardens. McMullen has a Jones cistern and pieces of his water pumping station in his backyard; one of Jones’s glass greenhouses is the main display greenhouse for the business. “The greenhouse was moved here from its original location at Maplewood Farm, but it is one of his greenhouses,” McMullen says. “Jones loved to raise orchids. He also raised astilbe, hydrangeas, calla lilies, and rhododendrons.” The cistern is one of three known to exist in the area. It has a 117-foot circumference and is 45 feet across and 7 feet deep. It is spring fed. “Jones was ahead of his time when it came to growing, as illustrated by the irrigation system,” says the nurseryman. “It is a tragedy that so much of the estate was lost.”

Frank Jones Legacy

Frank Jones died in 1902 with a net worth of $15 million. He is buried under a 29-foot high monument of his own design in South Cemetery. He saw to it that his wife, daughter, and surviving family members were comfortably cared for and also donated funds to numerous organizations, including local libraries, schools, seminaries, hospitals, homes for children and indigent women, and the City of Portsmouth. After his death, his wife Martha donated the mansion and 35 acres to her psychotherapist Dr. Boris Sidis, who converted it into a psychotherapeutic sanitarium until his death in 1923. The rest of the estate was gradually sold off.

For all he owned and all he created, Frank Jones’s legacy has slipped into the shadows in recent years. Yes, his name lives on in certain buildings, the occasional marker, and with beer aficionados, but many have no clue as to who he was or what he did. How could someone who rose so high fade so fast? There is no clear answer, but consider that Jones had no sons to carry on his work or his name. Two world wars created massive industrial and cultural shifts, and the age of the great factories began to fade. Portsmouth and surrounding towns shifted their focus to the building of submarines and the development of a SAC air force base as the 1950s rolled in, and Frank Jones beer disappeared. People flocked to the suburbs and vast estates like Jones’s were gobbled up. In the1960s, urban renewal caused the razing of many great brick complexes, since the governments of the day did not appreciate the potential of these historic structures. During this time, even the fabulous Music Hall languished in disrepair and was targeted for the wrecking ball until concerned citizens stepped in. Thus, Jones faded from public memory.

For those who see Jones as a scoundrel and robber baron, historian Richard Winslow offers a different take. Winslow notes that unlike other robber barons of the period, such as Andrew Carnegie and Jay Gould, Jones never left his home. Instead, he stayed and invested in Portsmouth. His numerous contributions to industry and culture created a city that would thrive long after his passing and ensure that his legacy would endure.

Bibliography:

Three Centuries of Free-Masonry in New Hampshire by Gerald D. Foss.

Images of America: The Music Hall of Portsmouth by Zhana Morris and Trevor Bartlett

Rusty Cans.com--About Frank Jones (no further info available)

The History of Frank Jones, nhmagazine.com April 2015; website notes that same article was in print version of magazine October 2013.

Alemaker Jones Was Hero and Heel by J. Dennis Robinson, SeacoastNH.com, 2013

Drink Free or Die Part II: Frank Jones Brewing, www.squirrelfarts.com, April 19, 2012 (no author given)

Walk Portsmouth, blogspot.com February 2014, About Frank Jones Maplewood Farm by Ronald T. Campbell

Presidents Who Visited Portsmouth, by J. Dennis Robinson, SeacoastNH.com, 2012

Portsmouth Historic and Picturesque by C.S. Gurney, 1902

Attractive Bits Along (the) Shore, no author given, published by H. Wilbur Hayes, Portland, ME

(This is an antique book--no publication date given)

Wickipedia: Frank Jones Politician

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