Supplying the Material to Build Greenwich: Maher Brothers Corporation

By Christopher Shields

When you drive down Steamboat Road today, you pass a luxury hotel, fine residential developments, office complexes and a premier yacht club. Gone are the industrial businesses that once dominated the streetscape. The Maher Brothers Corporation was perhaps the most prominent of these businesses, both in terms of the scope of its operations and its longevity. By 1952, it owned “virtually all of the industrial area located on tidewater in Greenwich” in addition to other properties throughout town. Many long-time residents of Greenwich remember it well.

John Maher was born circa 1864 in Brooklyn. His family relocated to Greenwich when he was a young man. He started his own ice business in 1886, soon acquiring the business of at least one other competitor. In addition to supplying Greenwich, he did a brisk trade in Stamford. Some of the ice was harvested from what was known as “the pond at Ten Acres.” This property (which exceeded 50 acres beyond the water body) was purchased by Maher from Theodore Mead, a descendant of Ebenezer Mead, a veteran of both the Revolution and War of 1812. Maher made his home there in addition to using the pond for his business. Today, Greenwich High School occupies the site of the former 10-acre pond and Maher estate.

Detail of 1920 Sanborn Insurance Company map showing the location of the ice pond at Ten Acres

John Maher merged his successful ice business with the wood, coal, lumber and building supplies firm of his brother, James, in 1905. The business was incorporated as Maher Brothers Corporation in 1907.

Schooner delivering lumber to Maher Brothers on Steamboat Road, ca. 1915

A 1908 article notes that the firm harvested over 5000 tons of ice from Greenwich locations, noting that the ice was 10 to 12 inches thick on many of these lakes and ponds. Over 50 men were involved in the ice harvest at Ten Acres alone. The firm also operated what was called a “Hygeia ice plant” to supplement the supply of harvested ice. Hygeia was the goddess of health, cleanliness and hygiene in Greek and Roman mythology and the term was apparently used to suggest that the product was of the greatest purity.

Notice to ice customers from 1906 advertisement in Greenwich Graphic newspaper
Maher Brothers advertisement from 1907 Greenwich News

Sources indicate Maher Brothers Corporation supplied 75 percent of the supplies used in construction in Greenwich during its development as a prime residential community. While the exact numbers are difficult to verify, it is clear that the firm played a significant role in Greenwich’s development as an area of prime real estate and great estates.

Two views of the Maher Brothers site on Steamboat Road, circa 1917
Photograph Collection “Businesses – Central Greenwich – Steamboat Road – Maher Brothers”

Later, in 1937, the Maher Brothers docks were a main entry point for the massive amounts of stone, concrete, and sand required for the construction of the Merritt Parkway. A steady stream of trucks shuttled between the docks and the construction sites. As many as nine massive barges would dock each week to feed the constant demand for new materials.

In addition to his work at Maher Bros., John Maher played many other significant roles in town. He was chair of the Democratic town committee, served as president and later director of the Greenwich Trust Company and was president of the Greenwich Water Company. He and his brother were noted to have a great friendship with the Walsh brothers, who were part of another influential Irish-American family in town. The Walsh brothers were leaders of the Republican Party in town.

Maher Building at corner of Greenwich Avenue and Havemeyer Place, ca. 1917

The Maher Building at the corner of Greenwich Avenue and Havemeyer Place was built by John Maher around 1909. It remained in the family for 45 years before being sold in 1954. Finch’s Drug Store used to occupy the ground floor in the space currently occupied by Starbucks.

In early days, schooners used to deliver materials to the Maher Bros. site on Steamboat Road (photo).

In the mid-1950s, the Maher Brothers Corporation played a role in the changing character Steamboat Road.  They pursued zoning changes to allow them to develop a luxury residential complex. A newspaper account from the period notes that neighbors of the development were divided in their feelings on the changes to the area. One person is quoted as saying they “agreed that an apartment project was more desirable than some other uses to which the site could be kept but added ‘we much prefer things to stay the way they are.'”

Residents who enjoyed summertime visits to Island Beach in the 1950s would access the ferry from a barge owned by Maher Bros. and rented by the town for this purpose. The dock for the police boat was adjacent to the lumber yard on the west side of Steamboat Road.

Maher Bros. merged its fuel oil business in 1953 with three other Greenwich firms. Reports indicate that all employees were retained in the merger. The new combined operation was headquartered at 612 Steamboat Road. In addition to being an oil supply facility, the site was also used to manufacture oil burners.

In 1964, Maher Bros. was acquired by the Homestead Corporation of Stamford. The English firm Coats and Clark purchased the Greenwich location in 1968. The waterfront on Steamboat Road, so long integral to industry and construction in Greenwich, would soon transition to other uses.

If you would like to explore more photographs of Greenwich, including Greenwich businesses, visit our Digital Collections portal at digital.greenwichhistory.org

Interested in learning more about the ice industry before electricity? Here’s a short video from the St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency in Michigan

By Christopher Shields

Curator of Library and Archives

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