My mom has yet to visit our Parkesburg facility, but has expressed her interest and pride in the rising tanks and beautiful plans. This is in stark contrast to her response when she first visited our Downingtown location before we officially called it home. It was probably late in the spring of 1994 when she and my dad pulled up to the empty building in their big blue Buick. She never got out of the car to enter the building; she merely sat there and cried. I doubt her fear and concern for my future would have been erased by a tour of the dark, creepy facility. What with the vestiges of dried soup production and bagged pet food being stored by a current tenant there, the place was apparently quite popular with vermin.
But myself, my dad, Ron and his family had a vision for the rejected building and pressed on to make it the bright, boisterous place that has been so enjoyed by many, many families over these last 17 years. So, today, with so much news spewing from us regarding our second brewery, I want to reflect on our true home of Downingtown and some of the family ties that have made it so dear to us.
Granted, it’s anecdotal and unconfirmed, but the street our building was built on was named after a family business, Acorn Iron & Supply, a Philadelphia based operation begun by the Tabas family. Dan Tabas and his family built the fieldstone and steel buildings we inhabit today in Downingtown. It was sometime after 1945 that he decided to “…reconstruct these buildings on the same foundations and with the same fieldstone” that was lying in the fields where the former Cohansey Brassworks rod and tube extracting mill, an Acorn Iron & Supply acquisition, had sat. In a crazy coincidence, the longtime home of Acorn Iron & Supply on Delaware Avenue in Philadelphia is now the home of Yards Brewing Company.
Sometime between 1947 and 1949, another mother, whose son’s allergies had caused her to develop wholesome, stone-ground whole wheat bread, visited Acorn Lane to see the new buildings. Whether or not she cried at their sight is not recorded, but it is known that Mrs. Margaret Rudkin, founder of Pepperidge Farm, agreed to lease 30,000 sq. ft. within the buildings for her second bakery. It’s recorded that the new operation purchased 10,000 quarts of milk and a ton of butter each week from local farmers.
From a fascinating book entitled Shtarker: The Legend Of Daniel M. Tabas, by Peter Davidson and Susan Tabas Tepper, comes the following Dan Tabas’ recollection of what attracted Mrs. Rudkin to Downingtown, formerly Milltown. “I didn’t know anything about grinding flour on waterwheels. Sure enough there was a mill in West Chester where stone grinding was powered by waterwheels. We went over to see it, and it made [Mrs. Rudkin's] day.”
The son of a former Pepperidge Farm employee was somewhat instrumental in landing Pepperidge Farm’s replacement, Victory Brewing Company, in Downingtown. This gentleman, Jeff, was heading up the Downingtown Main Street Association (I am Secretary of that organization today) in April of 1995, when our concept was trying to clear minor hurdles to settle in the abandoned facility. After facing an onslaught of concern from local citizens that a brewery restaurant would fill their peaceful town with littered lawns, noisy nights and unplanned pregnancies, Jeff rose in my defense at the zoning meeting. Recounting the stories of his mother and sisters who had worked at Pepperidge Farm, he politely reminded neighbors that it had always been a busy facility, summoning trucks with an exterior loudspeaker system around the clock. Pepperidge’s departure to Denver, PA left the town with a hole of tax revenues to plug and fewer jobs. In granting Victory the simple privilege of a restaurant operation to enhance its conforming industrial use, it was suggested that Victory could become a valuable community contributor. Jeff led the group to consider this possibility. And as we fast forward to present day, we now employ over 235 folks; Jeff’s vision appears to have come true.
Thank you for sharing the past 17 years with us here in Downingtown. We look forward to creating many more great memories here in Downingtown and there in Parkesburg for you and your families. Please consider adding your reminiscences of the last 17 years in Downingtown with a comment below!