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Alemaker Frank Jones was Hero and Heel

Frank Jones beer logoHISTORY MATTERS

Fall equals beer, and here in Portsmouth, beer equals Frank Jones. One hundred and eleven years after his death, the "ale tycoon" still looms large in his adopted hometown. Jones built Portsmouth's West End into the biggest brewery in New England, in America, or in the world, depending on whom you ask. But was he a guy we should look up to?  (Click headline to read full article) 


He made the Rockingham and Wentworth-by-the-Sea hotels among the best known outside of Boston. A self-made business mogul and politician, Jones left his mark on the city. But he stepped on a lot of people in the process.    

This month Frank is back. Frank Jones is on the cover of the new book Legendary Locals of Portsmouth, released this week by Chuck McMahon. Jones' portrait hangs in the exhibit "Tapping Portsmouth" at Strawbery Banke Museum. His former mansion on Maplewood Avenue is the focus of "The House that Beer Built" exhibit at the Portsmouth Athenaeum. So what's his story? 

Frank Jones engraving Rags to riches

It sounds, at first, like a Horatio Alger tale. Jones rose from a poor farm boy to a captain of American industry. Born in Barrington, New Hampshire in 1832, Jones liked to remind people that he got his first taste of the big city at age 16. That's when, as a boy, he drove an oxcart full of charcoal 20 miles east to Portsmouth with $7 in his pocket.  Legend says, Jones sold that load of charcoal to the manager of the Rockingham Hotel. He vowed someday to return and buy that luxury hotel. In 1875 he did exactly that. By then, as the wealthy owner of Frank Jones Brewing Company, he had been mayor of Portsmouth and was headed to Washington, DC as a congressman from New Hampshire.

But Jones' rapid rise to power raises questions about his methods and his character. After partnering briefly with his older brother Hiram in a stove business on Market Street, for example, Jones suddenly dissolved the partnership and emerged as sole owner. Jones was in debt to his brother for $6,000. His main competitor was his other brother Nathan Jones, who ran the stove shop across the street. A few years later in 1859 while visiting the family farm in Barrington, Hiram stepped into the family privy and quietly slit his own throat. Two years after Hiram's suicide, Frank Jones married Martha Jones, his dead brother's widow and adopted her daughter Emma.

In 1858 Jones partnered with an Englishman named John Swindell who had recently begun producing ale in Portsmouth. Again, within months, Jones was suddenly the sole owner of the company and all its assets, including Swindle's secret beer recipe. It was good timing. The state of Maine just across the Piscataqua River had recently banned the sale and manufacture of alcohol, becoming the first "dry" state in the nation. Jones was happy to provide the bootlegged beer. In a brilliant public relations move, Jones renamed the company after himself. As hundreds of thousands of American men fought and died in the Civil War, Frank Jones became a wealthy beer baron. 


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Tuesday, January 16, 2018 
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