On June 11, descendants of three of Union City’s “cornerstones”—notable local families who were instrumental in the construction of some of the town’s most seminal institutions over the past two centuries—came together at the William V. Musto Cultural Center to share their families’ stories of early Union City. They also gave personal presentations to honor three important figures in town history: William Joseph Peter of the William Peter Brewery, Daniel Bermes of the Daniel Bermes Boulevard Brewery, and George Cranwell of the George Cranwell & Sons construction company.
The meeting came about on a somewhat impromptu basis when New Hampshire native Toni Pappas, the great-granddaughter of William Joseph Peter, came to town for a wedding, and asked city historian Gerard Karabin if he could see the Musto Center, which opened last June.
Her great-great-uncle immigrated from Germany to Union Hill and started a brewery.
For Pappas, the meeting was an opportunity to marvel at the Musto Center, whose beauty “stunned” her. Pappas praised Karabin and his staff for the work done on the Center’s collection of historical artifacts, and donated to that collection an oil painting of her mother, Elfriede Peter, the granddaughter of William Joseph Peter, which had been in her attic for many years.
While the William Peter Brewery is no more, Mike Cranwell and Maureen Scerbo took pride in the fact that many of the edifices constructed by George Cranwell continue to benefit the community today, with Mike Cranwell saying of his ancestors, “They were big on family. They were big on community.” Cranwell’s sentiments were echoed by his cousin, Maureen Scerbo, who for the past 25 years has been a teacher at Gilmore School, one of the buildings that George Cranwell was involved in building. Also significant for the family is City Hall, where Scerbo’s mother worked for many years, and where her brother, Brian works as Chief of Police.
For Scherman, the event was an opportunity to express her late-in-life interest in genealogy. “When I was a student in high school, wild horses couldn’t get me into a history class,” she said. “I hated history with a passion.” However, with the popularization of genealogy, including sites like genealogy.com, Scherman said, “I can’t get enough of history as an adult now.”
The centerpiece of Scherman’s presentation was a 9.5-minute film produced by her and her fiancé, Mauro DeTrizio, called “The Daniel Bermes Boulevard Brewery: The Brewing Empire”. The documentary, which is narrated by Scherman, details how her great-great-uncle, Daniel Bermes, immigrated from Germany to Union Hill (as the northern half of Union City used to be called), and started business with a tiny brewery that produced seven barrels of beer daily. By 1893 his business had expanded to a gargantuan complex taking up an entire city block on 45th Street and Park Avenue. The seven and a half story, fireproof brewery building itself was an architectural marvel, constructed of brick, stone, iron and terra cotta, and featured a tower with an illuminated four foot exterior clock, the only one of its kind in Hudson County.
For a Monday afternoon event that was organized at the last minute, through word of mouth and without organized publicity, Karabin was pleased with the 40-person turnout, a sign that both residents both new and old are interested in knowing about the place they call home. Karabin is also pleased to see an interest in historical preservation on the part of both the current administration, and in such grassroots institutions as the I Grew Up In Union City page on Facebook, which bodes well for similar events he hopes to arrange in the future.
Footage of the ceremony, as well as Scherman and DeTrizio’s film, can be found on their YouTube channel, under the account name weeweewilly.