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Tale of the tee: Helb's Keystone Brewery

ProductsNeal GouletComment
 Helb's Keystone Brewery tee, part of our initial retro series honoring brands of yesteryear.

Helb's Keystone Brewery tee, part of our initial retro series honoring brands of yesteryear.

In April 2018, Stay participated in York Flea's pop-up market at the Collusion Tap Works craft brewery in downtown York. After unloading our tent, tees and other products and supplies, we moved our Honda Pilot to a parking lot across King Street from Collusion.

Coincidentally, that parking lot had played host to a brewery from 1873 to 1950.

It was called Helb's Keystone Brewery, which we featured this year as part of our initial series of retro tees honoring brands of yesteryear in central Pennsylvania. The others are Herpak Franks of Harrisburg and The Flying Machine, a short-lived restaurant in Hershey.

Theodore R. Helb, who was from Shrewsbury Township in York County, learned brewing in Baltimore, according to the Gazette and Daily newspaper. He "built the brewery in 1897 after he had made a fortune starting from a one-man operation in 1873."

A Helb's ad in a November 1888 edition of the York Daily newspaper boasted of the beer: "Analyzed by chemists and pronounced absolutely pure. Recommended by physicians as a wholesome beverage." (One column over, a York druggist promoted a product guaranteed to cure "drunkenness or the liquor habit" when given to someone in their coffee or tea without their knowledge, sort of a reverse Mickey.)

A decade later, the York Daily reported that Helb's had completed an artesian well 215 feet deep that would provide 51,840 gallons of water per month for the brewery.

Back again!

In the early 20th century, Helb's was an innovator when it came to delivery. The Harrisburg Telegraph in June 1913 ran the headline: "York brewer was first to motorize delivery"

Theodore Helb was credited with being the first person to substitute electric-powered trucks for horse-drawn wagons. His "entire hauling outfit" was now electric, save for one gas car.

Of course, Prohibition banned the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the United States from 1920 to 1933. A November 1933 ad in the News-Comet newspaper in East Berlin, Adams County, hailed the end of Prohibition with the headline: "Helb's Beer is back again!"

Helb's advertised in the Evening Sun newspaper in Hanover, York County, in December 1939 to tout its "Holiday Special," proclaiming it master brewer Adolph Hartman's masterpiece. On the same page of the paper, Miller Buick offered a used 1936 five-passenger sedan with a trunk for $385.

G. Curtis Helb, nephew of the brewery's namesake founder, ran Helb's for 16 years before selling it in 1949 to Robert Beachaud of Williamsport, who had recently resigned as head of Flock's Brewery in his city, according to the Gazette and Daily in York. But Beachaud lasted only six months before he stopped making payments on a mortgage held by the nephew Helb.

In March 1951, G. Curtis Helb reacquired the brewery property at sheriff's sale for $86,000, the Gazette and Daily reporting that "future plans for the building are indefinite."

Helb's Keystone Brewery never returned.