The Historical Society of Easton continues its series on Immigrants in Easton.
Written by Meg Greiser Perry.
The first generation of Greisers to reside in Easton were our grandparents, Arthur and Leontina Greiser. In 1926 they purchased the general store at the intersection of Center and Westport Roads where they continued operation of the store and added chicken dinners on Sundays.
Arthur Richard Emil Greiser was born in Breslau, Prussia (now Poland) on June 10, 1879. His parents wanted him to become a Lutheran minister, but Arthur had other ideas, so he left home and apprenticed with an uncle to become a butcher and baloney maker. He completed his apprenticeship at age 18. After completing his military service, he was hired as a chef by Cunard Lines. After some voyages to America, he decided that his future lie there. On November 13, 1900, Arthur sailed into New York Harbor aboard the S.S. Belgravia. He was processed at Ellis Island and sent on his way to Jersey City where he would be staying with his uncle, Paul Weichert while he sought employment.
Leontina Weber, our grandmother, was a twin born in 1879 in Lemburg, Austria which is today’s Lviv, Ukraine. Not much is known about her childhood, and she arrived in New York on May 9, 1903, aboard the S.S. Graf Waldersee along with her friend, Rose Kohn. Her path would cross that of Arthur Greiser in New York City, and they became husband and wife on October 8, 1904. During that time, Arthur worked as a chef at the old Hanover Hotel and at Luchow’s Restaurant on 14th Street.
The Greisers soon moved to Hoboken New Jersey and opened a bakery. Their first child, Rose, was born there but died at 9 months of age. In 1907, their first son Richard Arthur was born in New York City. In 1908 they opened a store with living quarters in Noroton Heights, Connecticut where Rudolph Francis was born in 1909. That July 4th, a firecracker landed on the roof and their home and business were destroyed.
Their dream was to open a store and to live above it. So, they took their savings and in 1910, bought two adjoining lots on what was then Hawes Avenue that ran from Noroton Heights to Darien. Arthur built his store and started a neighborhood grocery and lunchroom. Arthur and the boys would go by wagon to purchase animals that he then butchered in his barn. He smoked the meats and cured hams and bacon in a smoke house behind the store. Leontina baked pastries and breads. The house had neither central heat nor electricity, so Leontina would knit stockings, mittens, scarves, and woolen caps to keep the family warm.
In 1912, the Greisers, including young Richard and Rudolph, sailed to Europe to visit family in Germany and Austria. They returned to Hawes Avenue and continued to operate their grocery and meat business for several more years.
Arthur and Leontina had both completed just six grades of school prior to emigrating to the United States. Leontina spoke five or six languages, the last one learned being English. After learning German at home, Richard and Rudy began their formal education. Both boys would eventually attend and graduate high school in Bridgeport. Like many immigrant mothers, Leontina wanted her children to attend college. Richard would attend college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Rudy began his college studies at the University of Connecticut. Both would later transfer to NYU to complete their education.
In 1917 Arthur joined the Connecticut Home Guard as a volunteer just before the United States entered WWI. During the war he worked as a chef at the Soldiers Home on Noroton Avenue in Darien. To supplement the family’s income, Arthur began speculating in real estate. He would buy a lot, have a house built, sell it, and then begin the process anew. Sometime during the early 1920’s, the couple bought a grocery store in the Silvermine community of artists and writers at the corner of Perry Avenue and Silvermine. They sold it sometime in 1923, but the new owner defaulted, so the Greisers took it back with a bonus, a delivery van that had been purchased by the previous store owner. Arthur didn’t like to drive, so Rich and Rudy learned to drive at a young age and made the deliveries. The following year they sold the store again and then purchased a 3-story building on North Street in Bridgeport. Leontina opened a grocery store on the ground floor while Arthur went to work at the Bridgeport Public Market on State Street.
From youngest son, Rudy’s memories:
“In 1924, My father got a job at the Bridgeport Public Market, located between State and Bank Streets in back of the Mechanics and Farmers Savings Bank. In the morning he prepared the meats and salads, and then spent the afternoon at the delicatessen counter.
“On Saturdays, I worked with my father at the Bridgeport Public Market. Since trolleys didn’t run early on Saturdays, we left the house around 6:30 A.M. and walked down Housatonic Avenue to the market. The kitchen, bakery, and storeroom were all on the top floor so we would take the freight elevator. My father would take a clean jacket while I turned on the lights and opened a one-hundred-pound bag of potatoes. After emptying half of the bag into a large round flat wash tub, we put it on the stove and emptied the remainder of the bag into it. While the potatoes cooked, father and his helper Charlie would move the wash boilers to dump the water into the floor drains. Another helper, Mrs. Seltenrich, made beef pies and chicken pies that were sold down in the main store. While she mixed the crust, I boned the chicken and cut vegetables for the pies.
“When the pies went into the oven, she and I sat down and peeled potatoes, which father and Charlie then sliced for salad. They also made ham salad and coleslaw, while the roast beef was roasting, and hams were baking. We always had plenty to eat and everything was delicious. I only worked half a day and went home after lunch to do homework and odd jobs around the house. Father would go downstairs in the afternoon and work the counter until 5:30 P.M. when he left to catch the bus home.
“I continued to work Saturdays peeling potatoes until I tired of it. I then got a job at the Mohegan Market at the corner of Middle and Golden Hill Streets. There, I worked on the fruit and vegetable counter.
“In 1926, my father’s friend, Mayor Fred Behrens, opened up a first-class butcher shop on Fairfield Avenue near Broad Street in Bridgeport. He asked my father to join him and open a delicatessen department in the store. They sold only prime beef and had their own bologna kitchen. My father left the Bridgeport Public Market and went with Behrens Meat Market. There he had his kitchen on the top floor with the baloney kitchen. A helper covered the counter in the mornings while my father roasted meats and made salads.
“Uncle Rich and I had jobs in the afternoon since our classes were in the mornings. I worked as a page at the Bridgeport Library on John Street and Uncle Rich had a job as an elevator operator at the Iroquois Apartments on Washington Avenue. Lyons Terrace, where our school was located, was on a hill above the city. By going down about four flights of stairs, we would quickly be at the back entrance to Behrens Market on Elm Street. Before going to work we went up to the third floor where the baloney kitchen and smokehouse were located. They always had a pot of hotdogs, a basket of bread and rolls from Wiemer’s Bakery down the street, all kinds of smoked goodies and a pot of coffee. Here we had a free meal before going to work—I sure miss those goodies!”
After taking over the lease of the current store in Easton from the Ruman Brothers in 1926, Arthur became friends with Miss Alice Burr whose sister Frances was married to Henry Osborn, the owner of the store and house next to it where she was living. Alice moved there to tend to her sick sister until she passed and then her brother-in-law until he died in 1928. She inherited the store and the adjacent house where she continued to reside until the early-1930’s when she traded it for a house in Bridgeport owned by the Greisers.
When the Greisers took possession of the store, it still retained the large hall over the storerooms with a recessed area where the orchestra could sit around a wood burning stove to keep warm when dances were held. In addition, it had also served as a temperance hall, hosted town meetings, served as the home of the original Grange prior to their first hall being built across the street in 1915 (in the current Congregational Church parking lot), and was the site used by a group of citizens in 1921 to form Easton’s Volunteer Fire Department.
Upon assuming ownership of the property, the Greisers installed a kitchen with soap stone washtubs, a sink, and a coal range at the rear of the store. Upstairs they put in a bathroom, living room, and bedroom. As you entered the store below, directly ahead was a short counter filled with all kinds of cigars, cigarettes, pipes, and tobacco. At a right angle to that was another glass case filled with gloves, notions and patent medicines that later were replaced with penny candy (remember those goodies?). Outside they had two hand-operated gas pumps, and they sold Gulf gas for twenty-five years. Two thirds of the building’s length contained storerooms, one for cartons of canned goods and another at the end of the building where they kept bags of feed.
In high school, Rudy had shown his artistic talents and did illustrations for the yearbook. He attended art school and graduated NYU with a degree in advertising. After graduation, Rudy met Christine Kahrmann through a mutual friend who lived in Darien. Money being scarce during the Depression, they had an extended engagement and finally married in October of 1936. During WWII he worked in the handbook section of Chance Vought Aircraft where he established a lifelong friendship with Easton artist Ray Quigley. Around 1960, he and Christine opened Cutting & Woods, a printing and advertising agency in Bridgeport. His main customer was Pepperidge Farm and he designed various wrappers, labels and advertising for them. He also printed the annual Easton phone directory, and his drawing of the Congregational Church was used on their weekly bulletin for many years. They eventually moved to the Center Road house next to the store. Rudy and Christine had 5 children: Arthur, Paul, Meg (Margaret), Weber (Ted), and Lee. In 1960, the family moved to a larger house on Flat Rock Road that had been built in 1920 by Robert Marsh. Richard purchased their old home on Center Road and turned it into a rental.
In 1936, a small six-foot by six-foot cubbyhole in a front corner of the store became Easton’s post office where it operated until 1964 when the store was remodeled to enlarge the post office to its current configuration. Richard became the Easton Postmaster in 1938. The second floor was remodeled into a rental apartment above the post office. Later a second apartment was added at the opposite end of the building.
Richard married Edith Ditman in December,1941, and they lived above the store with Arthur after Leontina’s death in May 1940. Richard and Edith would take over the daily operation of the store from the elder Greisers, and Richard would continue to serve as the postmaster for many years, with Edith as his assistant. Richard and Edith’s son, Dick would eventually assume control of the operation.
In the early 1950’s Richard and Edith purchased the Turney house behind the Congregational Church that had once served as the parsonage. I remember helping to clean out hundreds of empty bottles from the upstairs, as the previous resident enjoyed his drink in any form. After extensive remodeling, they moved in along with Arthur who passed away in Feb 1952. After Dick married Leigh Haskell, the couple moved into the Center Road house where Dick continues to reside today.
Our grandfather Arthur was a much-loved town figure, fondly called “Pop.” People would come to him for advice, comfort, or a kind word. I remember him coming to babysit and sitting in an overstuffed chair while listening to German polkas on the radio. He always had penny candies in his pockets that we would search for as well as his little coin purse with pennies, nickels, and dimes he had saved for us.
When Charlie Batchelder bought a new organ for the Congregational Church, he dedicated it to Arthur Greiser. The Greisers were always community oriented and belonged actively to such groups and organizations as The Grange, Board of Education, League of Women Voters, Scouts, Little League, and various church committees.
Our grandparents, Arthur and Leontina were certainly good cooks. Rudy affectionately called his father a “butcher and baloney maker” and his wife Christine’s visual of her mother-in-law had her with “one hand on the butter and the other on the cream pitcher” as she baked pastries and breads.
Both daughters-in-law learned cooking, baking and recipes from the older Greisers. Arthur usually butchered the animals that he then smoked, roasted, and turned into sausage, wursts, and German based dishes. Some of those included beef rouladen, hasenpfeffer, and squab.
Beef rouladen is a classic German dish of beef slices filled with bacon, onion, pickles, and mustard, rolled, and tied before being marinated overnight in brine and then slow braised and served with creamy pan gravy.
Sauerbraten is a traditional German roast of heavily marinated meat and is regarded as a national dish of Germany. Raw meat is marinated for several days in a mixture of vinegar or wine, water, herbs, spices, and seasonings to tenderize tougher cuts. It’s often served with potato pancakes, potato dumplings, or Spätzle.
Hasenpfeffer is a traditional Dutch and German stew made from marinated rabbit cut into stewing-meat sized pieces and braised with onions and soaked in a wine and vinegar marinade. Our parents raised rabbits that were used for this dish.
Arthur would roast squab (young pigeons) that his grandson and namesake Art would catch for him. The capture often took place at the 360-acre Weichert farm in Green Village, New Jersey where Art would climb up to the barn rafters with a burlap sack that he filled with squab.
Other family favorites were potato pancakes and fruit soup – fresh fruit reduced down and finished with Dumplings. My brother Weber recalls, “Our Mom used to make scrapple from pork trimmings from Martin Steucek. I remember when we lived on Center Road, we would get slabs of smoked bacon from Martin that hung in the storeroom on the north wall of the basement. I don’t know if the scrapple recipe was from grandpa or not. I have had some since and it was never the same.”
Our mother Christine was the head cook at the Congregational Church’s annual roast beef dinners for many years. She prepared the beef and roasted it as taught to her by Arthur. These dinners were very popular and always sold out.
Dick and his cousin Paul Greiser Jr. are the last Greisers still living in Easton nearly 100 years after our grandparents arrived.
Nearly 100 years have passed since Arthur and Leontina arrived in Easton. The property is still owned by their grandson Dick who ran the store, deli, gasoline pumps, and antique shop at the site. A few years ago, Dick made the decision to lease the space occupied by the store and deli to Adrienne Burke, who then remodeled the interior to house the new Greiser’s Coffee & Market. Dick’s antique business currently occupies the free-standing building in the parking lot as well as the store’s basement. He manages the gasoline pumps – now one of only two places in Easton where one can fill up their tank or purchase fuel for their lawn mower or snowblower. The east side of the building still houses Easton’s quaint little post office and there are 2 apartments on the 2nd floor.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of all my brothers and my cousin Dick in gathering the photographs and memories that we presented in this article.