Wooster Square Tour
Shoninger’s & the Chestnut St. Fire
511–513 Chapel Street
Shoninger’s Piano Factory, Chapel and Chestnut Streets, c. 1930s. Courtesy Jewish Historical Society of Greater New Haven.
Bernard Shoninger, a Bavarian Jew, came to America in 1841 with his scanty baggage and $14.40 in his pocket. In 1850 he established the B. Shoninger Organ Co. which manufactured melodeons in Woodbridge, Connecticut and had a showroom for their sale at the corner of Chestnut and Chapel streets in New Haven. Despite shortages and high prices during the Civil War, Shoninger’s business prospered. The sales of the store soon outran the capacity of the factory and, in 1863, he erected a two-story wooden factory on Kimberly Ave. in New Haven.
When this building burned down in 1865, Shoninger purchased the factory which had been occupied by Treat & Lindsley, near the corner of Chapel and Chestnut Streets, to which he made additions until by 1881, it had a frontage of 300 feet on Chestnut Street and 130 feet on Chapel Street, and stood six stories high.
A new office added in 1881 was the finest in the city, finished in polished mahogany, cherry, walnut and curled maple, relieved with delicate tracery of inlaid wood and rich hand carvings. The average number of men employed at that time was over 300. The company’s trade was worldwide and his business was classed with the leading musical instrument manufacturing firms. By 1887, the company held over thirty patents of their own invention, including a bell and chime for the reed organ, the double bellows, self-adjusting reed valves, and noiseless safety valves. By 1892 Shoninger’s produced over two thousand pianos annually.
Bernard Shoninger retired from the business in 1898, leaving it in the control of his sons to the manufacture of pianos exclusively. Apparently the B. Shoninger Co. went out of business in, or shortly after, 1929. The rights to the Shoninger name were then sold to the National Piano Corp. of New York. Shoninger pianos were made well into the 1960s. On August 29, 1960, the building was destroyed by fire.
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