Friday, July 24, 2015

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Minneiska, Minnesota

Minneiska Minnesota is a pretty little village on the Mississippi River between Wabasha and Winona. Today it has just over 100 residents but on its founding in the early 1850s there was much optimism for the place.

It did have the problem of having limited space in which to grow.  It had the river in front and steep bluffs back behind.  Not surprisingly it evolved into a long thin strip of development that straggled along the river front for about a mile.  The usual fixtures of 19th century life evolved including a brewery.

What you can see today is just the residual scraps of Minneiska.  When the dirt road out front was widened into a busy four lane highway most of the older buildings were razed.  Various interesting bits of foundations and cellars are all that is left in many cases.

The brewery in Minneiska came late, 1871 if the usually reliable Land of Amber Waters can be trusted.  It had the usual shifting ownership and unusually also went out of business early, being gone around 1877.  After the suds stopped flowing the brewery building was used as boat storage.

There are a couple of problems with pinpointing the brewery site.  Firstly, the recorded landmarks are of little use.  Near the railroad station is unhelpful when that has long ago been demolished.  Sure, that makes it near the railroad tracks but everything in Minneiska is near the tracks.  Secondly, as a town built into the side of a hill, there are various cellars large and small to look over.  Most were in all probability just cold storage for homes and businesses. Lets look a few over first then get to the probable brewery cave (s).



First a couple of "in town" storage cellars.  Not serious contenders for being the brewery cave. Narrow doors with no signs of later refit from wider arches.  And a little too close to the center of this tiny community with its imposing Catholic church.  You prefer to have the brewery on the edge of town both from a fire hazard perspective and to keep even the modest sin of beer sipping "out of sight, out of mind".



About a mile north of town I spotted this little "hobbit hole" along the side of the highway. There are a few traces of masonry left, and what looks like some old whitewash on the cliff face adjacent to the cave entry.  I think it was just the storage space/storm cellar for a house.  Inside the snug little cave has a ledge around the sides.  This along with the sloping sides and small capacity, would seem to make beer aging unlikely here.


Along the highway starting just to the north of the existing village of Minneiska you find this complex of tumble down walls.  There are several cave entrances here, in fact in the image above I think I see one that I missed when visiting rather late in the day.  Here is one that I did peek into:




As you can see, the inside of this one features a series of metal rods driven into the sides of the cavern.  I did not like the look of this, the last time I saw something like it was in the underneath of York Minster where they were part of the work done to stabilize the structure when it was in danger of collapse. Sure, these might have just been supports for some kind of shelves, but when you can see the entire cave anyway it does not pay to go poking around in questionable places....

On to the brewery cave.

Entrance.  Breweries always did go in for a few decorative touches, I like the brick work here. Note the cement patching of the entryway.  We know the structure had later utilitarian use.


A fairly standard brewery cave.  A few nice bits of "stone drips" in the back.  The floor has enough debris on it that drainage channels can't be seen.  My visit was brief but I did not notice any vent holes.


I did see these interesting notches in the wall near the entrance.  I have seen something like this once or twice before.  In the Casanova caves in Hudson they were associated with a keg filling stand.  That would make sense here as well.


The various caves in Minneiska pose a dilemma for me regards my recommendations.  Of course the ones in town are not open to visits although an intrepid person willing to knock on doors might find receptive property owners.  But they are most likely just glorified tool sheds now.

The "hobbit hole" north of town looks safe and appears to be on public land.  As always, be respectful.

The complex of caves, and it may be as many as four, in the foundations just on the north edge of town are again on what looks to be road right of way, but they appear to be of variable stability.  Don't ever take chances for something as foolish as curiosity. 

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