Monday, November 2, 2015

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Another in Alma (Wisconsin)

My tour of "Forgotten Brewery Caves" has already visited the delightful Mississippi River town of Alma Wisconsin.  But recently I got word of another preserved cave.  This would be from the second brewery in town.

It was established in 1864 by a J.A. Hunner.  It seems to have been located in a hotel, the "Old Wisconsin House". Although brewing on the premises of a hostelry has a long European tradition it was somewhat unusual in mid 19th century America.  One would imagine that the frequent fires associated with commercial breweries would be a disincentive.

The establishment was later taken over by a man named William Brueggeboos, and appears to have continued into about 1889.  Plat maps from the early 90s show it as a "former brewery" but without any attached hotel.  The Brueggeboos brewery was sometimes referred to as The Alma Brewery, but confusingly this name was later adopted by the surviving Hemrich brewery on the south end of town.

Here is the site today, a vintage gas station now without pumps and operating as a repair garage.


I stopped in and asked, and was told that, yes, there was a brewery cave.  To visit I had to go through a cluttered storage room, into the station's bathroom, then through a creaky wooden door into....


This is one of the more unusual cave entrances I have seen.  Here we have a ramp going down into the cave area.  The cinder block walls are obviously new.  But the ramp maybe not so new. I was told that in the post brewing era the area was used for ice storage.  A tunnel was actually built under Main street so that ice could be cut on the river and slid into the cave.  You really don't want to pick up cold, slippery, heavy blocks of river ice too often so I assume there was a sort of sledge and winch mechanism to get the ice this far, then it was slid down into the cave. Of late assorted junk has been allowed to pile up.  The ice tunnel, alas, is no more.

The owner of the station was cooperative enough but said he was going to lunch in ten minutes. So I had to sprint back to my vehicle for my camera and flash light.  I was only able to hastily snap a couple of pictures of the cave's recesses.
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It is a good sized cave.  Various side passages suggested it was a natural cave that was enlarged for beer storage.


In this side passage there is some sort of cinder block stack.  I don't know what it was supporting.  I am not sure I want to know.

The architecture of this cave was odd, as the entrance used for ice storage was not the original one used for beer.  I got the feeling that the cave had significant side passages and connections but my brief survey did not allow me to map them out.

Having a brewery "in" a hotel seems dubious.  Not everyone likes the smell of fermenting beer. I got to wondering if perhaps the brewery was a separate structure on the hotel property.  The gas station is quite near to this vintage hotel, the Sherman House.


Although hotels often changed names I am pretty sure that this never was "The American House". The Sherman House was built a few years after the brewery began, in 1866.  It was named for General Sherman who was then at the height of his fame.  It's for sale now if anyone is interested.

Early frontier towns would have a surprising number of hotels and having two next door to each other would not be considered odd.  The American House seems to be long gone.
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Later this week: A smarter monkey.  Also some punning tombstones.

1 comment:

Blue Door Inn said...

From "Alma On The Mississippi", Page 11: In 1864 John A Hunner purchased the Wisconsin House and installed a brewery there. It was known as the Alma Brewery and besides acting as brewer he continued to run the hotel.

From "Alma On The Mississippi", Page 6: 1855 ... two hotels, or more accurately boarding houses, were erected ... Phillip Kraft's Wisconsin House on the corner of Main and Olive.