Friday, August 19, 2016

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Port Washington Wisconsin

Today Port Washington Wisconsin is a cute, somewhat touristy small town.  But as a Lake Michigan port it was once a very busy place.  With all the immigrants coming through in the pre-Civil War era some thought it might become the next Chicago.  It's probably better off being small and quaint.

Of course it had early breweries.

In a centennial history of Port Washington it is claimed that the first brewer there was an Englishman named Arnet who sold his product for 3 cents a pint.  There is a Henry Arnet (1825-1913) buried in town so there might be some truth behind this.

The first well documented brewery in town was begun in 1847 by a Jacob Moritz.  It had a great location next to a hill side cave and along a small creek that ran into the harbor.  This proved to be a long running enterprise, staying in business a round century before it went out in 1947.  The breweries later offices are extant and make up part of the American Legion Hall at 419 Lake Street.

In 1955 crews digging a sewer pipe near the former Milwaukee Northern interurban train line ran into something unexpected.  

The crashed into a brewery cave that went over 100 feet back into the hillside.  The newspaper article of the day described stone and brick rooms, cyprus aging vats and brick lined vents that went up to the hillside above.

It sounds like quite a sight.  East of the railroad tracks under eight feet of ground was a large brick and stone room with overhead iron cross bars for lifting kegs.  West of the tracks and under 30 feet of heavy clay there was a long aging cellar containing four oval vats each six feet high and fifteen feet long.  In 1955 the brick air vents were still visible and a few old timers could recall sneaking into the brewery in their youth and having a great look out over Lake Michigan from high atop St. Mary's Hill.

The cave complex was sealed up after the utility work was completed and there is no longer any access to it.

So, what's left in 2016?

The brewery office.

The creek is still where it has always been.  Old accounts say it was sometimes dammed up in the winter to make ice for the beer cave. 

My brother is often along on these trips.  He collects bricks.  Creeks, especially creeks near ruined breweries, are a great place to find them. 

Behind the brewery runs a bike path.  Clearly this was the line of the old Interurban Rail Road.  

And next door to the Legion Hall is what must be the sealed off entrance to the cave.  It looks pretty sturdy and the workers back in the 1950s filled in their excavation with dirt and cement blocks.  But most of what was seen then is no doubt still there.  I spent a lot of time clambering up and down the hillside looking for traces of the air vents but they too seem to have been demolished.


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