Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Forgotten Brewery Caves-Hastings Minnesota

You can with a fair amount of accuracy predict whether a community will contain brewery caves.  If you have pre-1880 settlement and any sort of stone cliffs there will be brewery caves. Unless there are substantial lakes handy to stock ice house storage.  And sometimes, even that exception does not hold true.

Welcome to beautiful Hastings, Minnesota on the banks of the Mississippi river.

I ran across this very informative piece on early breweries in  Hastings.  It put me onto some good leads for finding the caves when I happened to be passing through on other business.

The first brewery was built on the east side of town in 1856.  It went through various owners the first being Michael and Jacob Schaller.  Their method of beer storage is unknown.  Plagued by a series of fires they threw in the towel in 1870.

The second brewery was established in 1865 by Smith and Lato on the west shore of Lake Isabel.  They started out storing their beer a couple of miles out of town in Nininger. But eventually they got tired of the bother and excavated a cave near the brewery.  The brewery closed in 1891 and the property was acquired by the Chicago and Milwaukee railroad in 1906.  The next year the railroad leveled the site and were said to have had considerable difficulty clearing the solid limestone of the storage caves.  The side today is mostly railroad property, but looking over from the boat landing you can see an odd structure...

Oh, we can edge our way a little closer....

Its a big whoppin' block of stonework atop which is a tiny little patio affording the house above a view of the rather drab and uninspiring lake.  I suppose a homeowner with lots of time on his hands might build something like that, but to me it looks more as if there was something here and they just plopped a cement pad on top.  I think this might be the sealed up former entrance to the brewery cave.   Here is a view from the side.

See how it abuts the solid rock face, and with the newer cement pad on top.  It even has some vent holes as if there is a hollow space underneath.  But alas, no way to peek inside and if newspaper accounts can be believed, the cave behind has been demolished and back filled anyway.  An ambiguous and perhaps very much forgotten brewery cave.

The third brewery in Hastings was started in 1867 over on the east side of Lake Isabel.  It also had an array of proprietors with J.L. Busch and son operating it the longest.  They excavated a cave on the banks of the lake in 1879.  It is on private property and I was unable to get a look at it, but I will update this post should I get a chance to stroll out across the frozen lake sometime.....

There was also a later brewery in downtown Hastings, but by its inception in 1885 refrigeration machinery had become affordable and caves were not necessary.

Getting back to the cave first used by Smith and Lato.  I mentioned that it was in Ninninger, a ghost town that boomed and busted rather early on.  Its tale, so often repeated in frontier speculation, can be found  here.

I have no idea why it made sense to haul wagon loads of beer out of town and down a rather steep grade to a cave that would seem prone to occasional flooding.  Maybe Smith and Lato figured this out after a few years.  But that is just what they did, and they even shared the storage space with the Busch brewery for a while.

The cave is not hard to find, it is at the foot of the bluff at the end of Jason avenue in Nininger. The town by the way is no longer a ghost, with quite a few nice houses.  At the end of Jason avenue there is a sign proclaiming private property.  That sign is on the right hand side of the road.  Over on the left we see...

The Nininger Landing and Marina is much less grand than its name.  You have a neglected looking boat, the shed you see behind it, and at the base of the cliff a boarded up cave entrance.

It looks to me as if the "Marina" was mostly a place to sell beer to passing boaters. Implausibly the Nininger Cave seems to have stayed in service for beer storage for a long time.  Two of the beers listed, Yoerg and Remmler's went out of business in the early 1950s.  (Although old brands often stick around longer under new ownership).

It would not have been difficult to nose my way in and have a look around, but I settled for reaching the camera in and taking a snap:

The usual.  A natural cave, expanded by excavation.  A little graffiti and a small amount of debris are the only signs of occupation.


Jim Fix said...

I recall my dad taking me to the beer caves in Ninninger in the late 40's. when I asked him about it years later he told me that a group, Kiwanis perhaps , had an event celebrating the beer caves by selling beer by the case as a fundraiser.

He had a strong interest in the history of Ninninger.

We left Hastiings in 1950.

Tacitus2 said...


That would probably explain the tote board with various now defunct beer brands for sale! Thanks for the Memory!


Lucy Francis said...

This is indeed private property and very alive with the current owners

Tacitus2 said...

If you are indeed the keeper of one of these bits of historical treasure may I say "Thank you".


Lucy Francis said...

It would be a pleasure to communicate with you about this privately