Monday, November 5, 2012

Forgotten Brewery Caves - The Middle of Nowhere

There will likely never be an accounting of just how many early breweries there were in Wisconsin.  It was the era of German immigration.  The skills needed to brew beer on a "farm house" level were wide spread.  And it is a rather arbitrary thing to describe a small scale brewery as either for household use or for small scale commercial distribution.

That is likely the case with the Castle Rock Brewery just south of Fountain City Wisconsin.

As to dates I can only say vaguely around the time of the Civil War and just after.  The proprietor was a fellow named John Schuler, who built a log and timber structure near the Mississippi to cater to stage and river travelers.  Guests at a road house want beer, so he started brewing it.

Almost the sole information on this enterprise comes from a 1951 article by the Fountain City Historical Society.  The brewery was:

"..quite a building when he completed it, with a large cellar for ageing the beer far back in the hillside, and a second floor reached by an outside stairway that would serve as living quarters and a tavern room.  Logs were used for rafters as well as walls so that floor boards and windows, and a pair of sturdy doors, were all he bought."

That description was more than enough to get me curious, so on our recent road trip I plotted a course that would take me past the site.

Lots of changes since the 1860s.

The site is quite overgrown.  This appears to be the main building.  Walking around to the front we find:

Probably the location of one of those "sturdy doors" mentioned.  Notice that this is the front of the brewery/inn and the door is at ground level to the remains of a road that once went in front of the place.

Some modern cinder blocks and cement speak to efforts to use the building for something in the modern era.

This is the Castle Rock Brewery as seen from the back side.  I was at this point getting frustrated by my difficulty finding anything that looked even a little like that supposed "large cellar for ageing beer".  In fact it was not until I got these photos home and had a closer look that I realized something significant.

We are so used to thinking in terms of the automobile.  In this shot I am standing on a road behind the brewery.  But when it was in operation the main orientation of the place would have been towards the river which you can glimpse through the trees.  I appear to be standing on a level with the second floor of the establishment.

Which means the road behind the brewery is probably built up and modern.  Otherwise you would not need a stairway to reach the second floor!  As to which of the two foundations above is the original I have no way to judge.  But now I can re-focus my efforts.  And I found this:

When I was on site I dismissed this bit of stonework as being of no significance.  After all, it is right next to the road which you can see above it.  Nobody would put their storage cave under the road, that would be stupid.  In fact at this point the road grade seems to have sliced off the top of the stonework.

But if indeed the road is later, then the dark patch in the back wall of the stonework is probably the former entrance to the cellar that went "far back in the hillside".  Allowing of course for the fact that the article was based on the hazy memories of the son of Mr. Schuler.  And to little boys a modest cave would seem grand indeed.

Am I being unfair to Schuler Jr.?  Perhaps, but his account contains a variety of other fanciful stuff including a stories of drunken Indians and debonair highway men....

The ruins of the Castle Rock Brewery are four or five miles south of Fountain City Wisconsin.  Turn into the parking lot of the Midway Tavern.  Walk south on the dirt road a little ways and you will find a road going up into the valley.  There is a sign indicating private property, but the site looks neglected.  The modern (?) road seems to lead further into the hills ending at an archery club.


Addendum.  The account linked above mentions "the Williams brothers".  This would be Lon and Ed Williams, who also used the name Maxwell at times.  The brothers murdered several lawmen.  Ed was captured, and taken to the courthouse in Durand, Wisconsin.  A angry mob laid hands upon him there and hanged him, the last known lynching in the state.  As Mr. Williams was 30 years old at his death in 1882 it would seem to make the account of his visit to the road house and paying for a meal with a gold piece either quite a bit post Civil War....or more likely the invention of a creative young lad.  The adventures of the Williams brothers were actually the subject of several "dime novels" in the 1880s and it would be quite easy to write yourself into the story if you had grown up only a days ride away.

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