Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Hudson, Wisconsin

Let me say from the start that calling this set of brewery caves "forgotten" is a bit of a stretch. They are very much remembered and have apparently been in continuous use for almost 150 years.  But they provide so many clues to otherwise forgotten information that I am going to stretch the point.

Besides, I am a self-proclaimed Expert now, and can do as I please!

This set of caves is owned by, and associated with, the Casanova Liquor Store and the Nova Wine Bar and Restaurant.  To get the most important part of this post front and center I can report that the owner, Tyrell Gaffer, was a very good sport in allowing me a personal tour of the caves.  And he runs a darned good store....I asked about an obscure microbrew I had been looking for and darned if he did not have it in stock.

The Casanova is at 236 Coulee Road, Hudson.  It is just up the hill from the south end of down town.  Here is the Casanova site today:

A historic view from approximately the same angle:

The modern buildings seen in the first view are partly built from remaining walls of outbuildings to the stone brewery.  We think the caves were dug right in from the ground floor of the brewery.

There has been a brewery on this site since the 1860s.  A map of Hudson dated 1870 shows a brewery there.  It is called rather enigmatically R.A. Gridley and WYH.  It was purchased in 1870 by a Louis Yoerg, perhaps a relative of Anton Yoerg who a generation before had become the first brewer in what is now Saint Paul, Minnesota.

The history of the enterprise is the usual sort of tale.  There was a fire in the mid 1870s that destroyed the main building which was promptly rebuilt.  There were years of modest success, then a couple of ownership changes with the place ending up in the hands of the Casanova brothers in 1896.  Their atypical name reflects their Swiss origins.  Presumably they came from the regions of Switzerland far enough south to have an Italian population but far enough north to know their beer.

Prohibition came along and shut off the flowing taps all across America.  The Casanova brothers  adapted better than most by switching over to bottling soda and soft drinks. Later they were also the local Coca Cola franchise.  The current buildings appear to mostly be related to this era, with the restaurant end being the previous loading dock area for the Casanova's fleet of delivery trucks.

Regards the brewery caves, the only local history I have found to date credits Louis Yoerg for digging them and says the Casanova brothers expanded them.  As it is difficult to impossible to run a Civil War era brewery without caves I suspect it was the earlier Gridley and WYH enterprise that first excavated them.  And as I will discuss in a later post it seems unlikely that the Casanova boys would have much need to dig deeper holes by 1896.

Here are the entrances to the caves:

These are the original entrances.  The one on far right connected to a tunnel in very poor repair.  For safety reasons it has been filled in and sealed.  The central door leads to one tunnel, and to the left of this picture there is another door leading to a second one.  This last entrance was re-excavated by the owners of the Casanova when they purchased the property.  It has a spooky, but very safe looking, metal culvert inside it.

Inside we have nice tunnels with lateral connections between them.  Oddly there is no sign of a connection with the very nearby, but now sealed off, tunnel to the west.

The Casanova folks use the tunnels for special events.  Every spring they have a very popular Beer Festival on the site:  Beer Fest Video

They also allow a local service group to put on a "Haunted House" here in October.  I have set up a few of these events back in the day, and can say that this would be the ideal venue for it.  There is also the occasional birthday party (adult) and wedding held underground.

Note this moldy old organ, part of the Haunted House set up:

Tyrell told me that when a couple of rather Gothic types got married at the site they used this as the altar!

I enjoyed my visit to the Casanova caves.  They are bright, well lit and as caves go quite tidy.  And for a student of the subject it was interesting to visit a site where there was a degree of photographic and oral history to help put it all together.  Although as I will discuss shortly, the information on balance made me know less, not more.

I also think it would be a swell place to have a birthday party.

One final picture of the Casanova site.  To have a brewery you of course need a good clean spring.  Across the road there are a series of them.  The Casanova folks have taken to spraying the spring water up into the trees.  Partly for visual effect, partly for people interested in ice climbing.  You can pump your own spring water in season...note the old school red pump right next to the sign announcing the 2013 Beer Festival.


Anonymous said...

Reading this just answered several long term questions I've had. I live in the area. Always wondered how the "8th wonder of the world" aka the ice mound was created and why. Also I was able to view the internal cave.
Question: I understand the founders of Hudson created underground caves located under the city. Several of the main street buildings have blocked off enterances. I have yet to locate an archive of these tunnels. Yet proof exsists. ???

Tacitus said...

Many older communities along river bluffs are riddled with caves. Remember that effective refrigeration did not come along until the 1880s. Beer, wine, mushrooms all need cool temps. I have seen cheesemakers have extensive caves. I know one place where dynamite was stored (on the outskirts of Eau Claire).

Have fun, within the limits of the law, exploring.