Monday, June 24, 2013

Forgotten Brewery Caves - A Hidden Gem

(Time for a few "Brewery Cave" posts I have been saving up.  Yes, you will notice snow in one set of pictures.  It hung on a long time this spring....)
In general I will give directions to the brewery caves I visit unless there are good reasons not to. Some I know of are simply unsafe.  Others are on private property and can't reasonably be entered without a significant amount of trespass.  Recently I was able to visit a cave "somewhere in the Midwest" that I think should be kept quiet simply because it is so unspoiled.

All too often my first impressions of a cave are the stale odor of hobo urine and a random scattering of beer and energy drink cans.  This cave looked as if it went out of active service a few weeks ago.

If any true enthusiasts simply must know more details, email me.  If I am satisfied as to your bona fides I could be a little more specific...

At first I had difficulty finding the cave, even with good information.  In part I was distracted by the above feature which under much back fill I think is either a small natural niche or perhaps an abortive attempt to excavate a cave.  The real cave was not far off, but you had to be right on top of it to know that....

As we shall see there have been efforts to seal the cave off, but it is on public land and is not posted no trespassing, so I decided to have a peek.

The same view from the inside looking out.  The ladder was left by previous visitors.  There appear to have been at least three different attempts to block the entrance.  Whether they were defeated by the elements, the curious or some combination is an interesting question.

This cave has a number of fascinating features.  Way in the back we find this:

This is an ancient wooden hatch in the ceiling.  It rests on a stone foundation and one presumes was used to lower either kegs or ice down into the cave.  A diligent search of the weed tangled area above this found no traces, so I am assuming it was built into the floor of a brewery building, since bulldozed and filled in.  The wood does not look new....

On the adjacent wall is this curious niche.  From the stripe of rust across it I am guessing it held some sort of winch or controls for the "beer elevator".

By now you have probably gotten accustomed to certain brewery cave features.  Here for instance is the vent hole, in its usual location near the back of the cave.  It has remnants of some kind of iron cap or grate that I had not encountered before.

Although this cave is not widely known the presence of the ladder means that at least a few locals are aware of it.  In a side passage I find their gathering spot.

The circular bright object on the wall of the cave had me perplexed for a while.  Then I realized that while I was obviously taking a flash photo I still had in my hand a small LED flashlight with just that pattern of light!  Note also the diagonal "herringbone" cuts in the wall that clue us in on how these caves were carved, or in the case of natural caves, expanded.

I saw a couple things in this cave that I considered exceptional.

I have been in several caves with drain channels before but none this nice.  The floor is done in good quality cement work.  It makes me wonder how long this cave was in active use.  The brewery started in the early 1870s and did not survive Prohibition.  But this system looks pretty modern.  The pipe is probably original but I have not a clue as to its purpose.  (Addendum:  a review of maps shows the brewery, on an 1883 map.  By the time the map was redone in 1885 the spot is marked "Ruins of West Side Brewery".)

This iron hook in the ceiling was interesting.  It does not look formidable enough to hoist kegs of beer. I wondered if there was some sort of lighting system suspended from it.  If so then the next photo could be evidence of very, very old electrical conduit.

Of course you saw right away something that was invisible when I took the picture....a colony of crickets!

It would be a shame if silly yahoos started stomping around, building fires and disturbing things so I do hope I can be forgiven for simply showing you this cave to demonstrate a few hidden wonders.

Lets keep them hidden.  I rather like the idea of hidden wonders right underfoot.

1 comment:

Edwin Boyd said...

Exploring brewery caves is one of my favorite past times. I've been to a few on your list plus a handful of others. I'm not a beer can and spray paint wielding teenager looking for a hidden place to smoke my pots like so many others are. I explore under the old rule of take only pictures and leave only footprints. This cave is beautiful and I would absolutely love a little more info on it. I also have a little bit more information you could add to one of your posts as well as some pictures and what not that you might find interesting. If you could send me an email I would greatly appreciate it. P.s. It's really neat that you have the post about vintage baseball in Stillwater. I have played against those teams for our historical societies team (the Denmark Demons) and playing without a glove by those old rules is an absolute blast. But anyway I would love to hear back from you. Thanks