Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Forgotten Brewery Part Two - through the years...

It has been difficult to piece together the story of the F.X. Schmidmeyer Brewery.  There are so few physical remains left.  Usually a 19th century brewery would have substantial stone walls that endure, and as I have pointed out in prior postings brewery caves are very difficult to eradicate without using so much dynamite that there would be no windows left in town.

But the Schmidmeyer brewery has almost entirely vanished.

Here is the site in 1874.

1. is the main brewery   2. is Schmidmeyer's house.  3. appears to be some sort of outbuilding to the brewery, probably the malt house.  I think the pagoda like structure associated with it is a chimney. 4. may be a house  This appears to be off the brewery property, which is defined on this 1878 plat map.

Plat maps tend to be pretty accurate.  The first image is a "Birds Eye view" in which artists sometimes took a bit of license.  Note that the bridge that once crossed the river on West street has disappeared.  It was in fact probably just an optimistic fantasy structure.

Our next point of reference is 1886.  By this time the brewery had been closed for six or seven years, and some major changes have occurred....

A new bridge, this time real and half way between West Street (now called Superior) and Pine Street (where the modern day bridge is located).  The brewmaster's house still stands but the entire site has been graded flat.  Note how the house is standing on a little pedestal of original ground?  The odd flat area on the original 1874 view that I marked with a question mark is a potential site for a brewery cave. Unless a slight depression in the ground counts it is gone entirely. My feeling is that this was more of a brick lined room than a proper cave, as the hillside lacks a stone face.  If there was a good storage cave site near the brewery why would they have purchased a site two inconvenient miles away for this purpose?

The little huts to the far left of the picture are covering springs, these are marked on early plat maps. A culvert under the road still drains nice clean water off into the Chippewa River. The site overall was slowly converted to industrial use.  Maps from the late 19th and early 20th centuries indicate a rail road round house, a coal storage area, a stock yard and a grain elevator.

If there was any chance of a cave surviving somewhere else behind the brewery it was covered over in a late wall construction project.

Water run off from a steep hill side can be problematic, and a masonry wall helps keep soil from shifting down to interfere with the site below.

The site today, standing approximately on the front step of the brewmaster's house.

I had for a time some hopes that there was in fact a surviving cave from this brewery.  Because on Spring Street just around the corner I found this:

This is a very odd house, three stories tall and with a ridiculous block of masonry stuck onto its back side.  In fact, it looks as if the masonry is older than the house.  See how the house is overlapping it a bit?

Surely this must be the entrance to a cave extending back into the hillside.  I mean, what other use could there be for something like this?

Alas. With a bit of effort, and only after admiring the tenant's 10 cats and helping move a bunch of stuff off the the trap door, I got a look inside...

Steep stairs going down into a spider infested basement.  The wall to the left is the front wall of the masonry block seen in the above views.  It is entirely sign of a door or archway.

So, what is actually going on here?

I'm not entirely sure.  With the various changes of street names and bridge locations it took me a bit of figuring to actually be sure that this site is off the brewery property.  But it appears to be where I have marked a 4. on the 1874 view.  I am of two minds as to the masonry structure.  It is likely the foundation of an earlier 1870's house, perhaps the one shown on the bird's eye view.  I think they were just being a little lazy/practical when they incorporated it into a circa 1895 building.  Or as an alternative explanation there was that crazy staircase/walkway coming down the face of the bluff on the 1886 bird's eye view. Maybe this masonry structure, which has bits and pieces of all kinds of stuff in it, was a landing for the staircase?

So we say farewell to a pioneer brewery.  Nothing survives but a cave on the other side of town that they only got to use for a few years.  And some scribbled documents in which a rather testy Francis Schmidmeyer tries to settle up his wife's estate.


Walking back behind the tedious blue Quonset huts that now occupy the brewery site I found this:

The base of a bottle.  It could have come from the brewery or been tossed down from one of the grand houses above.  But the semi circular marks on the base are from an open pontil....a style of glass making that became obsolete circa 1860.

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