Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Menomonie, Wisconsin. I think.

Menomonie should be a great place for brewery caves.  It has all the ingredients.  It was settled early and by thirsty lumberjacks and sawmill workers.  It had ready access to good, grain growing farmland. It had water.  It had limestone outcroppings.  It even had an abundance of brickyards for constructing internal features like archways and such.

But even though Menomonie had at least two breweries in the proper era it has been a very difficult nut to crack regarding brewery caves.  Consider the following.

At the end of 12th Avenue is a rise of land overlooking the Red Cedar River at its junction with Galloway creek.  The spot was called Brewery Hill, because by the 1870s and perhaps earlier, it was occupied by a brewery.  In 1876 a man named Fuss was operating it, but as it was called the "Felzan Brewery" I assume he was not the initial proprietor.  In any event by 1888 a fellow named Weber owned it.  To date I have found very little else out on this establishment, only that they had a beer garden at the bottom of the hill.  This is thought to be a photo of same:

One would certainly think that this would be an easy one.  You have a "Brewery Hill", surely there will be a cave in the side of it, likely facing the river.  Remarkably it took me four or five visits to the site before I finally have reached a fair level of certainty that I have zeroed in on the cave site.  If you are expecting swell photos of same, sorry.  Consider this a "how to guide" to locate difficult caves. Sometimes there is just not that much in the way of visible traces.

Here is Brewery Hill in June of 2014:

The site is now mostly parking lots and cheap apartment buildings. But perched right in the middle is a nice circa 1890 house with a sort of chalet style to it.  I am assuming it was the brew master's house. As to cave sites, not much for possibilities here.  The slope behind the apartments is very steep, more of a cliff overlooking Gilbert creek.  A good general rule of thumb in hunting brewery caves.  If you can't see a road that would allow a horse drawn wagon full of kegs to safely travel, then look for your cave elsewhere.  Sure, you find a few caves that are built directly into the cellars of the brewery, but they are the exception and usually go with very large breweries.  So, where to look?

On old maps of the area (very handy!) 14th Avenue dead ends at the brewery.  But now it continues as a modern road snaking down the hill.  Walking down it a ways I peeked over the side and saw what I had on earlier visits just dismissed as some random rubble fill.  There were bricks, mostly post 1900, but also some tell tale chunks of carved limestone that otherwise had no business being there.

This curved bit looks a great deal like a section of roof from a cave entrance.

Of course this stuff is all tumbled down the slope.  Looking up all we see is this sort of unnatural looking berm:

This view is from a path alongside the river.  If you stroll another hundred yards you are in the former beer garden.  So this was certainly on the brewery property.

But I was still not sure.  Until I walked back up onto the road.  If you keep the alignment of this feature in mind and step onto the road above you see this:

Two manhole covers in exactly the same alignment.  As I can see no other use for these (there does not seem to be any drainage pipe below for instance) I think this unusual occurrence of two manholes only a few feet apart suggests they were formerly vents to the brewery cave that still lies beneath.

Note please, these covers are ancient and gummed on well by rust and old asphalt.  I did not think of going down for a look.  Don't you think about it either.

So what made the difference on this last and at least somewhat successful trip?  Time of year. In general you want to go cave hunting in spring or fall, times when the underbrush is less dense. This time out of stubbornness I went on the bug infested, muggy, longest day of the year.  The tell tale clue that was visible now but not on other trips was the bright green moss.  It really likes limestone and made these shattered bits stand out dramatically.

I am assuming that the entrance to the cave at least has been methodically clobbered.  Probably at the time of the modern road being built over the cave.  If I were a city engineer worth my salt I would probably also have filled the caves with concrete at the same time.  Hollow spaces under roads - bad. Or maybe they got cheap and skipped this step.  Notice the horrible condition of the road surfacing around the manholes?

Observe from afar please.

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