Friday, April 24, 2015

Forgotten Brewery Caves - A Wisconsin Ghost Town

In states like Wisconsin, where the population tends to be fairly settled, there are few genuine ghost towns.  At least if you insist on it being a totally abandoned community.  But the brewery cave we feature today is certainly at least from a "near ghost".  There are still people living in this small community but it has lost its original name, its chief industry and its hopes for a bustling future.

Rockport Wisconsin was once called Clinton.  It got its start back in 1847 when Nathan and Thomas Van Horne dammed up Koshkonong Creek and built a water powered mill.  A town grew up around it and of course they had a brewery.

The brewery was built in 1865 by a fellow with the remarkably non-Teutonic name of Ole Jacobson. It is said that the cave associated with the brewery had three rooms, walls that were three feet thick and a roof that was four.  The cave was fashioned from stone cut in area quarries, the brewery building made from locally produced brick.

The brewery went under at an unspecified time and the building became a creamery.  Nothing now remains except the cave, which in the mid 20th century was used as a warming house for ice skaters on the mill pond. Most of the cave is now collapsed, apparently the result of a local farmer using dynamite to do soil testing nearby.

The cave is now preserved in CamRock County Park.  It is not difficult to find....

technically this is a sign indicating the difficulty level of the Beer Cave Trail!

There is a rather silly piece of plywood in front of the doorway, but that will not pose a challenge for any experienced cave spotter.  This is clearly on public land so I can for once say that a visit should not be a problem.  But do remember that part about how caves sometimes collapse...

Here is the view from the inside of the cave looking back towards the entrance.  The entry passage here is rather nicely built.  Next view is the inside of the remaining "room".

The odd wooden structures serve no obvious use.  They look as if someone had the idea of shoring up the roof, but that kind of construction is not going to do much.  The back of the cave, presumably the second and third rooms, has in fact caved in.  Dynamite will do that sometimes.  In the center of the above picture you can vaguely make out an object...

It is some kind of stove.  I am not quite sure what to make of this. My first impression was that it dated back to when the place was used to warm up ice skaters.  But the shape of it is rather modern, of the sort that people now call a "chiminea".  I should have taken a few more pictures to establish whether this was sitting atop the filled in dirt or was just the top part of an older, substantial stove partially buried in it.  It should not be necessary to state the obvious but that won't stop me....never build fires in caves.  You are asking for carbon monoxide poisoning. I did not see an obvious vent option in the roof above this old/?/new artifact.

Standing on the hill above you can clearly see a depression that was caused by one or more chambers of the cave collapsing.  It was a bright, sunny day, one that gives you pause to reflect.  Looking out across the Rockdale mill pond in 2015 you see this:

A few houses remain.  Rockdale's population on the most recent census was just over 200.  But the dam, the mill, even the pond....all gone.

If you visit be safe and respectful.  The area is very popular with mountain bikers so keep a sharp eye out as you walk these paths.  The cave site can be reached either by going down the hill from Shelter Area Three of the park, or by simply walking upstream from the little bridge in Rockport using the trail shown above.

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