Friday, May 29, 2015

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Winona, Gilmore Valley

One of the very earliest breweries in "outstate" Minnesota was established in 1855 near Winona in what is called Gilmore Valley.  The proprietors shifted around a bit but for most of its 22 year existence it was run by a man named C.C. Beck.

This was a rather large enterprise for its time, with an output of 2,500 barrels in 1875.  It was noted that 200 tons of ice were required annually to keep the beer cold down in the storage cellars.

A catastrophic fire in 1877 destroyed the brewery and Beck decided to retire to farming.

Beck's storage caves were extensive and their remains can be seen near US Highway 14 at Gilmore creek, on the edge of the St. Mary's University campus.

Here is the setting.  The building to the left is a cottage owned by the University.  Two stone structures are to the right.

Here is one with a conventional door.  I think this may be a later addition. This was probably the back wall of the brewery.

The area behind this is a hillside, but it looks as if this cave may have collapsed leaving a depression. Between this and the next structure are some odd chimneys.  They look like ventilation shafts so likely there are more caves beneath.  But they also look newer than 1877 and appear undamaged by fire. The caves were probably used for some other storage purpose after the brewery burned.

The second area of stonework is deeper down and partly buried.  It has what looks like a conventional cave entrance.

The barriers are sufficient to prevent unwelcome visitors but of course I snapped an arm's length picture of the inside....

These caves are on private property and look unsafe.  Leave them alone please.

UPDATE 1 December,  2016.

The Winona Daily News of 26 May, 1967 provides some interesting notes.  At that time a new business was being launched at the site.  The West Gate Gardens was a combination greenhouse, florists, landscaping business.  The owners lived on site, probably in the little house seen above.  To quote in part:  "A man made electrified cave goes through the hillside at the rear of the property.  The main shaft is 300 feet long and two rooms off the main entrance are each 50 by 25.  The nursery men use the area for storing seedlings and bare root stock."

No doubt the newer looking yellow brick chimneys date from this era and show which parts were then in use.  As I said above, the site is not one you should attempt to enter.  T.

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