Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Sheboygan Wisconsin

Sheboygan Wisconsin would at first glance appear to be a fabulous place for "Forgotten Brewery Caves".  It was a quite early community and the population was and is heavily German and Dutch.  There were numerous early breweries.  

But there are other factors to consider.  Yes, breweries needed to keep the product cool for ageing and storage.  But in this community they had not much for solid rock structures to tunnel into.  And they had all of Lake Michigan for ice.  I think the breweries switched over rather early to above ground ice houses.  But there is still the hope of finding some of the early storage caves from the larger brewers.  And the fascinating smaller operators perhaps never got beyond the cave storage phase.  Today lets visit one of them.

Sheboygan Wisconsin. The corner of 12th and Ontario.  Here we have a modernish looking house going the long way on the lot.  Your eye will not doubt jump to the cave back behind it but notice also the peculiar cement slab in the front yard.  On to the cave.

According to a newspaper article the homeowner was doing renovations when he came upon a 24 foot section of brewery cave.  It has been retrofitted with a tasteful wooden front and now serves as a storage shed.  Looking at the configuration of things I do wonder how the existence of the cave would not have been known all along.  It is close to the surface and as you can see from the below image actually came pretty close to the back of the house.

It is the standard "barrel vault" brick style that is usually employed when you lack decent rock structure.  But where does it go?  Up above it on the rise we find this odd structure.  It seem too narrow for a proper house.

I have looked over various plat maps from the area.  The really early ones don't show individual structures but from the 1880s to this 1903 example the layout looks like this:

12th and Ontario is the lower left corner of this block.  The odd "house" in the photo just above is designated 1015.  The cave runs roughly from the back of the structure designated 1007.  This does not appear to be the house now on this lot.  Note also the peculiar outbuildings in front of 1007.  This is an unusual alignment of such, you generally did not want the outhouse and wood shed up front.

So what to make of all this?

In 1856 a fellow named August Bintz moved to Sheboygan from Chicago.  He built a brewery on the corner of 12th and Ontario.  The place had not been in business too long before the usual fate befell it, a fire.  Tragically in the chaos of the moment one of the volunteer firemen was run over by the horse drawn fire engine and killed.

Bintz rebuilt about a half mile away.   The story of the Bintz brothers, August and Joe, is rather complex and I will take a swing at it next installment. 

Circa 1875 the old brewery site on Ontario was acquired by another guy named August, August Thamer.  He seems to have been born in Germany either in 1845 or 1850.  He came to Sheboygan in 1854.  Most young men of that era joined the colors for the Civil War but Thamer rather unusually was not in a local regiment but served in the Regular Army.  Specifically he was in the Sixth US Infantry Regiment and in fact stayed in from 1862 clear through to 1868.

Thamer was not the kind of fellow who got written up in local history books.  About all I can tell you is that he was married in 1874 and had a son in 1879 who he named, delightfully, Alaska Thamer!  The brewery went out of business at some point circa 1880 but I find August Thamer in the 1910 census still living a couple of blocks away.  His occupation is listed as "sewing".

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