Friday, April 30, 2021

Another Pottery Beer from Eau Claire Wisconsin?

The strongest argument for a second pottery beer in Eau Claire Wisconsin is of course the existence of the first one!  These bottles were a capital investment for their owners and they wanted to get them back.  If you were the only game in town it was less of an issue.  But to have your competitor get your bottle and use it would be horrible.  Besides, unlike glass bottles where an expensive mold would have to be made to customize your bottles, with clay it was a simple stamp that could not have added materially to the cost.

So to get us started, here's a picture of the E.R. Hantzsch pottery beer. Did he have competitors?

Our first clue comes from Chippewa Falls, where during my research into possible pottery beer users in that adjacent burg I ran across this from 1874:

I note that it does not say that the product is being made in Eau Claire, only that he intends to begin production.  Alas for our story there is basically nothing more about Mr. Tolevar in any local sources.  I've even run various spellings of his last name.  Nada.

Our next candidate is also elusive but not quite a ghost.  In the first week of June 1878 this ad ran a few times:

The spelling here is obscure.  It looks as if it could be several different spellings but it turns out it is Haefner.  From a single mention I can say that this is almost certainly Louis Haefner who in 1873 was mentioned as a brewer at the Hantzsch establishment.  The reference to "my line" does sound as if he was in business on his own five years later.

But for an even earlier mention of a possible pottery beer from Eau Claire a brief side trip is necessary.  The enigmatic Mr. Tolevar claimed to be selling as one of his wares something called Cronk Beer.  The nice alliteration with crock notwithstanding, the name actually comes from its supposed inventor a certain Warren Cronk.  Circa 1840 he is said to have invented a Temperance Drink with minimal alcohol content.  It was flavored with sarsaparilla, sassafras, ginger and whatnot.  It attained a modicum of popularity in the decades that followed.  Not everyone cared for it I guess, as evidenced by this rather roundabout passage from an 1873 Eau Claire paper:

With so little to go on it's hard to say if this was what Tolevar was selling or perhaps a reference to the product of the Hantzsch brewery, which per their ads did include various "small beers" such as Cream Ale.  It could even be an unknown third company.

So there you have it.  In the correct time period there seem to have been two other enterprises putting up products that should have been in pottery bottles.  Were they marked?  Well that would make good sense.  Should we be discouraged that none have turned up yet?  Nah, in the 35 years I've lived in the area not a single specimen - nor even a shard - of the known to exist Hantzsh bottle has come out of the ground despite diligent efforts by local enthusiasts.  There are still interesting things hiding underfoot.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

A Pottery Beer from Chippewa Falls Wisconsin?

Obviously I'm in Archaeology Withdrawal of late.  I know it's not pretty but I make no apologies.  Two years of non digging, (shudder).  It has at least gotten me back to thinking about and researching local history a bit more.  In an earlier time I'd have been out excavating 19th century sites as soon as the ground thawed.  

I've not done much of that in recent years.  The prime sites have mostly been dug up years ago, and while there are still many interesting things in the ground they are generally only going to turn up with construction.  And between a decline in down town development and a remarkable increase in liability concerns, those opportunities are rare.  But I'm OK with this.  I'm not into acquiring "stuff", and sometimes it's more fun to deal in speculation than in reality.  Which brings me to the question of the day.  Is there a pottery beer from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin?

Pottery beers are delightful artifacts.  They are usually from the 1860's and 70's.  Breweries were smaller then and almost all their product was sold in kegs.  But there was a niche market for bottled beer.  Maybe for home use, although any proper German household would buy in the form of small kegs.  But perhaps you'd want to go on a picnic or something.  There is also the question of when "beer is beer", but I'll get to that presently.

To get your appetites going, here are some pottery beers from elsewhere in Wisconsin.  Varied in color, shape and size, they reflect an era when local potters turned out by hand these containers that for a while were economically competitive with glass bottles.

I'll preface by admitting that nobody has ever found a pottery beer marked from Chippewa Falls. And while dumps and trash pits of this era have not been excavated often here it has happened.  One point against the existence of a pottery beer is this lack of even a shard.  But this is not about what is known to exist, but what might.

So...there were three breweries in town during the appropriate era.  I think we can discount the short lived Union Brewery, they barely got into operation at all.  That leaves Leinenkugel's and Schmidmeyer.  And we can assume that they both bottled in the appropriate time period.  From the Chippewa Weekly Herald of 29 June, 1877:

I don't take everything I read in the local paper to be Gospel Truth, there was often a bit of civic boosterism that went beyond optimism and out into fantasy.  But this sounds straightforward and I think describes real events.  But was the beer put into pottery containers?

For the Schmidtmeyer brewery I've actually seen a pretty complete inventory from 1876.  It mentions no bottles but does describe everything else in such detail that I think they'd make the list.  So evidently our old pal Francis X. put in a small bottling enterprise later, in fact very close to the end of his venture.   The bottles could have been either glass or pottery.  If the latter they might have been marked so as to differentiate them from his competitor.  I'd speculate an FXS marking.  Of course Schmidtmeyer was not a very good businessman so might have gone with cheap generics that were less likely to be returned.  

The Leinenkugel's brewery was probably not called that in this era.  There were a number of breweries owned by this extended family, so I expect it would be referred to as the Spring Brewery.  Or less conveniently Leinenkugel and Miller's.  By 1881 they were running this ad:

Pottery bottles are fairly heavy.  A box of 36 pint bottles full of beer would be quite unwieldy.  And recall that Leinies is unusually still a going concern.  I would think that a curious pottery bottle would have been rummaged up out of some obscure basement long ago if it actually existed.  No, having put in a dedicated bottling line in 1880 they would have been using generic glass bottles with paper labels.  If pottery vessels were used in the '70's they must be very rare indeed.

The same edition of the paper gives us a third possible candidate for a pottery beer.  As it turns out many pottery beer bottles held not the traditional lager but something a bit tamer.  Lemon beer, birch beer, root beer, etc.  Actually the pottery bottles would not be ideal for lager, which needs to be contained longer and usually has higher pressures than a simple cork system could handle.  So this bit is intriguing...

1881 is getting a bit late for pottery beer bottles, although it is mentioned that he was restarting an earlier business.  It sounds as if it was seasonal.

William Faeh is one of those figures in local history who was well known enough that nobody felt much need to talk about him.  What I've run across is mostly bad luck, and the local paper is quite sympathetic to him.  His wife "an old resident" died in July of 1881 just a few months after the above ad was run.  Unless I'm being fooled by a "Junior" scenario he then married a much younger woman named Bertha who was described as being "of bad character" and an opium user.  They divorced in 1889.  Soon afterwards William Faeh removed to the Old Soldier's Home in Minnesota and vanishes from the scene.

I'd actually put the odds of a marked Lemon Beer from Faeh as being moderate.  Pottery vessels were the traditional type used for this and given the likely low volume of his trade there would not be many out there.

Anybody have pottery beers from this general area marked WF, FXS, L&M?

Monday, April 26, 2021

Friend of Bats

As a side benefit of my brewery cave hobby I have learned a few things about bats.  They are odd creatures and I don't think my respect for them will mature into affection.  For sure the other member of the household views them with suspicion.  

Spring weather brings clean up jobs and on a recent morning it was the attic that got some much needed attention.  And from under a box being moved came some nasty hissing and squeaking.

Well I guess I still have a few useful functions around here.  Welding gloves and a container were obtained and the bat was dealt with.  My Bat People have indicated that the best thing to do is to take them outside and put them on a tree.  This time of year the light, which they don't appreciate, is still the place for them as they need warmth.   Here's our pal draped over a branch looking as if he has had a serious night of partying.

I imagine he'll wake up and wonder what the hell was going on when he was half asleep.  And why everything smells like Cheezits!  Hey, it was the first appropriate bat transport container that I could see in the recycling bin.


Friday, April 23, 2021

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Mayville Wisconsin Part Three....and it's a doozy.

Today's Forgotten Brewery Caves post deals with one of the more difficult variations, the offsite storage cave.  These are not common.  I'd say they are about 10% of known caves, and mostly occur in places where either appropriate geology is hard to find, or where a brewery radically outgrows its initial site. 

Welcome to Mayville Wisconsin, April of 2021.

The property owner of this house was getting ready to sell, and became curious about three odd cellars that were under/behind it.  Eventually this question was posed to me, and I was more than happy to run over and have a look.

There are several maps that show the ownership of this parcel of land as far back as 1860.  It is part of "Henninger's Addition" to Mayville, and in fact Henniger did own it at some point.  As John Henniger had started a brewery in 1855 over across town, he is the clear favorite when it comes to the question of who was using this space. Unhelpfully the two maps from the 1870's show no structures and have it owned by people with no clear association with the three local breweries.  Although of interest and I think significance the next listed owner of Henniger's brewery, a man named Kroesing, had a nice house just across the little valley.  He would have had a clear view of this property.

The first structure of which there is record appears on an 1885 "Birdseye View".  These documents tend to be vivid but sometimes inaccurate, but for what it's worth, here's the site:

It's a substantial building, but lacking chimneys and such does not suggest a brewery.  As we shall see, there was certainly something there before - and after - this presumed residence.

The property owner had been told that there was a fire, and a rebuild on the existing foundations starting in 1890 and proceeding in stages, one floor at a time, into the 1920's.  So, what's there today and how do the puzzle pieces fit together?

Here I am standing in front of the chronologically hodge-podge but really rather nice house in 2021.

To the right of the house there is a flat section of wall built into the hillside.  And a door.

A couple of observations.  The jarring lack of symmetry struck me right away.  At this point I did not know that there were three doors, only that there darn well ought to be.  The pattern of brewery caves with three entrances is a recurring one.  I've seen it in St. Paul Minnesota, Hudson Wisconsin and several other locations.  Including per our last post, one of the other Mayville breweries.  The relationship of the wall with the doors and the presumably later house foundation is curious.  The front wall of the cave system is approximately the back foundation of the house, but there are some hints that the two may in fact be of similar age.  Is it possible that the 1885 house was built on the foundations of an ice house/atrium that was in front of the caves from their presumed construction in the early 1860's?  Well, lets step inside.

This is the interior of what we'll call chamber 1, on the right side as you face the house.  The walls are a bit stained but the structure is solid.  That odd rectangle at the top of the back wall is an air vent.  We'll return to that presently.

Here's the reverse view, looking from chamber one back up the stairs.

The placement of doors off the center line is unusual.  And the steps, while modern are also an oddity.  Why not just put the door lower?  I suspect there were ramps in the old days.

There are of course short passages connecting the three chambers.  Here's the center chamber, or number 2.  It's in better shape.

Nicely white washed walls and floor.  Another vent in the back wall.  The dog of the household tagged along for my tour and at various points started barking furiously and running back and forth.  Perhaps the structure is haunted.  From this perspective I turn 180 degrees to show...

Another off center door, this one going into the house.  Again there are modern steps.  And up above them is something quite interesting.

The space above the stairs goes up to this structure which has a wooden hatch going to the outside world.  I believe this to be an entryway for ice to be put into the caves.  We'll have a look at the outside in a bit.  This is fairly strong evidence that there was some kind of structure above the caves, either a little shed of these dimensions or a larger ice house.

Here's a neat little detail, a hinge for the door that once closed off chamber 2 from the last chamber.  

I think we can actually skip chamber 3.  It's in worse condition but is otherwise identical to the ones I've already shown you.  In that chamber the door to the house is sealed off with modern cinderblock.

Let's step into the spring sunshine again for a moment.  Here's the back of the house...

See the hatch near the front bumper of the blue car?  We've seen that from the other side, and I think this is much older than the modern blocks would suggest.  Is that little projection built on the foundations of an earlier ice house?  It's hard to see any reason for it being built after the caves were constructed.  For your usual household ice needs you don't require a hatch to drop big blocks down into the basement.  On the other side of the driveway we find this:

This is one of the vents at the back of the three chambers.  This one has an elevated ceramic pipe, which would hopefully keep runoff from flooding down below in a heavy rain.  But ironically this is to the rather moist chamber 1.  Chamber 2 is much drier but its vent is flush with the ground.  The pipe by the way is modern but likely duplicates what must have been over these vents when the caves were in use.  Probably with a more waterproof top.  Here you can see how the vents, and therefore the back walls of the chambers, line up with the driveway.

There were a number of nagging questions in all of this, and I don't think I've put them all to rest yet.  Those vents for instance.  On a hillside they must flood the chambers with rainwater regularly.  Yet they were fairly dry, especially the center chamber.  This leads me to believe that the cement floors are not as old as they look, and that in fact there is still some kind of functioning drain system underneath.  Indeed, when puzzling this over I suggested that there might be a pipe running away from the house and was told that indeed, in direct line with the center chamber there is a spot in the lawn that is always sinking in and needs refilling often!  Surely the tail end of the drain system or a broken pipe part way along.

Another thing bothered me a bit.  This was such an ideal spot for a brewery.  Hillside caves, edge of town, nice little creek at the bottom of the hill.  Could this be the enigmatic fourth Mayville brewery that is hinted at in records?  Caspar Maedder was a brewmaster for the brewery on Main street, and seems to have had his own brewery in the late 1850's and early 60's.  But his name does not appear on the 1860 map of this area, and with Henninger definitely owning the land at some point it seems a long shot that a fourth brewery would be on this site....and not show on the maps.  A storage cave might not get noticed.  A brewery would.  Yet the 1872 and 1876 maps don't show any structures.

The property did have other identified owners.  A man named John Muzzy in 1860, and a Charles Spiering in 1876.  Were one or both of them investors in the Henninger brewery?  Or did Henninger just lease the caves?  At one point in the late 1860's Henninger seems to have actually owned the Main street brewery having perhaps sold the one he started circa 1865.  Could this cave have stored beer for both breweries?  It should be noted that brewery ownership records are fallible and quirky.  See the prior example of Herr Gerlach buying up the competing Darge brewery in our first installment.

Another problem is that certainly the Main street brewery and most likely Henninger's original brewery on the North side of town actually had their own caves.  Did growth of the breweries require more storage space?  I actually know of one or two instances of competing breweries sharing storage cave space.  Hastings/Ninninger, Minnesota being an example of limited geology, and if the rumors about Menomonie Wisconsin are correct this may be another instance of apparent competitors being covertly cooperating. 

This is not the first time I've pondered the reason for having three caves lined up like this.  I have theorized that perhaps the center one was for the ice and that sufficed to keep beer cold in the adjacent chambers.

I do have to concede that there is a small chance that these caves were not for beer, all the classic features notwithstanding.  Henninger also ran a butcher shop.  Any chance that the many hooks in the ceiling of the cave were actually for hanging up sides of beef?

I'm going with no on that one.  These caves are sizable and a bit damp.  That's great for a product that can tolerate being damp and that gets better with prolonged storage.  Lager beer?  Oh yes.  Sides of beef hanging around for weeks to months?  Hmmmm, not such a strong marketing concept.

Many thanks to the property owner for letting me study this fascinating site.  It has helped me answer some vexing questions.  While of course creating new ones.

In the interest of completeness here's the 1876 view of the Henninger, now Kroesing brewery on the other side of town.  Certainly enough room to have caves there.  So why bother to haul beer elsewhere?

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Mayville Wisconsin. Part Two.

Mayville has a lot of brewing history.  

The largest surviving brewery building in town is associated with the oldest brewery, that established by Benjamin Mayer on Main Street in 1853.  Mayer ran it for a couple of years, in association with his meat market, then sold it to a certain Martin Bachhuber...who was also a part timer since he was a veterinarian.  One supposes the brewery's delivery horses were very well tended to.  

It went through a variety of ownership changes and enjoyed middlin' success until a man named Ziegler bought it in 1874.  Production was increased, a plot of land across the river was purchased for a five acre beer garden called Ziegler Park, and in 1888 they demolished the old brewery entirely and built a new one.  My limited survey of the site suggests that they reused some of the existing foundations.  

The Ziegler family carried on the enterprise with considerable success after Matt Ziegler died in 1892.  They even purchased several other small breweries in the area.  Ziegler Park was upgraded with a dance hall and a foot bridge to reach it.  Competition from Milwaukee suds was temporarily stopped when a saloon owner who wanted to pour the non-local stuff suddenly found that he was unable to buy any ice to keep it cold.  Guess who owned the only ice house in town?

Prohibition was a challenge, but the Zieglers diversified into soft drinks, near beer and - in a somewhat complicated story - seem to have started making cheese on site.  A couple of unsuccessful years of brewing ale and stout in the mid 1930's were not a success, and the building has been used for cheese production ever since.  

Almost all of us who like Beer also like Cheese.

In 2021 the building is, as you can see, rather unlovely.  But the flags are cheery and what brewery cave enthusiast can avoid a happy moment when spying the words: 

Visit Our Cheese Cave


The entrance to the cheese shop is down several steps and in through a doorway once big enough to trundle kegs in and out.  I surmised that the ground level was once lower....that would be a nasty obstacle to beer distribution.  I also assumed that I'd see the beer cave in direct line with said doorway.  And, well you don't get to be the internet's self declared beer cave Authority without knowing a few things...

To the right you can see wine for sale.  Handy if you are off on a silly road trip and want to bring home something of a prize.  The walls and ceiling of the cave have been extensively remodeled as one would expect in a food preparation/sales area.  The archway seen above was probably the perimeter of an antechamber,  but appears to have modern cement buttresses added.  I always give credit to those who take good care of brewery caves and these folks have earned it.

Of course there are many kinds of cheese.  Some made on site, others from elsewhere.  With so many choices I had a hard time picking just a couple.  I did not risk the green stuff.

The cave has three segments.  The Wine area seen above, the main Cheese area that did not photograph well, and another off limits section behind a wooded screen.  Here's a peek back there.

If you find yourself near Mayville Wisconsin I suggest you stop in.  Buy some cheese and some wine.  Have a chat with the nice folks in the shoppe.  They were more interested in the recent (i.e. Post Prohibition) history of the place than in its earlier, sudsy story.  But they did tolerate an eccentric fellow who came in and just wanted to talk about beer caves.  It is a subject I can run on about with some air of of Authority.  So when I suggested that there really should be two more identical caves, one to each side, they did admit that yes, this was indeed so.  

We'll see this repetition of three caves in a row in our next Mayville stop.  And get ready to peruse that posting with a container of age and time-of-day appropriate beverage in hand.  We'll be taking a deep dive....

Addendum:  Here's the view of Ziegler's Brewery on the 1876 map.  Notice that the land just to the north is owned by a member of the extended and somewhat dubious Wolter clan, and that just to the south is Cemetery Street.  Will we go there too?  Yes.  Yes we will.


Monday, April 19, 2021

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Mayville Wisconsin. Part One.

Mayville is a tidy little town in southeastern Wisconsin.  It remarkably had three, or perhaps even four, 19th century breweries and we'll be looking in on all of them.   Clearly a productive place to visit for a fan of Forgotten Brewery Caves, so as they say in Vegas "I'll be here all week".

We'll start with a relatively new one.  William Darge was a carpenter who built his own brewery on the banks of the Rock River just across from downtown Mayville.  He's known to have been brewing in 1866 but could have been in business a year or two earlier.  He did well, and by the late 1870's his was largest brewery in town, albeit with only a modest output of 428 barrels.  

The brewery of course was made of wood, and unsurprisingly had problems with fire, that bane of the early brewing industry.  When it burned in 1879 the news made the papers as far away as Madison.  It was noted that it "was burned several years ago, and insurance rebuilt it, but this time it burned just the day before the insurance agent arrived from Fond du Lac".  

That bit of bad luck aside the establishment was rebuilt again, this time in brick.  

But misfortunes continued.  William Darge died in 1885.  His son Louis took it over but died in turn only two years later.  William's widow sold it to a man named Gerlach who "converted it to other uses".  In a pattern that will confuse things a bit in a later post, Gerlach was one of those individuals who had a stake in one of the other breweries but "dabbled" a bit in speculation.

Here's a couple of outside views of the brewery in 2021.

And for comparison here is a view from a rather beat up 1876 map.

In my photos there is something you can't see clearly.  Emphatic no trespassing signs, one of which has a picture of a pistol on it.  Not an ideal situation to go knocking on doors, and visiting on a weekday I did not have the good fortune to come across the denizens of the place happily out doing yardwork.  Interestingly the place had been for sale, and I understand an offer was placed just days before.  As such there were several interior photos up on "Zillo" that I pass along as they would seem to be in the public domain.

Substantial cellars below.  

One chamber is full of water and supposedly is a fish pond complete with a dock!

From what I can see the Darge brewery has survived nicely.  I think the new owners will be happy there.

Friday, April 16, 2021

The Great Pyramid of Wisconsin

When I'm off on a Road Trip it's usually not the known destinations that make them's the accidental finds.  Sometimes it can be a complete enigma.  Other times I see something from afar and have it pegged right away.  As I drove near Horicon Wisconsin I saw this along the side of the road and said "Classic Supper Club.  Fallen on Hard Times".  And so it was.  And so it has.

I've actually been to, and inside, the Great Pyramids.  And this was fairly evocative.  The dry, cracked parking lot all around this impressive structure is on a smaller scale reminiscent of the desert sands that come almost up to the doorsteps of the Pyramids and Sphynx at Giza.  And that same pervasive sense of a Lost Era is hanging in the air.  

The history of this place of course is more modern.  Let's hunt up some clues...

The Nile Club.  That's not its current incarnation.  And you'll have to take on faith that this was not how I made my ID of the site.  And speaking of Faith, here we have an American flag and a humble signboard with a Bible verse.

The place seemed to be semi abandoned.  There was a car parked out back; perhaps somebody lives there.  But the roof is in sore need of repair and the general sense of decay is palpable.  The front door looks to be long unused.  But as is often the case with grand edifices in decline, a smaller more manageable portal is kept functioning.  My photo was intended to just show the signage but includes my own image as an apparition from some alternate Mirror Universe.

I can't find a presence of the Harbor Missionary Church on Facebook or a functional website.  

The story of this supper club can be found in this Roadside America entry.  It's the usual tale.  Somebody had an idea for a supper club.  They hit on a theme that was current at the time and built it up into what sounds like a great business.  Supper Clubs were, and to a lesser extent still are, an important part of Wisconsin culture.  Friday night fish fries, potent brandy old fashioneds mixed by bartenders wearing ties and often red vests.  Conversation and laughter just a bit louder than you'd find in more straight laced parts of the country.  This is a world not yet entirely gone, but one that is receding into the past.  Of course images survive.  Let's look at a few before they become as puzzling as the delicate paintings on the walls at Giza.

Detritus of Empire.  The phrase does not apply only to antiquity.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Discovery and Sadness in Randolph Wisconsin.

A couple of years back I posted on an unusual variant of "Tree Shaped Tombstones" that I'd encountered in the area of Beaver Dam Wisconsin.  And so far nowhere else.  Obviously when I'm over that way I keep an extra sharp eye out, and even route through more of the small, off the beaten track communities that are numerous in eastern Wisconsin.  Such as...Randolph.  This is a nice little village of 1,800 current inhabitants and of course has an area on the edge of town for former ones....

Here's two of the "Beaver Dam" style tombstones, one in front of the other.  They are from two individuals with the name of Davis.

David Davis, born 1857.  

And William Davis, born 1887.  Presumably two generations then?   It's a bit unusual to have His Wife be 15 years older.  And were Edith and Margaret siblings of William?  Tucked back behind is another small, tragic mystery.

Infant mortality was so common back then.  Were some children who lived only a short time not even named?  Some tragedies of course were impossible to minimize in this fashion.  Elsewhere in the cemetery...

Our babies.  Two deaths in the spring of 1884.  Age 2 days and age 4 years.  Very unusually with a memorial over a century old, there are still flowers, albeit plastic ones, being placed on it.

Monday, April 12, 2021

I'm Not that Way Anymore....

Out for a walk the other day.  Hey, what's that back behind the dumpster?  It was on a lot where there had been a fire a few weeks ago.  Let's take a closer look....

A crispy, partially melted Barbie Jeep.  Man, there was a time when I'd have grabbed this and hauled it home.  There's motors, gearboxes, wiring and switches to scavenge!

But that was in an earlier, simpler time.  Back then I needed a constant supply of parts for Machines Behaving Badly and for other DIY robotics projects.  Now things are more precise, more organized.  Most of the scavenged robot parts from years past have gone to recycling.

Times are different.  Even I'm different but no so much changed that I don't feel the nostalgic tug of the old ways.  It brought to mind a song I had not thought of in years.