American Breweriana Journal November/December 2004
Pennsylvania Brewery Preservation - Success Stories
By Rich Wagner
I would have to say that my fascination with architecture dates back to my days as an ice cream man for two summers while going to college. Three or four times a week I'd drive down Broad Street into Philadelphia to the company freezer where I'd restock my truck. Along the way were buildings from the Nineteenth Century with marble steps, sills and keystones. Each day I'd see more decorative tile and brickwork, or turrets with cone-shaped multi-colored slate roofs. There were ornate patterns, faces, decorative pine cones or oak leaves adorning windows and gables. If you could look beyond the sad shape many of these places were in, with a little imagination you could visualize the street scene when the buildings were new.
So eight years later, when I found myself visiting working breweries around Pennsylvania, I was awestruck when I came upon the Dubois brewery complex. Industrial architecture with the same flavor of those buildings I'd admired on my drives down Broad Street. Each building was identified with a sign, carved in stone; BREW HOUSE, ICE HOUSE, STOCK HOUSE. Holes had been ripped into walls to remove the tanks, but all the buildings remained essentially intact. Inside were gauges waiting to measure pressure in the boiler house, large circular openings in the floors where kettles and tanks should have been, even the "Bier Stube" stood ready.
In my travels to various towns, I found that talking to the older locals would usually turn up information on any abandoned brewery buildings. I found Kaier's in Mahanoy City, Fuhrmann & Schmidt in Shamokin, and the Germania brewery in Altoona, all magnificent buildings which appeared as ruins of an ancient industrial past. And so began my fascination and interest with breweries both active and dead and the reuses to which brewery buildings could be put, such as dairy and food plants, cold storage, warehouses and garages, just to name a few.
Twenty-four years and quite a lot of shoe leather later, I'd visited over 400 brewery sites in Pennsylvania and over 500 breweries and brewpubs in North America. In my travels, I photographed any old breweries I'd happen upon, particularly ones which not only survived but were restored and reused.
In that time I conducted fourteen brewery tours in Philadelphia, four in Pittsburgh, three in Luzerne/Lackawanna Counties and one each in South Central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. The E.C.B.A., ABA and NABA have all sponsored tours. (Included in the illustrations accompanying this article are some highlights from the tours.)
In March I did a story for E.C.B.A.'s the KEG entitled "Brewery Preservation; Celebrating Success Stories, Remembering the Fallen," which, sadly, included the Dubois brewery (torn down in 2003) among the fallen. As an outgrowth of that story, I looked through my photographs and notebooks and made a list of other "Success Stories." The list started with about a dozen known sites around the country, and when I posted it on my site it was about two pages long (http://pabreweryhistorians.tripod.com).
Then it occurred to me that the ABA Journal published a lot of brewery preservation success stories, so I borrowed the E.C.B.A. library collection of the ABA Journal and paged through every issue dating back to 1984. It took days to comb through so many pages but the result was worth it. The list now has over 300 brewery success stories!
Thirty-two states and six countries are represented, 10 in California, 23 in Illinois, 17 in Missouri, 13 in Ohio, 110 in Pennsylvania and 43 in Wisconsin. I contributed 136 sites to the list. Phil Graff accounted for about one hundred more. The rest were found by other ABA members. I put question marks next to sites that were described years ago and looked as though they might be torn down. I didn't list some of the sites from the ABA Journal if they were vacant or in ruins. I did not include sites that contained only foundations or walls. I did count garages, warehouses and, in a couple cases, brewers' mansions.
I should mention that Eric Rosengrant has unearthed some very interesting and obscure finds in central Pennsylvania, and I have added them to my list. He has employed satellite images from the internet along with Sanborn Atlas maps to determine whether extant buildings were once breweries. I could hardly have imagined such techniques would become available when I started back in 1980.
Of significance to researchers is the fact that I have identified each brewery with its American Breweries II number, which provides easy access to the "headstone information" for each company.
I have already received an email from the owner of the Gerhard brewery in Morris, IL who reports that the brewery is an industrial site today. In addition, developers of the Koehler brewery complex in Erie sent me a CD containing an animated "fly-bye" of what their project will look like after renovation. I am hoping that more people will contribute additions and corrections to the list. If you know of a brewery that has survived and has been adapted to reuse, or see one on the list that's been torn down, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 375, Hatboro, PA 19040-0375.