The Keg (Eastern Coast Breweriana Association) Summer 2005
How We Saved the Stegmaier
by Rich Wagner
My jaw dropped when I caught sight of the Stegmaier brewery back in August of 1980. It was magnificent, the largest of the half dozen or so abandoned brewery complexes we had encountered on our tour across the state. I had begun to feel a sense of urgency to photograph as many of these hulking wrecks as I could, since none of them looked long for this world. We walked around and photographed the buildings, peering inside where we could, and Rich Dochter began telling me about his summer job at a local beer distributor, when he had picked up beer at Stegmaier and got to see the inner workings of the plant.
In the years that followed, we visited countless sites throughout the state and discovered breweriana events. Collectors were eager to share their knowledge and helped us identify the locations of even more standing breweries. We photographed trays and lithos with factory scenes of many of the sites we had visited. After seven years, we had amassed quite a bit of information, and began doing tours of different regions throughout the state.
In 1991 we put together the Luzerne-Lackawanna Brewery Tour which was the first event ever jointly sponsored by the Wilkes-Barre (Luzerne County) and Scranton (Lackawanna County) historical societies. On May 4th we filled two buses and arranged a catered lunch and tour at the Lion brewery. For years there had been talk about saving the Stegmaier brewery, but nothing had ever jelled, so we hoped that the tour would help preserve this piece of Pennsylvania's rich brewing heritage. The Luzerne County Historical and Geological Society even sponsored a breweriana exhibit featuring items from Al Kogoy's collection, for which we created a chronological history of brewing in the region, and Rich Dochter and I gave a slide presentation later that summer.
Two years later, the E.C.B.A. did its part by holding their 21st Annual Convention in Wilkes-Barre with the expressed purpose of saving the Stegmaier brewery. Al Kogoy, a long-standing mover and shaker in the effort, appeared on the local news, as did other E.C.B.A. members, and there was a table set up downtown with volunteers encouraging people to sign a petition to refurbish the landmark. The E.C.B.A. also sponsored the second Luzerne Lackawanna Brewery Tour.
The ABA held their 14th Annual Convention in Wilkes-Barre in 1995 to do their part in the restoration effort, and hosted the third Luzerne Lackawanna Brewery Tour. U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski was on hand at their business meeting to announce that $18 million in federal funds had been set aside to restore the 100-year-old brewery complex. The brew house was slated to become a regional distribution center for the U.S. Postal Service, and the remainder would be converted into office space expanding the city's Federal Building. It was, in the words of Len Chylack, "a happy coincidence." The ten year effort by many different individuals, groups, and legislators to save the Stegmaier had finally come to a successful conclusion. In 2001 the project was completed and the result is a sight to behold. Be sure to visit and check out the mural of the old Stegmaier complex in the lobby.