American Breweriana Journal March/April 2021
Brewing in Cambria County, Pennsylvania
By Rich Wagner
01 Cambria County Map 1915 Labeled: Towns With Breweries
Cambria County is located within 100 miles east of Pittsburgh. Johnstown was its primary industrial center and home to 25 breweries over time, but the rest of the county had just as many breweries. The development of the region that sits just to the west of the Allegheny Front was tied to commerce made possible by the Allegheny Portage Railroad which opened in 1832, shortening travel time from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to a matter of days instead of a month by wagon.
02 Canal boat on rails with winch raising up an incline. Drawing by George W. Strom 1839. (Wikipedia)
03 Ad. Reliance Portable Boat Co. (Library Company of Philadelphia)
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania sustained economic losses as soon as New York’s Erie Canal went into operation. In response, the legislature authorized the Mainline of Public Works to begin work on a canal system to connect Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Canal building commenced from the east and west until they reached the Allegheny Front which presented a seemingly insurmountable physical barrier. At first, they tried a tunnel. When that didn’t work, they adopted a system which had been successful in England where boats traveled by rail up and over the mountains. This involved a series of inclines, five on each side of the summit.
Hollidaysburg (Blair County) is on the eastern side of the range where west-bound canal boats were unloaded, and passengers, freight and boats traveled by rail up and over the formidable Allegheny Front. Locomotives pulled cars on more level terrain and stationary steam engines powered huge winches that pulled cars up the steeper grades. The Allegheny Portage railroad went through Cambria County for nearly fifty miles to the canal basin in Johnstown where the canal boats were returned to the water and re-loaded for the remainder of the journey to Pittsburgh.
In 1847, the legislature authorized the formation of the Pennsylvania Railroad to make rail travel continuous from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Completion of the famous Horseshoe Curve to the east of the Allegheny Front made this possible in 1854, reducing travel time between the two cities to less than a day, further accelerating development in Cambria County.
The first brewery in Cambria County was established up north in Carrolltown. After building a church, the founder of the community, Fr. Lempke, wanted a brewery to reduce the consumption of spirits by the predominantly German Catholic population. Martin Schroth established the Sun Brewery there in 1849. It burned down in 1853 and was rebuilt. Schroth’s son-in-law, Henry Blum, took over the brewery for eighteen years beginning in 1866 followed by Barbara A. Blum (1884-99), making it the town’s longest running brewery. Here is how Schroth described the property when he put it up for sale in the Ebensburg Democrat & Sentinel March 15, 1855:
One Tavern Stand, 1 dwelling house, 1 brewery and all utensils belonging to it, Lager Beer barrels, dry staves, meastands, 1 horse, 1 yoke of oxen, 1 one-horse waggon, 3 pigs, 2 setts of harness, household and kitchen furniture too tedious to enumerate. The lots on which the above-mentioned buildings are erected, are set with choice fruit. Terms of sale Will be made known on the day of sale by: MARTIN SHROUTE. Carrolltown,
04 Sun Brewery. Sanborn Map 1898 (Penn State University)
Three more breweries opened in the 1850s: Herbert Folks (1854-54), Charles Volk (1855-56) and the more successful brewery of Andrew Geis & Julius Stich, established in 1859 which continued under a variety of owners until 1900. James Stultz & company had another short-lived brewery from 1885-87.
Descendants of Geis & Stich have done a tremendous amount of genealogical research from which the following summary was created:
Julius Stich was a “shook maker,” not a cooper but someone who could make the staves that made up a barrel. In 1840 at the age of fifteen he emigrated from Germany with a dollar in his pocket and ended up working in a cooperage in Carrolltown.
In 1854 his older brother Lawrence came over from Germany and they both worked in a cooperage that made hogsheads for sugar and molasses. By 1857 the brothers had gotten married. Julius saved up enough money to purchase a hotel property and added a brewery. Andrew Geis was his brother-in-law and became his partner.
They used local barley and bought hops from New York State and Germany. They brewed lager beer and a traditional winter Bock. Andrew was making a beer delivery on July 4, 1864 when he came upon another wagon and a race ensued. Unfortunately, Andrew’s wagon was tipped and he fell beneath the wheels and met with a painful death. Julius became despondent and sold the brewery to Francis Barbrich. After about a year Julius got the brewery back and was serving his beer when the town celebrated the Union victory following Lee’s surrender.
F. & C. Eger were running the brewery in 1878. Julius’ oldest son Lawrence P. moved to Altoona where he worked at Gustav Klemmert’s Eagle Brewery & Hotel for a few years before starting his own brewery. Julius Stich moved to Altoona to help his son get started. His wife remained in Carrolltown and in 1884 sold the brewery to Joseph Farabaugh, owner of the local newspaper. It appears that Frederick Eger continued running the brewery and added an engine and ice machine. Celestine Farabaugh is listed as the owner from 1887-99. Augustine Lieb and Henry Swope were the last owners for one year before it burned down.
August Farabaugh (Fehrenbacher) established Allegheny Township’s first brewery in 1853, one of five that started that year in Cambria County. Michael Farabaugh was proprietor with annual production of 1,200 gallons or 40 barrels a when it closed two years later. George Litzinger is listed as having a brewery for a year in 1861. Joseph Vanglin had the most successful brewery in Allegheny Township which lasted for twelve years (1887-97)
Lilly’s Station on the Portage Railroad was also known as the village of Hemlock and had two breweries start up in the 1850s: Deacon & Allen (1853-54) and Dominic Kennedy (1853-54) who ceased operations then advertised the property for sale. It was advertised as “1¼ acres more or less, and having thereon erected two dwelling houses and Brewery; the lot is under a high state of cultivation. The Property offers considerable inducements to Brewers or Businessmen, from its location immediately adjoining the Public Improvements.” Lazarus Reigle purchased the property in 1856 and conducted the brewery until 1880 when he died.
George Suessregan ran a brewery from 1860-67 listed as being in Washington Township, as did George J. Schwaderer (1869-72). Schwaderer had another, longer running brewery in Summitville (1867-95) which continued under different owners until 1901. Theodore Sell started a brewery in 1884 which lasted for six years, then Francis Bradly re-opened it for a year (1896-97).
George W. Huether was involved in a number of breweries in Cambria county. He established the Summerhill Brewery (1853-57), its primary outlet being the Half Way House on the Portage Railroad which sold Ale, Strong and Lager Beer. He was involved with two breweries in Johnstown during the same time period: Huether & Bonaker (1855-63) and Huether & Vogel (1857-62) and attempted one in Hollidaysburg G.W. Huether (1870-70).
Ebensburg (Cambria County Seat)
Gottlieb Hahn & Co. had a brewery at the corner of Center & Ogle sts. for a year (1854-55). In this century, Coal Country B.C. opened there in 2018.
Three breweries were established in Loretto in the 1850s. Andrew Geis (1855-56), Philip Hertzog (1855-75) and Florian Bengele (1859-79). According to newspaper accounts, Hertzog produced 6,000 gallons or 194 barrels and Bengle 1,200 gallons, around 40 barrels in 1855. The Ebensburg Alleghenian reported in August 1866 that Florian Bengele was building a new lager beer brewery next to his hotel. Bengele was in poor health and tried to sell his brewery and dwelling as early as 1874, where he described the brewery as being large and well equipped. In 1878 he produced just over 100 barrels of beer. Joseph O. Bengele is listed as the owner in 1879, the year it closed and production was down to 26 barrels. His mother placed an ad in the Altoona Times September 9, 1890 which gives us a description of the property:
“Hotel Property For Sale or Rent. The desirably situated and always successful hotel property located in Loretto, Cambria county, and known as the “Mountain House,” is offered for sale on terms that cannot be but advantageous to the purchaser. The house, which is licensed, contains eighteen large rooms, in first-class condition throughout, and has stabling for 30 horses attached thereto. There is also on the premises, which contains three acres of ground, and will be sold either with or without the hotel, a thoroughly equipped brewery, ready for business at any time. If not sold on or before the first day of October, the property will be leased to a proper applicant. For further information call on or address Joseph Hogue, or Mrs. F. Bengele, Loretto, Pa.”
Andrew Geis had a brewery in Carrolltown (1859-64), Loretto (1855-56) and one in Summit (1858-58). However, George Schwaderer’s Mountain Brewery was much more successful (1867-1901). Schwaderer’s Mountain House was his primary outlet located directly in front of the brewery.
05 Today P.J.’s Pub inhabits Schwaderer’s Mountain House, the brewery is long gone. (Rosengrant 2008)
William Glass established Munster’s only brewery in 1860. Florence Wellebrant took over the following year. The Ebensburg Democrat of May 24, 1866 lists William Glass as proprietor.
George Ankenbauer (aka Aukenbauer) is listed as having a short-lived brewery in Hollidaysburg (1874-75). According to newspaper reports he was an experienced brewer, having worked for Martin Hoelle in Altoona, F.W. Rauch in Hollidaysburg and George Schwaderer in Summitville.
In late September, 1878 the Cambria Freeman reported that Mrs. Mary Ankenbauer and Andrew Gaegler, both of Hollidaysburg had purchased a lot in Gallitzin with the intention of erecting a large brewery there. The brewery produced 61 barrels of beer in 1879. It is uncommon to see a woman listed as proprietor unless she is the widow of a brewer. That being said, in April 1879 the Altoona Tribune reported that “George Ankenbauer and Andrew Geagler, operating a brewery at Gallitzin, have been arrested and bound over by the United States authorities for evading the liquor and revenue laws. The specific charges against them are selling beer without paying the special tax required; doing a retail business contrary to the provisions of the statute, and drawing beer from kegs without driving a spigot through the revenue stamp, as required by law, or otherwise destroying the stamp.”
In 1881 the brewery was listed as being in the hands of Mary and Mrs. Andrew Gaegler, then Ankenbauer & Co. from 1882-84, presumably when the Gaegler interests withdrew and Mrs. Mary Ankenbauer was sole proprietor for three years until George Ankenbauer assumed control from 1888-97.
There was a saloon connected with the brewery and the family lived upstairs. While the business was successful for nearly 20 years, it did have its share of notoriety in the press beyond the liquor law violations previously described. In July 1884 Andrew Gaegler foiled an attempted break-in to the new beer cellar. The thieves damaged the entrance but got no beer. In March 1885 three men were involved in a stabbing at the saloon. In October 1886 robbers made off with a trunk containing $700 in cash and documents from the upper floor of the brewery. They procured a ladder from a nearby railway signal tower to gain access to the trunk, then hauled it into the woods, broke it open and took the cash. The culprits were ultimately found and prosecuted.
But the real headline grabber occurred Christmas day in 1886 when some over-indulged revelers came to the saloon. Seeing their drunken state George Ankenbauer refused them service and they became belligerent, one of them breaking a box of cigars flinging them all over the place. He literally threw them out, but they banged on the door and tried to break it down by throwing a huge rock at it. George grabbed a 32-caliber revolver from behind the bar and went upstairs, opened a window and shot one of them in the chest. His friends carried him off and sought medical attention but the wound proved fatal.
What followed was the stuff of crime drama and the public remained on the edge of its seat waiting for the next bit of news in the press. Constable Gutwald apprehended Ankenbauer and traveled in a double sleigh to the county jail in Ebensburg along with George’s wife Mary, Fred Schwaderer and William Watts. Arriving in Loretto they stopped at a hotel to warm up. Mary went to the parlor while the men had a drink at the bar. George asked to take a beer to his wife and escaped out the back door. The Constable and his party followed his tracks and concluded he had drowned himself in the river. Subsequent reports had George staying at a farm and then getting a ride to a hotel. He went to a barber to have his full beard shaved and attempted to board a train to Cumberland. Of course, by then an “all points” bulletin with his description had gone out “over the wires.” A lynch mob was at the station ready to hang him. He was apprehended, posted bail and later was found not guilty of murder.
Perched at the summit of the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Cresson became a resort, famed for its mountain springs and fresh air. In the spring of 1902 seven Cambria County men organized the Cresson Springs Brewery with $100,000 capital. Bollinger Bros. brewery architects and engineers from Pittsburgh completed a thoroughly modern 50,000-barrel plant by the end of the year. The brew house was built directly over one of the springs for which the company was named and in 1908 they sunk two deep artesian wells to increase the water supply.
The company held a grand opening for the public at the end of April 1904. Emil Gaertner was manager and brewmaster of the plant and in September he gave a reporter from the Altoona Mirror a tour who wrote: “The Cresson brewery manufactures its own ice, has a bottling department and is equipped throughout with the latest machinery for the manufacture of beer. It has its own electric light plant, and the machinery is run by power from an eighty-horse power electric motor and 300-h.p. boilers.” There were also connections from the main line to the Pennsy’s northeast and northwest branches providing access to an even wider territory for distribution.
07 Label Prima. (Bob Kay’s Collection via beercoast.com)
Cresson Springs was best known for their Prima and Meister Brau brands, and advertised their beer, ale and porter. In 1908 Emil Gaertner left for Danville where he purchased the Germania B.C. Ludwig Meindl replaced Gaertner as brewmaster and later moved on to the Fairmount B.C. in West Virginia.
In 1912 the company increased capitalization to $200,000. That year sales amounted to 17,000 barrels, far below the plant’s production capacity. The company continued until prohibition. In 1925 the Sunlight Bakery announced plans to move into the brewery. But in February 1930 the defunct brewery was raided and a 100-gallon still was discovered along with ingredients and 50 gallons of moonshine. Today the office and some outbuildings remain with a salvage yard taking up part of the property.
08 Postcard, Patton B.C. (Ball Collection)
The Patton Clay Manufacturing Co. was incorporated in 1895 and became one of the world’s largest manufacturers of pipe, tiles and bricks. In the spring of 1903, principals of Johnstown’s Goenner & Co. and others incorporated the Patton Brewing Co. with $100,000 capital. On July 28, 1904 the doors were flung open for the grand opening with lunch provided by the company. They enlisted Fritz M. Staemmele as brewmaster. He came from the Dostal B.C. in Maquoketa, Iowa and four years later he purchased it and returned to Iowa. The brewery closed in 1916.
09 Spangler B.C. (The Western Brewer Dec. 1903)
Located along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, Spangler sprang up in 1893 when mining local bituminous coal deposits replaced logging as the chief industry. The Spangler Brewing Co. was incorporated with a capital stock of $200,000 in the summer of 1903. Chief among the organizers was Dr. Reuben Eiseman, a physician from Latrobe. Among the directors of the corporation was James Dolan who was a director of the Fayette Brewing Co. in Uniontown and secretary of the South Fork Brewing Co. Also, Philip Doherty who was a director of the Loyalhanna Brewing Co. in Latrobe. A.J. Farabaugh was treasurer of the company.
The Vilter Manufacturing Co. of Milwaukee were engineers and contractors and the plant was completed by the end of the year. The site was conveniently located along the Pennsylvania Railroad. The 50,000-barrel brewery was thoroughly modern in every respect. Two 150-h.p. boilers supplied the steam and two dynamos capable of putting out 50 k.w. of electric power. Two refrigerating machines with a combined capacity of 100-tons took care of the cold side including a 25-ton plate ice plant. The brew house had a 180-barrel steel, steam jacketed kettle and a modern closed cooler capable of cooling of 100-barrels per hour. One of the most modern features was a system where carbon dioxide gas produced during fermentation was collected, stored and reinjected into the finished beer for carbonation.
10 Spangler’s Gold Top Label bears a striking resemblance to Independent B.C. of Pittsburgh’s Silver Top brand. (Bob Kay’s Collection via beercoast.com)
A bottling department and stables were added in 1905. The company reported nearly 15,000 barrels in sales in 1911, dropping to 11,000 barrels the following year. During this period Spangler Brewing Co. was in the news over violations of the Brooks law, a Pennsylvania statute enacted in 1887 to curb the liquor trade. The Anti-Saloon League used the loosely enforced legislation to bring cases to courts in a number of counties. The law held that breweries could not sell malt liquor in counties where they were not licensed and many agents from “foreign breweries” were openly taking orders, collecting money and delivering beer outside their licensed territories.
In 1914 the company was judged bankrupt and Farabaugh was appointed as receiver. The company’s assets were greater than its liabilities, but it was unable to liquidate the indebtedness and bankruptcy prevented heavy losses to stockholders and creditors. Dr. Reuben Eiseman purchased the brewery at Sheriff sale in the fall of 1916. Together with five investors who raised $95,000, they incorporated the Rex Brewing Co. The investors included three with hotel interests in Latrobe. The brewery was licensed in 1917. With war rationing and national prohibition looming, the company diversified and began producing malt extract, cereal beverages, soda and selling ice, but closed in 1920.
12 South Fork B.C. Bottling Line. The Western Brewer March 1937
13 Bottle (Van Wieren Collection)
The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was a favorite get-away for the wealthy elite whose fortunes were tied to manufacturing in the greater Pittsburgh area. The club owned an earthen dam which failed, producing the famous Johnstown Flood of 1889.
The South Fork Brewing Co. was incorporated in the summer of 1907 with $150,000 capital. Bollinger Bros., brewery architects and engineers of Pittsburgh executed a 40,000 barrel-per-year plant. In 1912 the company reported over 23,000 barrels in sales.
In 1922, the brewery was seized for selling “high-powered” beer for several months but quickly got a permit to manufacture cereal beverages. In November 1923 they were again shut down and a temporary injunction against the company was made permanent.
The State Police raided a number of local breweries in October 1925 and in the case of South Fork, dumped 1,000 barrels of beer and arrested the manager who was released on a $1,000 bond pending a preliminary hearing. Two months later South Fork requested a permit for making cereal beverages and it was denied. In March 1926 the supreme court upheld the legality of injunctions against common nuisances and South Fork Brewing Co. and it remained padlocked.
George A. Biessinger was involved with the brewery since its inception and continued as president and general manager after repeal. But five years later he moved on to head the Altoona Brewing Co. The brewery filed for bankruptcy and in June 1941 was sold to the South Fork National Bank for $7,500, free of all encumbrances. South Fork was the last brewery in Cambria County outside of Johnstown where the Goenner brewery lasted until 1954.
It took the craft brewing renaissance to bring brewing back to Cambria County in the form of the Johnstown B.C. (2003-08). The Stone Bridge B.C. which opened in 2018 is presently operating in Johnstown.