Metro April 7, 2000

History of Brewerytown Goes Back to the 1800s

By Rich Wagner

"Philadelphia was one big Brewerytown" is an oft-repeated refrain by old-timers whenever the subject of beer and brewing in Philadelphia comes up.

It's true that when Schmidt's closed its doors in 1987 it was the first time in more than 300 years the city had been without a brewery. Here are the 19th century facts on Brewerytown in Philadelphia.

1835. Brewerytown started small and was out in the country, adjacent to land that became Fairmount Park. There was an "old brewery" there prior to 1835 between 32nd and 33d streets on Pennsylvania Ave.

Brewers from across town rented "beer vaults" and ice houses through the winter months they'd cart their beer in ox-drawn wagons down Girard Avenue from the low numbered streets out to the country.

1840. With the introduction of lager beer yeast to America in 1840, this light, refreshing brew quickly gained acceptance among the American population, giving way to the expansion of the brewing industry in Philadelphia and the rest of the nation.

1849. Charles Wolf, a sugar refiner, decided to go into the beer business and make this new kind of beer with a successful brewery on New Street near Second. In 1849 he located at Fountain Green on the banks of the Schuylkill, near today's statue of General Grant on Kelly Drive. Wolf's brewery included caves over 200 feet long in the banks of the river. The firm of Engel & Wolf became the first large scale producer of lager beer in the country.

1870. The city banned all industry from the river to ensure clean water for the Fairmount Water Works. Wolf retired and Engel joined Gustavus Bergner, who had started a lager brewery at 32nd & Thompson streets in 1854.

Bergner & Engel became one of the largest brewers in the country. Other brewers followed and built their new and larger breweries, populating an unprecedented industrial neighborhood that became known as Brewerytown.

Until 1920: These breweries supported a much larger community of allied industries: maltsters, barrel makers, equipment manufacturers, bottlers, teamsters and a host of others. Coupled with German immigrants, the neighborhood was a lively, unique commercial and cultural center. In 1920, Prohibition dealt Brewerytown a blow from which it never recovered.

More about Brewerytown's history and tours of the area can be found at the author's website.