American Breweriana Journal May/June 1992

To Learn About Old Breweries in Pennsylvania- the Tour's the Thing!

By Rich Wagner

When ABA members Rich Wagner and Rich Dochter began researching Pennsylvania brewery history a decade ago, they had no idea where their work would end. It is now apparent to them the work is endless!

Fortunately they have developed ways to share the fruits of their labors with history buffs, breweriana collectors, descendants of brewers, industrial archeologists, and members of the brewing fraternity.

Wagner and Dochter started with a Philadelphia brewery tour in 1987. Two years later, a local preservation organization in Pittsburgh sponsored their first brewery tour in that city. The two successful tours convinced them that an interest in old brewery structures wasn't limited to just collectors.

They approached historical societies in other parts of the state about doing similar tours, exhibits and slide/lectures. Everything came to a head last year when they conducted brewery tours in four different Pennsylvania cities.

Last May, the historical societies from Wilkes-Barre and Scranton hosted their first joint venture: the Luzerne/Lackawana brewery tour. Two full school buses carted eager tourists around both cities and outlying communities to visit old breweries and neighborhoods they inhabited. The architecture of the Stegmaier brewery in Wilkes-Barre and E. Robinson's Sons brewery in Scranton was a special treat for participants.

The highlight of the tour came when a catered lunch was served in the party room of The Lion, Inc. and the group got a tour of a working brewery. The local television station came to cover the tour and interview participants.

Just as Wagner was putting the finishing touches on his guidebook to the Luzerne/Lackawanna tour, he received a call from fellow collector Larry Handy. Another friend, Alan Williams, had approached the Lehigh County Historical Society about creating a "Taste of History" exhibit in Allentown for the summer. Handy wanted to know if Rich was up to the task of arranging a brewery tour as an adjunct to the exhibit. Exasperated, but exhilarated, Rich had no choice but to put the tour together, which included generating another guidebook that would include a complete chronology of the brewing industry in the Lehigh Valley.

About fifty tourists boarded an air-conditioned coach at the Allentown Fairgrounds in early July for the first Lehigh Valley Brewery Tour. Little did anyone know that a veteran brewer, whose family owned a nineteenth century Allentown brewery, who apprenticed at the Widman Brewery in Bethlehem, and had worked at both Neuweiler and Horlacher would be on the bus.

No one knew at least until the second stop when Charlie Lieberman assumed his rightful position as tour guide and technical expert. At the Northampton brewery, a neighbor living across from the old plant came out to see what all the fuss was about. He remembered telling Rich about the brewery in 1981, and he recognized Charlie as a co-worker at the Horlacher brewery. The two entertained the group with first-hand recollections of brewing in the Lehigh Valley, Charlie wowed and zowed the crowd with one story after another about his early experiences as an apprentice, and later as a master brewer in the breweries of Allentown and Bethlehem just after prohibition.

One week later, Wagner and Dochter conducted their second Pittsburgh Brewery tour in conjunction with an E.C.B.A. (Eastern Coast Breweriana Assn.) meeting. This tour was interesting because it included the Pittsburgh Brewing Company, a long-standing regional brewery, as well as the Allegheny Brewery and Restaurant, one of a growing number of microbreweries.

The thing that makes the Allegheny Brewery so intriguing is its location in the old Eberhardt & Ober brewery. Other significant architectural monuments on that tour were the Duquesne and Fort Pitt breweries.

In mid-summer, Rich was contacted by the Atwater-Kent Museum in Philadelphia about setting up a fifth Philadelphia tour in August. Rich was up to his ears in brewery tours, and explained that early November would be the earliest time he could arrange a tour. On November ninth, a full school bus of participants enjoyed a tour, which included two brewpubs as well as some outstanding nineteenth-century architecture.

One of the biggest success stories in brewery preservation is the pre-prohibition Bergdoll Brewery, which was converted into condominiums. The restoration of the building is exquisite. Lunch was served at Ortlieb's Jazz Haus, the former Ortlieb's brewery saloon. The food was great and the atmosphere in this old time bar is incredible.

There are over twenty standing brewery buildings that could be included in the Philadelphia tour, but probably the most unique stop was the underground vaults of the Anthony Morris III brewery that date back to the 1850's. The brewery burned down and was replaced with a foundry, hence "The Castings" name for the condominiums that occupy the site today. As part of the condition of restoring this historic landmark the vaults had to be made available to study by historians and scholars (and brewery tourists).

It was a big year for two guys that do this for a hobby. The Pennsylvania Brewery Historians, as they call themselves, are now trying to set up a tour of south-central Pennsylvania that would include Reading, Lancaster, Harrisburg and points in between. Active breweries on this tour could include Stoudt's in Adamstown and Yuengling in Pottsville.

An attempt is made in each tour to reconstruct as completely as possible all the facets of the brewing industry and the people who comprised it, at a time when every substantial community boasted of having several breweries. Participants get a glimpse of what times must have been like when beer was made locally and people were loyal to hometown brews. With each tour comes more information and insights from the sponsoring organizations' libraries, collectors, descendents of brewers and people who worked in the industry.