Zymurgy Summer 1982

American Breweries We Once Knew

715 Breweries Have Dotted the Pennsylvania Countryside throughout its History

Photographs by Rich Wagner

Today, only some of the skeletons remain. Fossils of an age when a brewery could survive with a single six-foot brew kettle, its only customers working the clay mine on a nearby ridge.

It was a time begun by America's earliest settlers, whose thirst for the hearty and safe, ales of their homeland would kindle what eventually would become a thriving industry throughout the country.

When the founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, first moved to his Pennsbury Manor, one of his first acts was to order the construction of a bake and brew house on the property. From that time forward, Pennsylvania would be home to no fewer than 715 breweries. Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New York would lead the nation in beer production as well as the number of breweries in this century.

Today only eight breweries are in business in Pennsylvania, but compared to some states, that is a respectable number. But for one resident who sampled the wares at all the state's working breweries a few summers ago, the thought of the all but forgotten past would lead him on an archeology expedition that continues today.

Rich Wagner, along with his wife Ann of Hatboro, along with various friends, have located more than 60 of the old brewery sites, many of them still standing. While touring the state, they've dug through library and historical society records and talked to people along the way that can remember or perhaps even worked in the old breweries. The grandson of a brewmaster, the president of a beer label and can collecting club – all would lead them to new discoveries.

There were disappointments during the hunt. Where once there had been the familiar smells of fermenting malts and hops, today there were only parking lots, the old breweries razed for urban renewal. But it was the surprises, like a beautiful old brewery building in Uniontown that is now a tire store that kept the Wagners' search alive.

In some instances, the modern-day changes were almost humorous. A brewery in Rockwood now houses a Kosher chicken factory. Others have been converted to warehouses, offices and even condominiums. A few, like the Neuweiler brewery in Allentown, have received national historic status.

The Duquesne brewery complex on Pittsburgh's south side, houses a myriad of activities, including a matress factory, an auto body shop, woodworking operations and artists' studios.

Rich records his hobby with his camera and Zymurgy was fortuneate enough to have him discover us and offer to share some of the sights he has seen.

At a few of the working breweries, like Straub's in Saint Marys or D.G. Yuengling & Sons (America's Oldest Brewery – in continuous operation under the same family since 1829), Rich has been able to tour the facilities and uncover their unique characteristics. At Yuengling's, he entered the old ice caves that were used for lagering and were sealed off by the government during prohibition.

But at the older brewery sites, sometimes the only clues would be the peeling paint of an old billboard or sign, with barely legible names like Tube City Beer or Rooney's Beer, produced by the Home Brewing Company in Braddock.

Rich wrote us after reading about the emergence of new microbreweries in Zymurgy and he's hoping for a change in the shape of the brewing industry. “While the role played by small operations is nearly 'nil' right now, he said, “Perhaps in the future smaller breweries may again be able to stay afloat.”

To that, we at Zymurgy can only say we agree, and thanks for sharing your trip back to “the good old days.”

Photo Captions

Krantz brewery stables (Carbondale), Tube City (McKeesport), Kaier's brewery (Mahanoy City), Germania brewery (Altoona).