Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader April 18, 1991

Brewery Tour is on Tap for May

By Chris Ritchie

Stand before the aging shell of the Stegmaier buildings today and it's easy to overlook an era when at least 30 regional breweries pumped beer and dollars into the Northeastern Pennsylvania economy.

An that's the reason behind next month's Brewery Tour, co-sponsored by the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society and the Lackawanna County Historical Society.

"Because nearly all the breweries are closed now, many people don't realize what a big part they played in our local economy," says Mary Ruth Kelly, the executive director of the local historical society. "Look at the Stegmaier house in Wilkes-Barre and you'll realize not all the mansions in town belonged to the coal barons."

The excursion scheduled for Saturday, May 4, will visit the sites of the former Reichard & Weaver brewery and the Stegmaier brewery in Wilkes-Barre; the Hughes & Glennon brewery in Exeter; the Susquehanna Brewing Co. brewery in Nanticoke; and the E. Robinson's Sons brewery, Standard Brewing Co.'s brewery and the Anthracite Brewing Company's brewery in Scranton.

It also features a tour of the Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre, the only operating brewery in the region. The cost is $15. Registration deadline is Thursday, April 25; seating is limited.

Pennsylvania Brewery Historians Rich Dochter, a day-care center director from Lock Haven, and Rich Wagner, a high school science teacher from Hatboro, will lead the tour.

"We try to flesh out a decaying building by telling what was going on inside during its heydays," says Wagner.

In 1980 the two college buddies began an odyssey to document the state's breweries, visiting more than 400 sites. Their findings will be included in a guidebook detailing the history of brewing in the Keystone State.

Wagner explained that brewing in Northeastern Pennsylvania paralleled the development of the other main industries of the region, coal, railroads and textiles.

"You had a lot of workers come to the area who were very thirsty after doing their jobs," says Wagner, whose favorite brew is Stegmaier 1857. ("It's made like beer used to be, " he says).

During the first quarter of the 20th century, at least 30 regional breweries served the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area according to Wagner. Studying their history can lead to an appreciation of a region's culture and economy, he believes.

"You also get a feel for immigration patterns," says Wagner. "What's unique about Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is that most of its brewmasters were Irish. Traditionally, you see German names.

The Brewery Tour marks the first time the two local historical societies have worked together. The agencies' directors hope it will not be the last.

"People have said to us, 'You two should get together'," says Mary Ellen Calemmo, executive director of the Lackawanna Historical Society

Since announcing the tour, Calemmo has been surprised by the number of people who have told her some member of their family once worked in an area brewery.

"Hopefully the tour will make people realize the vital importance of their heritage," says Calemmo.