Chronicling Milwaukee’s Historic Breweries

Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing Westside Tour

Saturday, April 30th 2011 marked the third Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing tour, developed through Discovery World’s Distant Mirror archaeology program.  While the two previous tours have explored Milwaukee’s storied brewing sites in the heart of the city and on the near Southside, this urban archaeology expedition focused on the historic brewery sites located throughout Milwaukee’s near Westside.  This included several forgotten historic brewery sites, the behemoth Frederick Miller Brewery, the graves of two notable beer barons, as well as the former mansions of the Miller, Schlitz, Gettelman and Pabst families.

Each of the nearly fifty participants received a screen printed tote bag (printed in Discovery World’s print lab), which was filled with a custom bottle of “Westseitenbier Hefe Weizen”, brewed exclusively by yours truly for this tour in our new Thirst Lab, along with a detailed booklet outlining the chronologies for each of the sixteen sites on the tour. With Julie at the helm of a full coach bus, Leonard Jurgensen as Milwaukee Brewery Historian and I, as archaeological tour guide, the loaded Badger Bus rolled out from Discovery World just after 10am.

Weaving our way through a throng of pedestrians, walking in support of the March of Dimes, we quickly reached the former site of the Lake Brewery, which was established in 1841 by three pioneers from Wales.  This ale brewery built at the end of Clybourn Ave. (formerly Huron St.) lasted until 1880, at which point it was razed for an expanding railroad depot.  Today it is home to a Milwaukee County Transit bus garage.  Rolling west along Clybourn St. and then to St. Paul Ave., the second stop was a former Schlitz “tide house” on 19th St.  This three story cream city brick building was built in the late 1880s and still has a handsome Schlitz globe sign on the buildings upper cornice.  Today it is home to Sobelman’s pub and grill.

Stop three was the site of the former Banner Brewing Company (2302 W. Clybourn St.).  This short-lived post-prohibition brewery opened in 1933, where they brewed primarily weiss beer at an annual capacity of 8,000 barrels.  However, in 1936 the brewery ceased brewing operations for financial reasons and the brewery closed.  Today the building which was built in 1919 still stands, yet most of the façade is covered with metal siding.  Inside there is evidence of the original brew kettle ventilation pipe, as well as an original freight elevator.

Moving on, stop four brought us to the very intriguing brewery site of Franz Falk’s New Bavaria Brewery.  Located near 29th St. and Pierce St. along the south bluff of the Menomonee River valley, the property was first purchased by Franz Falk and Fredrick Goes in 1855.  While brewing may have taken place there prior to 1860, there is definitive evidence that major brewing operations began there in 1870.  In its heyday this brewery was one of the largest in Milwaukee, until two devastating fires destroyed the brew house and malt house in 1889 and 1892.  Today the brew house is no longer standing, however the original 1870 stables and three story stock house (ice house) still stand, making them perhaps the oldest surviving original brewing related buildings in Wisconsin.  They are both vacant buildings and in disrepair, however new property owners are looking to rehabilitate the structures.  Prior to the tour, this archaeologist employed ground penetrating radar over the location of the former brew house (now a gravel lot).  The preliminary results indicate the presence of a large foundation wall, among other evidence of structural remains.

By 11:15am we were in route to the Miller Valley for a tour of the sprawling Frederick Miller brewery.    The origin of this iconic North American brewery began in 1849, when Charles Best and Gustav Fine opened the Plank Road Brewery along what was then called the Madison, Watertown & Milwaukee Plank Road.  By 1855 Charles Best & Co. foreclosed on the brewery after the Germania Bank which held the loan to the brewery went bankrupt. Meanwhile, Frederick Miller purchased the Plank Road Brewery on June 11th 1856 for $2,370.  Over the following 150+ years, this brewery would grow to the immense size that it is today, covering several acres and brewing over a million barrels of beer per year.  Following a guided tour through several buildings on the property, including the original lagering caves, we made our way to the Miller Inn for a delicious catered lunch and beer sampling.

After lunch, the bus once again rolled on, this time to the little-known family home of Frederick Miller (3711 W. Miller Ln.), which was built in 1884 on a hill overlooking the brewery.  An octagonal turret on the southeast corner of this wood framed Queen Anne style home stands out as a noteworthy feature.  Today it is a private residence.

The next stop was a visit to Calvary Cemetery (2203 W. Bluemound Rd.) to pay our respects to the final resting place of Frederick Miller (1824-1888) and his family, as well as the grave of Phillip Jung (1845-1911), a notable beer baron who operated the Phillip Jung Brewing Company at 5th and Cherry St., between 1895-1920.  A toast to these 19th century brewers was a fitting way to salute their contribution to Milwaukee’s brewing heritage.

Moving farther west, we came to the former locations of the Castalia Brewery (1893-1898) and the Wisconsin Brewing Company (1996-1998).  Despite being separated by a century, both of these short-lived breweries were built in close proximity along the Menomonee River in the village of Wauwatosa (then called Center City).  Only the foundations of these former breweries remain in the floodplain of the Menomonee River.

 The next five stops took us to the mansions built for several notable Milwaukee brewing families, four of which are located on West Highland Blvd.  The Fredrick Pabst Jr. mansion, built in the Greek revival-style in 1896, still stands at 3112 W. Highland Blvd. Directly to the east (3030 Highland Blvd) is the original mansion of his brother Gustav Pabst, which was also built in 1896.  Across Highland Blvd is the former mansion of the Adam Gettelman family (2929 Highland Blvd), built in 1895.  Nine blocks to the east at 2004 W. Highland Blvd. stands the former home of Victor Schlitz (son of beer baron Joseph Schlitz), which was built in the Tudor-style in 1890. Finally, located at 2000 W. Wisconsin Ave. is the stately mansion of Captain Frederick Pabst, which was completed in 1892 and inspired by 17th Century English and Flemish Renaissance architecture.  We were all treated to a very entertaining guided tour of the mansion, which set the stage for our final stop at Captain Pabst’s office complex and guild hall (southwest corner of 9th and Juneau Ave).

As the bus pulled up to the 1880 castle-like complex at 4:15pm, the group enjoyed a refreshing pint in the elegant Blue Ribbon Hall (completed in 1940) as owner Jim Haertel gave an amusing historical overview of the property.  This led to a behind-the-scenes tour though the dilapidated corridors of the once mighty Pabst Brewery including the former office of Captain Pabst.   This led us to the original entrance to the complex and onto the awaiting bus, bringing to an end an enlightening and entertaining day of experiencing first hand several of Milwaukee’s historic brewery-related sites.

Stay tuned for a future tour of Milwaukee’s historic and contemporary brewery sites located on the Northside.  This tour is being planned for September 24th 2011.  Call (414) 765-8625 or email reservations@discoveryworld.org to reserve your seat. Finally, you can listen to an interview about this tour recorded on 89.7FM, Milwaukee Public Radio, which aired April 25th 2011.

http://www.wuwm.com/programs/lake_effect/le_sgmt.php?segmentid=7335

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