By Kevin Cullen (Discovery World staff Archaeologist)
Through Discovery World’s Distant Mirror Archaeology program, the most recent Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing tour took place on September 24th 2011. This one-of-a-kind bus tour explored the contemporary brewing hotspots and historic hidden gems on the near Northside of Milwaukee. Previous tours have explored dozens of historic brewery sites in downtown Milwaukee, on the Southside, as well as the Westside of the city. Led by Milwaukee brewing historian Leonard Jurgensen and Discovery World archaeologist Kevin Cullen, this time we visited several contemporary and historically significant brewery sites, saloons, malt houses, parks, etc., north of downtown Milwaukee.
As we boarded the Badger Bus outside Discovery World on the late September morning, a unique phenomenon was taking place a mile east over Lake Michigan. Several water spouts were spotted churning over the waves; fortunately that is where they remained as we moved inland off the lakefront.
Rolling north to Ogden Avenue, we soon arrived at our first historic brewery site, that of the former Ogden Avenue Union Brewery located on the northeast corner of Ogden Ave. and Broadway Ave. The former brewery was built in 1850 by Henry Stolz and Leonard Schneider. Over the following decades, brick additions were made to the building and brewing continued under various partnerships until 1892, when it was purchased by the Pabst Brewing Co. who then closed the plant. In 2005 the historic building was leveled with the intention of constructing a high-rise condominium on the property. Those plans have yet to materialize and today all that remains is a vacant lot, however, there are still intact cellars that extend beneath the sidewalk of Ogden Ave.
Our next destination was a short distance away at the Schlitz Brewery complex. The bus disembarked outside the 1890 Brewhouse to pay homage to what is soon-to-be the next casualty in Milwaukee’s brewing heritage, as it is slated for demolition in Spring of 2012.
The keg of specially brewed Omnibus Bock was tapped (brewed in Discovery Worlds MillerCoors THIRST Lab), while we toasted to this magnificent structure and the legacy of the Schlitz Brewing Co. which owes its roots to August Krug who opened his brewery on Juneau Ave in 1849. The current location was first established as a brewery site by Joseph Schlitz in 1871 to keep up with demand for beer following the Great Chicago Fire that same year.
Boarding the bus with a bock in hand, we made our way a short distance southwest of the Schlitz Brewery, to the former E.L. Husting Brewery at the northeast corner of N. 5th and W. Vliet St. We were greeted by Kathy Shillinglaw of Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center, who are the current tenants on the second floor of the former brewery building. The original section of this cream city brick two story building dates to 1877, when Eugene Louis Husting built his weiss beer brewery and soda factory. Grain milling and storage took place on the second floor, while brewing and soda production took place on the first floor. The Husting ale brewery and soda factory remained in operation until prohibition in 1920, after which time the company moved into distribution. Today the entire building structure is oldest compete former brewing facility in Milwaukee and possibly the state.
Moving north the bus rolled into the site of the former Schlitz Park which was once located at N. 8th St. and Vine St. The park was acquired in 1879 by the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. as a public beer garden with a lookout tower and concert hall. The park remained as such until it was turned over the City of Milwaukee in 1910 and renamed Lapham Park. Today the original site of beer garden is located beside Carver Park and beneath the parking lot of Roosevelt Middle School.
By 11:30am we had arrived at the former Northwestern Brewery and Malthouse, located on the northwest corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. and W. Vine St. Begun in 1856 by Phillip Altpeter as the Northwestern Brewery, they brewed lager and “white beer” until 1884 when the brewery was converted into a malthouse (for malting grain). In 1902 the malthouse was demolished and a new two-story commercial brick building was built by the Phillip Jung Brewing Co. Today this building along with the 1883 cream city brick saloon are still standing.
Nearby, we rolled by the site of the former Phoenix Brewery/Malthouse/Schlitz Cooperage on the southeast corner of N.2nd St. and W. Vine St. The Phoenix Brewery was established in 1858 by Felix Calgeer who then sold it to Louis Liebscher in 1870 and converted the brewery into a malting facility. In 1907 those structures were demolished and the current brick building still standing, was erected by the Schlitz Brewing Co. as a cooperage (wooden barrel factory).
Continuing east along W. Vliet St. we arrived at a former Miller Brewing Co. saloon (aka “tide house) on the northwest corner of N. Hubbard St. and Vine St. Built in 1902, this cream city brick building is currently undergoing rehabilitation by Bob Crawford, who has been painstakingly restoring the tavern to its original glory. We were treated to a sneak peak inside the bar, which is soon to open to the public in 2012. As the bus moved north, we passed by several other Miller and Schlitz brewery owned saloons in the Brewers Hill and Riverwest Neighborhoods. These iconic brick buildings are identifiable by their corner doors and located on street corners.
Our next stop was at Stonefly Brewing Company at 735 E. Center St. for a tour and lunch. That day there happened to also be a street festival (Center Street Daze) taking place, which made for a vibrant scene. Head brewer, Jacob Sutrick, gave us the tour of their small 7 barrel brewing set-up and provided a unique insight into their operation. A delicious lunch followed in the pub washed down with a variety of Stonefly ales.
Following a delicious lunch, our next destination was the original location of Lakefront Brewery located at 818 Chambers St. The 1911 redbrick building was built as a bakery, but eventually was where brothers Russ and Jim Klisch started their brewery in 1987 until relocating to its current location on N. Commerce St. ten years later.
It was nearing 2pm when the bus stopped at the former site of the Capitol Brewing Co., located at the southeast corner of N. Fratney St. and E. Vienna St. Named after Capitol Dr. (one block north), the now defunct brewery was founded in 1933, following Prohibition. The brewery operated for 15 years, brewing up to 40,000 barrels annually by the early 1940s. Today only one abandoned out-building from the original Capitol Brewery still stands.
Crossing the Milwaukee River into Shorewood, our next destination was the tasting room of Big Bay Brewing Co., Milwaukee’s newest micro-brewing company which was launched in 2010. Located at 4517 N. Oakland Ave. the tasting room offers a nice selection of their beer and sodas that are brewed at the Milwaukee Brewing Company’s 2nd Street Brewery.
After an enjoyable sampling of their ales and sodas, we boarded the Badger Bus and headed west along Hampton Ave. to N. Port Washington Rd in Glendale, where the former site of the Eline Candy Plant is located. This enormous complex of buildings were built by the Schlitz Brewing Co. beginning in 1919 as alternative product revenue during Prohibition. After only ten years of making chocolate candy and cocoa, the multi-million dollar venture failed in 1930 and many of the buildings were retrofitted. Today several of these buildings still stand and are currently home to medical offices.
Our next destination was a tour and sampling at Sprecher Brewing Co. in Glendale. This nationally recognized craft brewery was established in 1985 by Randal Sprecher on Milwaukee’s near Southside. The current facility was opened in 1995 and continues to produce a wide range of traditional and specialty beers and sodas. We were treated to a tour of the brew house, as well as the bottling and packaging facility. We concluded the tour in the rathskeller tasting room where everyone was treated to several samples of their choice.
As the clock struck 4:30pm it was time to head back to Discovery World. Driving south along Martin Luther King Dr. the bus briefly stopped on the corner of W. Burleigh St. where the former site of Pabst Park was once located. Originally, Valentine Blatz purchased the property in 1857 for development as a shooting park, however in 1888 the Phillip Best Brewing Company bought the land and renamed it Pabst Park. Prior to Prohibition it was the location of a large beer garden, amusements and music stages. Today the property is known as Rose Park and includes a senior center.
By 5pm we had returned to Discovery World after a full day of Milwaukee brewing heritage on the city’s Northside. Many of the historic sites visited on this tour have never before been the subject of exploration, so it was a unique treat to celebrate those brewing legacies for the first time. With four distinct Legacies of Milwaukee Brewing tours completed, we have now traversed the entire city and seen first-hand the dozens of historic brewery sites, from the 1840s to today. Stay tuned for future tours throughout Milwaukee and beyond!