Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The History of Thornton Illinois' Breweries and the Bielfeldt Brewing Company.

The brewing of beer started early in Thornton’s history. Don Carlos Berry brewed beer and owned a saloon in 1836. Berry brewed the beer in a log cabin on the west side of Thorn Creek at Margaret St.  At that time, Thorn Creek was approximately forty feet wide and six feet deep. He later sold the cabin to Gurdon Hubbard, a large property owner in Thornton Township. There is no written record that Hubbard ever brewed beer.

John Simon Bielfeldt, born in 1834, emigrated from Hemme, Holstein, Germany with his parents in 1851. At seventeen years of age he went to work for the Illinois Central Railroad in Homewood. Not happy with this work, he went to Blue Island to learn the science of brewing. Upon completing thorough and valuable training, his ambition was to become the best brewer in the United States.

John S. Bielfeldt (1877)
Bielfeldt purchased the cabin from Hubbard in 1857 and began brewing beer with a 10-barrel kettle using water from an artesian well on the property. The brewery was the first in the state. John married Crescentia Ledoux in the early 1860’s. It wasn’t long before the John S. Bielfeldt Brewing Co. added a frame building on the property. The business flourished and in 1876 a brick brewery was built.

To accommodate his family of eight children, an eight room residence was built on the second and third floors (above the artesian well). The residence was stately and featured a large roofed porch that overlooked Thorn Creek. A tunnel to lager beer was also constructed at that time. Brewing capacity increased to a 20-barrel kettle. The beer was sold under the label of “Bielfeldt’s Old Fashion.” William E. Trautmann was the brew master in 1893. Trautmann later became a key figure In the United Brewery Workers’ Union. Mr. Bielfeldt increased to a 50-barrel kettle in 1895 and in 1896 put up an ice plant.  Beer was being delivered by horse and wagon to the towns of Beecher, Blue Island, Eagle Lake, Lansing, Hegewisch and Thornton, Illinois and to Crown Point, Dyer, and Hessville, Indiana.
The name of the brewery was changed to Bielfeldt Brewing Company in 1897. Bielfeldt’s sons, Frederick J, William S, and John B. had become officers and trustees in the business. In 1899, his son John B. became president. John S. Bielfeldt had become prominent in both social and political circles. He had served on the school board, held positions in Thornton Township and served one term in the Illinois State House in 1877. He passed away on December 31, 1899.

Upon his death, the business was turned over to his sons. Fred Zimmerman was the brewer. The brewery was damaged by a flood in 1902 and a tornado in 1904. A delivery truck was purchased in 1910.

Carl Ebner, Sr. became president and manager in 1918. The plant was modernized and a bottling department was added. A fire caused a loss of approximately $10,000 in 1919. Two men, Ebner and Mandelkow, were badly burned.

At the onset of Prohibition, the Bielfeldt family sold the brewery. It is believed that they sold to Carl Ebner, Senior. Ebner is listed in the 1920 Illinois Census as a manufacturer of soda pop. Despite prohibition, some beer making continued. It is believed that the brewery supplied beer to the disreputable roadhouses that had sprouted up east of Thornton (Dutch’s Place, Blue Lantern, Rose Bowl, Red Lantern and Viking Gardens). Due to suspicions of violating the 18th Amendment, the brewery and roadhouses were raided by Federal Agents; residents tell tales of the beer being dumped into the creek. Brewing operations ceased. The brewery was partially destroyed by fire in 1922.

Joe Saltis (1920)
It was around this time that “Polock Joe” Saltis (Soltis) came on the scene. Saltis was a Slovakian (Hungarian) immigrant who became owner of a saloon in Joliet. Saltis was an independent bootlegger who controlled many of the bootlegging operations on the southwest side of Chicago as well as the south suburbs. In the early years of Prohibition, Saltis managed to piecemeal together a network of small breweries ranging from the south suburbs of Chicago to Wisconsin. The former Bielfeldt Brewery in the quiet town of Thornton proved to be a valuable asset to Saltis. Stories told by residents say that trucks would pull up to the brewery’s docks during the night to load beer for delivery to Saltis’ speakeasy accounts.

Saltis began supplying illegal alcohol to speakeasies in Chicago with the assistance of John “Dingbat” O’Berta and by 1925 Saltis controlled the southwest side.

Saltis remained on good terms with his south side neighbor Al Capone whose Chicago Outift began dominating Chicago’s bootlegging soon after his arrival in the early 1920’s. By the mid 1920’s, only the Saltis-McErlane organization remained independent from the eight satellite gangs under Capone’s control. “Polock Joe” soon became entrenched in territory disputes with many of Capone’s satellite gangs. He began talks for a secret alliance with Capone rival Earl “Hymie” Weiss’s north side gang. Al Capone began to move into Saltis’ territories. In 1927, O’Berta, along with Saltis, arranged a conference including Al Capone, George “Bugs” Moran, Vincent “The Schemer” Drucci, Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik, Ralph Sheldon, William Skidmore, Maxie Eisen, Jack Zuta, and Christian Betsche and managed to agree on a ceasefire of the various gang wars. The ceasefire lasted a little over two months before war broke out again. After several of his associates had disappeared or been shot and his organization mostly destroyed, Saltis retired to his home on Barker Lake in Winter, Wisconsin. Despite his retirement, Saltis gained nationwide notoriety when he was ranked as Public Enemy No. 9.  (Al Capone was No. 1 – Ralph Capone was No. 3) by the Chicago Crime Commission. (The lengthy information on Saltis is included in this history of the brewery because of the many prohibition stories that have existed regarding mob activity at the Thornton brewery. Perhaps this will clarify some of the rumors.)

With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the Thornton Brewing Company was soon up and running again. By October 1936, bankruptcy papers were filed listing debts of $20,000. Jacob Silver and Dominic Frederick were the two leading bidders at the auction of the property. Joe Saltis warned Frederick that if he persisted in bidding there wouldn’t be any brewery left. Frederick withdrew his bid.  After the auction, bankruptcy Court Referee, Wallace Streeter, had Saltis cited for contempt and the brewery property went to Frederick.

Frederick operated the brewery as Illinois Brewing Company from 1937-1940.

The brewery was renamed Frederick’s Brewing Company in 1940. They did business under this name until 1948. Water from the artesian well continued to be used until 1945 when a new well was dug. Over $400,000 was spent to modernize the brewery. Sixty-five men were employed at the brewery at that time. During World War II, Frederick’s Four Crown Special beer was shipped by railroad throughout the United States. Boys from Thornton were quite surprised to receive beer from home. In mid-1940, the brewery contracted with Crown Cork and Seal to produce J spout cans of Pilsner and Frederick’s beer which are now highly prized by collectors.

James, Frank, Joseph, and Dominic Frederick formed a partnership in 1948 and bought the McAvoy Brewery name.  McAvoy was originally located in Chicago but it did not survive the Prohibition.  McAvoy had a 100,000 barrel capacity.

The Frederick boys were very poor business men. They filed for bankruptcy in 1943 but continued to operate until 1949 when they really went bankrupt due to race track gambling debts.

Ildefonsas Sadauskas, a Lithuanian immigrant, bought the brewery in 1951. The buildings were in shambles. The first stock certificate for 200 shares was issued November 8, 1951. A brewer from Lithuania, Sadauskas brewed a dark, Baltic-style lager call White Bear.  The beer didn’t catch on in this area.  He advertised in Lithuanian newspapers; White Bear was sold throughout America. He made his own barrels and had a 100,000 barrel capacity. In 1955, Sadauskas claimed he was run out of business by the crime syndicate because he refused to pay “protection.” The truth is that he didn’t pay his federal taxes.

Sadauskas and his partner then brought in small industrial companies to fill the space. It was called the Thornton Industrial Complex.

The drilled well was sold to the Village in 1957.

A variety of businesses have been in various parts of the complex through the years. At one time, there was a Canfield’s bottling plant and a cabinet maker and most recently an auto repair and a body shop.

In 1985, Ken and Dick’s, a pizzeria from Roseland, opened a restaurant in the residence portion of the building.  Since then, a variety of restaurants and taverns have had businesses there but were not successful. Customers complained about climbing stairs to get to the entrance and, once inside, had to climb another flight of stairs to the restaurant.
Business partners Chad Spicer (left to right), Steve Soltis, Andy Howell and Micah Kibodeaux are opening "Soltis Family Spirits," a distillery, in the Thornton building where Soltis' great-grandfather ran a beer bootlegging operation during Prohibition.

NOTE: I received this email from Deirdre Capone on November 6, 2017, 6 days after posting this historical account. Deirdre Capone is Al Capone's grandneice. Deirdre's grandfather is Ralph Capone, brother to the Chicago Crime Commission’s Public Enemy #1: Al Capone.
Neil, I loved reading this. You are a good historian. Reading this brought me back in time. You are correct in the information concerning my uncle Al. It is funny but I met Joe Saltis and I worked with his grandson at Carson Pirie Scott downtown Chicago. The two of us, over lunch, would compare stories. 
Deirdre Marie Capone


John S. Bielfeldt Brewing Co. (1857-1896)
Proprietor:  John S. Bielfeldt
Label:          Bielfeldt’s Old Fashion

Bielfeldt Brewing Company (1897-1920)
1897:   President - J. S. Bielfeldt
             Secretary – Frederick J. Bielfeldt
             Trustees – William S., Frederick J & John B. Bielfeldt
1899:   President – John B. Bielfeldt
1900:   Brewer – Fred Zimmerman
1918:   President/Manager – Carl Ebner, Sr.
             Vice President – John B. Bielfeldt
             V.P./Asst. Treasurer – Paul Mueller, Jr.
             Secretary – Carl Ebner, Jr.

J. S. Bielfeldt Lager Beer
Bielfeldt’s Old Fashion Beer
Famous Thornton Lager Beer
Quality Beer

Prohibition – 1920-1933

Thornton Brewing Company (1933–1936)
President and Treasurer – John M. Kubina
Vice President – Edward B. Kenny
Secretary – R. W. Bielfeldt
Brew Master – Andrew Marra
Chief Engineer – G. Swanson


Famous Thornton Lager Beer
Good Old Fashion
Van Nestor

Illinois Brewing Company (1937-1940)
R. W. Bielfeldt
Dominic, James, Frank and Joseph Federico
J. Capodice
Frank E. Weber

Export Pale Lager
Malt Sinew Tonic
Muencheners Bohemian Beer
Pennant Lager Beer
Pilsner Type Light Lager

Frederick’s Brewing Co. (1941-1948)
President – Joseph Frederick
Vice President – Joseph Capodice
Secretary – Dominic Frederick
Treasurer/Manager – Frank Frederick
Master Brewer – Otto Schaffhauser
Later – Henry Scholl
Assistant Brewer – Ernest Buehler
Chief Engineer – Henry Scholl
Later – Gus Swanson
Bottling Superintendent – John Menzor
Later – Andrew Marra
Sales – Otto Schaffhauser

American Club
Bohemia Style Beer
Extra Pale Beer
Four Crown Special
Frederick’s Export Beer
Frederick’s Extra Pale Beer
Gold Bear
Muenchener Style Bohemian Beer
Old Fashion
Pilsner Type Lager
Queensville Premium
Thornton Beer
Van Nestor Beer
Van Wyck Brand Beer

McAvoy Brewing Company (1948-1950)
James Frederick
Frank Frederick
Joseph Frederick
Dominic Frederick

American Club Pilsner
McAvoy Malt Marrow
McAvoy Premium
Van Nestor

White Bear Brewing Company (1951-1955)
1951:  President – Ildefonsas Sadauskas
            Vice President – Stanley Simkunas
            Chairman – Antanas Stakenas
            Master Brewer – Henry Scholl
1955:  President – Albert Brazis
            Vice President – Dan Kuraitis
            Treasurer/Manager – Ildefonsas Sadauskas
            Assistant Brewer – Tom V. Sadauskas

Amberlite Pilsner
Embassy Club
White Bear Beer
White Bear Light Pilsner

1) History of Thornton authored by seventh grade students 1947.
2) History of Thornton authored by several Village of Thornton Historical Society Members.
3) Chicago Heights (including Homewood, Glenwood, Thornton, South Holland) 1910.
4) “A History of Beer & Brewing in Thornton, Illinois” by Debbie Lamoureux, 2007.
5) Saltis (Soltis) information from internet biography.        

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Were there really train tracks through the center of Chicago Municipal Airport's (Midway) runways?

Originally named Chicago Air Park in 1923, the city leased the airport and renamed it Chicago Municipal Airport in 1927. Then in 1949, the airport was renamed Midway Airport to honor the 1942 Battle of Midway.

In 1929, aviation officials warned the City of Chicago that the airport was too small, too crowded, and bordered on being unsafe.

A major sticking point in the Chicago Municipal Airport's growth was the little problem of the railroad tracks running across the property at 59th Street, a ribbon of steel curtailing further expansion as effectively as a birdcage. In 1936, as 50-passenger, four propeller airplanes were on the horizon, city officials were warned again of the airport's limitations, this time by United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (founded in 1929).
An aerial view of the Chicago Municipal Airport shows the old and new field bisected by railroad tracks.
A train actually using the tracks in 1938.
The sensible suggestion that the tracks be moved north of 55th Street would prove a herculean task involving the City Council, state legislature, Illinois Supreme Court, and the federal government.
The original plan for the removal of the tracks was in 1937.
It took until 1941 to get the track moved. Indicative of the process, even after the new tracks were laid, the Chicago and Western Indiana Railroad refused to tear up the old tracks until the city paid money into an escrow account to cover $10,627 ($176,016 in 2017) they felt the city still owed them.
Driving the Golden Spike to open the new track section.
When Hale School was built in 1925, the most westerly extremity of the airport was along the path of South Laramie Avenue. However, in 1933 the east-west strip was extended westward to near South Central Avenue. In 1941, after the railroad tracks moved, two northeast-southwest runways that had been constructed around 1938 were opened up to air traffic, also adjacent to Hale School. It is accurate to say that from 1933 to 1951, Nathan Hale Elementary School sat as close as 200 feet from the ends of as many as three runways. 

For most of those years, the airport was advertised as the "World’s Busiest Airport." 

A runway accident and other close calls prompted school officials to discuss moving the school in 1949, but the move didn't happen for another two years while a new building was being constructed. The airport closed the runway close to Hale Elementary School during school hours. Then in 1951, a new building, keeping the name of Nathan Hale Elementary School, opened at 6140 South Melvina Avenue, two miles west of the airport.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The History of Chicago / Evanston Telephone Exchanges Including Their Two-Letter Codes and Meanings.

Contrary to popular belief, there were no central office prefixes in the beginning. To place a call on June 26, 1878, when the Bell-licensed Chicago Telephonic Exchange first opened, the subscriber merely told the operator the name and address of the party desired.
Telephone switchboard operator, Washington Island, Wisconsin, 1915.
For purposes of identification, the original telephone switchboard at 125 LaSalle St. was known as the Central office. Two more offices soon opened and were called the Halsted Street branch and the Canal Street branch.
By 1883, these three central offices had grown to 11, and around that time the Bell System-affiliated Chicago Telephone Company (formed in 1881) began to refer to most of them by number. Thus, the switchboard at 125 LaSalle St. became known as the № 2 office. By then, too, subscribers were requested to call by number rather than by name.
Chicago telephone switchboard in the 1880s. (photo via Illinois Bell)
The initial digit of the phone number generally indicated the telephone central office; that is, the subscriber who had “3123” as the call number was served from № 3 office at Chicago Ave. and Clark St. The three offices lying just outside the city limits had no numerical designation and were known as Stock Yards, Oakland and Ravenswood. In 1889, Stock Yards was changed to Yards and Ravenswood to Lake View. In that same year, telephone growth brought about the first use of 5-digit numbers, the Oakland series running from 9800 to 10,999 and the Lake View series from 12,001 to 12,499. This first call number system was inflexible, however, because it allowed little latitude for growth.

By 1892, on the eve of the opening of the World’s Columbian Exposition, it became apparent that the city was rapidly outgrowing the old numbering scheme, and in that year the change to a system of combined prefix and number was made. Beginning February 15, a subscriber served from № 3 office had his/her number change from “3123” to “North 123.”  The entire list of changes:

Old Designation                   Serving #s                          Changed to
 2 office                             1 to 2999                             Main 1 to Main 2999
 3                                        3001 to 3999                       North 1 to North 999
 4 & 5                                 4000 to 5399                        Main 4000 to Main 5399
 7                                        7001 to 7999                       West 1 to West 999
 8                                        8001 to 8999                       South 1 to South 999
 9                                        9001 to 9499                       Canal 1 to Canal 499
Yards                                     9500 to 9799                       Yards 500 to Yards 799
Oakland                                 9800 to 10,999                    Oakland 800 to Oakland 999
Lake View                             12,001 to 12,499                  Lake View 1 to Lake View 499

Telephone numbers, therefore, started using the central office name as the prefix. This second system remained in effect for nearly 30 years.
Early switchboard operator, 1880s.
In June 1921, Illinois Bell Telephone Company (formed in December 1920 from the merger of Chicago Telephone Company and the Illinois properties of Central Union Telephone Company) adopted the citywide 3-letter 4-number plan, effective with the delivery of the October telephone directory. At that time, all phone numbers with less than four digits were changed to add zeros ahead of the number to make four numerals in all cases (for example, “NORth 0029”).

Certain names, such as “Monticello,” were replaced because their numerical equivalents, in this case, “666,” conflicted with other existing offices, like “Monroe.” As a result, “Monticello” became “Juniper.” This change was necessary for the launch of automatic dial service, first introduced in Chicago with the cutover of “CENtral” prefix (in the Franklin Building at 315 W. Washington St.) on June 9, 1923.
The fourth alteration in Chicago’s calling plan was the conversion to 2-letters and 5-numbers across the city on September 18, 1948 (for instance, “CEntral 6-1234”). As with the implementation of central office prefixes in 1892, the change to the 2-letter 5-number plan was necessary to provide additional telephone numbers required by the enormous demand for phone service after World War II.
Rotary Dial
The following is the complete list of Chicago and Evanston central office names and their corresponding prefixes, adopted in 1948.
Telephone operators, 1950s.
This system allowed for additional prefix equivalents without the invention of new exchange names.

ABerdeen........... AB 4
ALbany............. AL 2
AMbassador......... AM 2
ANdover............ AN 3
ARdmore............ AR 1
ARmitage........... AR 6
ATlantic........... AT 5
AUstin............. AU 7
AVenue............. AV 2,3&6

BAyport............ BA 1
BElmont............ BE 5
BErkshire.......... BE 7
BEverly............ BE 3&8
BIshop............. BI 2&7
BIttersweet........ BI 8
BOulevard.......... BO 8
BRiargate.......... BR 4
BRoadway........... BR 3,4&5
BRunswick.......... BR 8
BUckingham......... BU 1
BUtterfield........ BU 8

CAlumet............ CA 5
CAnal.............. CA 6
CApitol............ CA 7
CAthedraL.......... CA 8
CEdarcrest......... CE 3
CEntral............ CE 6
CHesapeake......... CH 3
CLiffside.......... CL 4
COlumbus........... CO 1
COmmodore.......... CO 4
COrnelia........... CO 7
CRawford........... CR 7

DAnube............. DA 6
DAvis.............. DA 8
DEarborn........... DE 2
DElaware........... DE 7
DIckens............ DI 2
DIversey........... DI 8
DOrchester......... DO 3
DRexel............. DR 3

EAstgate........... EA 7
EDgewater.......... ED 4
ELmdrive........... EL 6
ENglewood.......... EN 4
ESsex.............. ES 5
EStebrook.......... ES 8&9
EVerglade.......... EV 4

FAirfax............ FA 4
FInancial.......... FI 6
FIre............... FI 7
FRanklin........... FR 2
FRontier........... FR 4&6
FUlton............. FU 5

GArden............. GA 4
GLadstone.......... GL 5
GRaceland.......... GR 2&7
GReenleaf.......... GR 5
GRovehill.......... GR 6

HArrison........... HA 7
HAymarket.......... HA 1
HEmlock............ HE 4&6
HIlltop............ HI 5
HOllycourt......... HO 5
HUdson............. HU 3,7&8
HUmboldt........... HU 6&9
HYde Park.......... HY 3

INdependence....... IN 3
INterocean......... IN 8
IRving............. IR 8

JUniper............ JU 3&8

KEdzie............. KE 3
KEnwood............ KE 6&8
KEystone........... KE 3&9
KIldare............ KI 5

LAfayette.......... LA 1,2&3
LAkeview........... LA 5&8
LAwndale........... LA 1&2
LIncoln............ LI 9
LIvingston......... LI 8
LOngbeach.......... LO 1
LUdlow............. LU 2&5

MAnsfield.......... MA 6
MErrimac........... ME 7
MIchigan........... MI 2
MIdway............. MI 3
MItchell........... MI 6
MOhawk............. MO 4
MOnroe............. MO 6
MUlberry........... MU 5
MUseum............. MU 4

NAtional........... NA 2&5
NEvada............. NE 2&8
NEwcastle.......... NE 1
NOrmal............. NO 7

OAkland............ OA 4
OFficial........... OF 3
ORchard............ OR 3&6

PAlisade........... PA 5
PEnsacola.......... PE 6
PLaza.............. PL 2
POlice............. PO 5
POrtsmouth......... PO 7
PRescott........... PR 9
PRospect........... PR 6&8
PUllman............ PU 5

RAdcliffe.......... RA 3
RAndolph........... RA 6&7
RAvenswood......... RA 8
REgent............. RE 1&4
REliance........... RE 5
REpublic........... RE 7
ROckwell........... RO 2
ROdney............. RO 3
ROgers Park........ RO 1&4

SAcramento......... SA 2
SAginaw............ SA 1
SEeley............. SE 3&8
SHeldrake.......... SH 3
SOuth Chicago...... SO 8
SOuth Shore........ SO 8
SPaulding.......... SP 2
SPring............. SP 4,5&7
STate.............. ST 1&2
STewart............ ST 3
SUnnyside.......... SU 4
SUperior........... SU 7

TAylor............. TA 9
TRiangle........... TR 3&4
TUxedo............. TU 9

UNderhill.......... UN 7
UNiversity......... UN 4,6&9
UPtown............. UP 8

VAn Buren.......... VA 6
VIctory............ VI 2
VIncennes.......... VI 6
VIrginia........... VI 7

WAbash............. WA 2
WAgner............. WA 4
WAlbrook........... WA 5
WAterfall.......... WA 8
WEather............ WE 4
WEbster............ WE 9
WEllington......... WE 5
WEntworth.......... WE 6
WHitehall.......... WH 3&4

YArds.............. YA 7

The fifth and final telephone number scheme began with the conversion to All Number Calling (ANC) on September 11, 1960.  Despite some early opposition from individuals and businesses who wanted to retain their beloved exchange prefixes, this evolutionary process was finally completed in 1977.

At that point, the Chicago alphabetical directory (White Pages) showed all local numbers in the city to be in the now-familiar 7-digit format still in use today (such as, “236-1234”).

Exchange names continued to show up in some Chicago Yellow Pages and advertisements into the 1980s.

In the original North American Numbering Plan of 1947, all of the Chicago area was covered by area code 312, the rest of northern Illinois was 815, central Illinois was 217, and southern Illinois was 618.

ADDITIONAL READING: Chicago Telegraph arrived in 1848. It becomes the eastern terminus of “Western” communication.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Belleville, Illinois' Brewery History.

Belleville has been known for many industries: stove factories, mills, brick making, carriage manufacturing, coal mining, and breweries. Belleville has had a long history of brewing beer. With the large number of German immigrants who settled in the Belleville area came their cultural tradition of brewing.
Western Brewery (Later Stag Beer Brewery) East D Street and North 12th street, Belleville, Illinois.
In 1832 Jacob Fleischbein founded the first beer brewery in Illinois. It was built near Belleville's town square. In 1837 Abram Anderson started the second brewery in Belleville. It stood a block south of the present town square on West Washington Street. By 1860 Belleville had seven breweries not including the Fleischbein Brewery, which had closed by 1860. The other breweries were Simon Eimer's Washington Brewery on South Street between Harrison and Lincoln streets, Fidel Stoelzle's on the corner of Main and North Third streets, the Herberer Brothers City Park Brewery on the northeast corner of North Second and West A streets, John Klug's Illinois Brewery on the opposite corner of North Second and West A, Priester and Villinger's Southern, in the fourth block of South Charles Street, and Phillip Neu and Peter Gintz's Brewery in West Belleville.

During the 1880s Simon Eimer's Washington Brewery was the largest brewery in Belleville and reputed to be the largest west of the Allegheny Mountains. It had an output of eight thousand barrels annually. Some of the beer was shipped as far away as New Orleans. The brewery was constructed between 1846 and 1847. It occupied a half block and had beer cellars two stories deep. Beer cellars were used to keep beer cold, as refrigeration was not yet available.

Fidel Stoelzle built his brewery in 1853. He had to pump water from a spring two blocks away with a twelve-horse-power engine. In those days it was necessary that breweries be built close to a fresh water supply. By the 1880s, his company produced about fifteen thousand barrels annually. He employed twelve men at the height of production.

In 1851, when the Neu and Gintz Brewery began operating, it only produced about two thousand barrels for sale in Belleville and East St. Louis. In 1873 the brewery was purchased by an incorporated company, the stock of which was owned by four men: John Kloess, William Branderburger, Adam Gintz, and Valentine Steg. After several building additions, the brewery was producing about twenty thousand barrels a year. The beer was distributed throughout southern Illinois. Later known as Western Brewery, it passed through several different owners until 1912 when Henry Louis Griesedieck bought it. Griesedieck was a member of a famous brewery family. He began brewing beer from an old German recipe that he later called Stag Beer. Production grew to eighty thousand barrels annually, but in 1919 Prohibition halted the brewing of Stag.
Western Brewery (Later Stag Beer Brewery) East D Street and North 12th street, Belleville, Illinois.
Neuhoff and Bressler built their brewery near Richland Creek on the outskirts of Belleville. At great expense they built a dam on the creek, and they based their claim for the beer's superior quality on the creek's water. They also established a bottling factory on Main Street. Bressler eventually sold his shares, and the ownership of the brewery passed through many hands until Bernhard Hartmann became sole owner in 1882. He changed the brewery's name to Star Brewery to avoid confusion with previous names. It became the Star Brewery because the symbol on the label was a star. At the time, the brewery produced about twenty-five-thousand barrels of beer and shipped it throughout St. Clair County, southern Illinois, St. Louis, and other points.

Those early breweries were very important to Belleville and the surrounding region. Not only did they employ a substantial number of workers, but so did glass and bottling factories located in the town. The local farmers sold their barley, malt, and hops to the breweries. The money earned by these brewers and farmers went back into the community and helped other local businesses.

It was not long after the arrival of the German immigrants that they began to establish beer gardens. Beer gardens were important gathering spots. Simon Eimer built Eimer's Hill, a park, next to his brewery. Dances were held there every Sunday evening. Klug's brewery had a summer garden that was used for dances and a theater. The Herberer Brothers Brewery had its beer cellars beneath a large apple orchard. The orchard was used for a park and picnics. The Star Brewery was set in a wooded dell next to a beautiful lake where families gathered on weekends to listen to the German band, play games, and drink Star Beer at their picnics.

Those breweries, especially Star and the Griesedieck Western, were important because of their relationships with the town. The officers and members of the boards of directors of the breweries were in a good position to maintain close contact with their fellow citizens, to take part in social and civic life, to keep an eye on unfavorable conditions, and to see that law enforcement was effectively administered. Those men and women often held important positions in the community to fulfill those needs. The breweries were large enough to influence power and control but small enough to work with the public.

The brewery business throughout the United States came to an end with Prohibition. Men were laid off, and farmers lost money. Eventually, Prohibition was repealed during the Great Depression. Once more farmers could sell their crops for a profit. Bringing breweries back into business helped reduce the stress of the Depression. Jobs were created, and the need for farm crops increased. After the repeal, two Belleville breweries reopened.

In 1935 H. W. Hartmann, son of Bernhard Hartmann, reopened the Star Brewery, creating one hundred jobs and bringing thousands of dollars back into the economy of Belleville. The need for crops helped the farmers of the Belleville area.

Early in 1933 the Griesedieck Western Brewery once again produced and sold beer. That first year the company brewed nearly seventy-three thousand barrels, and that number increased annually, especially after 1948. It was in that year that the St. Louis plant facilities opened, increasing both production and sales. By 1954 it was the thirteenth largest brewery in the United States. Employees at the Belleville plant demonstrated their loyalty in a series of events originating in 1954 called "Brag about Belleville and Stag."

Unfortunately, in the late 1950s the Star-Peerless Brewery closed. Just a few years later, the Griesedieck Western Brewery transferred ownership to the Carling Brewing Company of Cleveland, Ohio, which had bought the Stag Brewery for $10 million. Carling Brewery owned several plants across the country and produced a number of different brands of beer. Stag Beer continued to be produced in Belleville. The St. Louis plant was changed to produce other Carling labels for sale in the area.

In 1979 G. Heileman Brewery of Wisconsin bought Carling Company making Heileman Brewery the fourth largest brewery in America.

Eight years later, the Australian brewing giant Bond Corporation Holdings Ltd. merged with Heileman to become the fourth largest brewery in the world.

The Stag Brewery in Belleville operated under the Bond/Heilman ownership until August 1988 when it was closed down. It was decided that the Belleville plant could not compete. To remain open, the brewery's facilities needed to be modernized with a sewage pre-treatment plant that would cost $2.9 million. Because the company did not believe it could build the sewage treatment plant at that cost, it closed the plant. Two hundred thirty people were put out of work. At the time of its closing the Stag Brewery was the last beer brewery in Illinois. The next year the United States Environmental Protection Agency sued Heilman for polluting Belleville's sewage system for the previous nine years.

The closing of the Stag Brewery sadly ended a 130-year tradition of breweries in Belleville. During their existence, several breweries had helped both Belleville and the surrounding region to grow economically, and they provided a social gathering place, especially for the early German immigrants.

By Lucy Wilson
Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D.