Friday, May 28, 2010

The Last of Glatz's Brewery

Glatz Nature Preserve
This would be the perfect weekend to tromp into the woods and explore the ruins of a long gone Oshkosh brewery. And if you follow Doty Street to its southern conclusion you can do just that. The 1.75 acres of woods and wildplants that make up the Glatz Nature Preserve are home to the last remnants of Glatz and Elser’s Union Brewery.

The park is unmarked, but it’s easy to find. Follow Doty past Ardy & Ed's to the very end of the street and look for the two rustic fences framing the entrance to the park. It may look like private land, but it isn’t. Take the path into the woods and in a few moments you’ll be standing on the very spot where, in 1869, Glatz and Elser began brewing their “Good As Milwaukee Beer.” Along the eastern edge of the property, crouched among the wildflowers, you can still see parts of the original stone foundation from the caverns the brewery used to cool and age their beer.

This remnant of Glatz and Elser’s Brewery is the oldest surviving brewing structure in Oshkosh. It was nearly lost, though. In 1974, when the area was being targeted for industrial growth, the Smith School PTA petitioned to preserve what was left of the brewery. The Oshkosh Common Council became involved and in 1975 the city purchased the land from Warren Basler with a promise from the Winnebago Conservation Club to raise $7,000 for restoration of the property. After months of volunteer work, a dedication ceremony was held and on July 4, 1976 Glatz Park was christened. At the dedication ceremony Common Council member Beatrice Techmiller said, “Glatz Park will be a place to experience nature and learn something about history at the same time." The part about experiencing nature came through, but you’ll have a hard time learning much about history there. What the park sorely lacks is a marker that tells the story of the brewery and its place in the daily life of the City of Oshkosh in the late 1800s.

So how would John Glatz feel about the city owning his land? The Union  Brewery was constructed approximately 500 feet beyond the city limits, which enabled Glatz to avoid paying taxes to the city of Oshkosh. And in 1889, when Oshkosh officials sought to extend the boundary of the Third Ward and bring his brewery into the fold, Glatz fought them off. Though he was selling nearly all of his beer in Oshkosh, Glatz had no intention of sharing his spoils with the city that had helped to make him wealthy. In 1895 he even sued Oshkosh to get back a $200 fee he’d paid for purchasing an Oshkosh liquor license. He argued that because his beer had been made outside the city limits, Oshkosh had no claim on him. Now the City of Oshkosh owns his property lock, stock and barrel. We’re lucky that’s so. But would John Glatz appreciate the irony of it? Maybe. Maybe not.

10 comments:

  1. This is a great website! I've just completed extensive research on the Buckstaff family of Oshkosh and the Glatz family kept popping up. Robert Buckstaff built a home next to the Glatz's in approximately 1901. (Robert, Mary and their children Noel and Benjamin.) My aunt and uncle lived in that house for about 40 years, and when we were kids we'd go next door to the nature park and play in the old caves. They were still up in the 1970's. (We didn't know their beer-related history at the time.) I don't know what year they decided to collapse them. I was disappointed to see that.

    After I've finished the Buckstaff's and my own family history (Schoblaske, Boese, Otto), I may start tracing back the Glatz's. They seem like an interesting family.

    I wish they'd clean up Glatz's nature park and make it into a history trail -- put some signs up about the Glatz's, the Buckstaffs and other important people in the history of Southside Oshkosh. Southside Oshkosh kids need to know their roots. And the last time I was at Glatz it was looking pretty shabby.

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  2. p.s. I was told the caves were where they stored the beer, or some of the ingredients. They were quite extensive underground caverns.

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  3. Thanks, I’m glad you like the blog. After doing this post I contacted the City and if all goes well, there will be a marker at Glatz Park telling of it’s history. If you do get around to researching the Glatz family history, let me know. I may have a few things that might help you get started.

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  4. Great idea about the marker! When I get started on the Glatz's and their history/genealogy, I'll post back.

    My uncle used to own Otto's Beverage on Oregon St. He had the hugest beer can collection I've ever seen. (He sold every kind of beer and alcohol in his store.) Unfortunately when he passed the collection was sold -- but those cans were works of art. Every can was unique and interesting. One can that really stood out was "Olde Frothingslosh." It had a big lady on it in a bathing suit with a beauty pageant sash. It said something like "The Pale Stale Ale." As kids, that one always got a laugh from us. I also remember the Chief Oshkosh cans. Lots of memories.

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  5. Funny you should mention Otto’s. Recently I’ve been doing some research on Beer sales in Oshkosh and in the course of that came across a couple of old ads for Otto’s. Wish I could have seen the place back in the day.

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  6. My Uncle Merlin (Merlin Otto) was a WONDERFUL man. Just a kind, sweet, gentle man. He closed the store down in the 80's and died in the 90's. He and his partner Donnie ran the store. I remember sitting on the counter in his shop when I was little, watching him ring up customers on an old-fashioned cash register. He called Otto's the "One Stop Party Shop."

    His wife, Alice, ran the store while he was fighting in World War II. He was a company clerk in the Pacific. Alice was as shrewd a businesswoman as you'd ever meet. (Before they married she worked for the A&P setting up stores in new locations all over Wisconsin. So she knew the grocery business.) When he returned from the war and looked over the books he couldn't believe how much money she'd made.

    When they opened the store it was more of a neighborhood store -- it eventually transitioned to primarily a liquor store.

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  7. Anonymous - Great story!. I wish I could have met Otto. Thanks!

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  8. What happened to getting a sign from the city?

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  9. Kathy, the sign is now there. It looks pretty good, too. They did a nice job.

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  10. There is a current Eagle Scout project bringing the park back to life and preserving the history of the site.

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