Brewers at Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery are nearing the end of a long brew day. Suddenly, fire breaks out near the boil kettle. The brewers respond quickly. They’ve been through this before. With pails of water, they wash down the flames before the fire can spread. Catastrophe averted. This time.
Fire was a constant concern at the Brooklyn Brewery. The wood-frame building was not even 15 years old, but it looked much older. Its vernacular architecture was out of step with the production facility it was being used as. In 1878, Horn & Schwalm had produced 1,366 barrels of beer. Walking by, you wouldn't guess the place capable of it.
|Horn & Schwalm's Original Brooklyn Brewery|
- Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, March 31, 1879
Bad enough, but it could have been much worse. Until recently, the Horn and Schwalm families had been living above the brewery. But with the the business and its output growing, both families had moved to separate dwellings nearby. They had homes, but their brewery was gone.
The impact was devastating. The fire destroyed nearly $500,000 (in today’s money) worth of equipment, beer and property. Insurance covered half the loss. The Horn and Schwalm families bore the rest. But there was no compensating for the loss of future business.
The Brooklyn Brewery headed into the summer of 1879 without a product. Beer has always been a somewhat seasonal commodity, but that was especially so in the late 1800s. The brewery relied on brisk sales during the warm months to fund the winter brewing season of its cool-fermenting lager beer. In the summer of 1879, the Brooklyn Brewery had no beer to sell.
Instead of peddling beer, they went to work building a new brewery. By July it was taking shape. This one was nothing like the rustic, wooden brewery they had lost.
- Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, July 15, 1879
Here’s a look at the completed brewery. The wooden structure with the cupola was the malt house. The brick brewery is to the right.
This was a brewery built to last. And it has. The malt house is gone, but brewhouse that was the core of the Brooklyn Brewery still stands. It’s the oldest intact brewery structure in Oshkosh. Here’s how it looks today.
Below the original brewhouse, you can still see the aging cellars with their “rooms being arched in brick.” Here’s a look.
This part of the Horn & Schwalm story ends well. The new Brooklyn Brewery soon surpassed its south side rival, the John Glatz & Son Brewery, to become the most productive brewery in the city. By the time Horn & Schwalm merged their operation with that of Glatz and Kuenzl to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company in 1894, the Brooklyn Brewery had become Winnebago County’s leading brewery.