Monday, September 12, 2016

Hinman’s Hop House

A couple weeks ago I blogged about a 19th century hop farm owned by Lorenzo Hinman in the Town of Clayton. After the post went up, Oshkosh historian Dan Radig pointed me towards an illustration of the Hinman farm that appeared in a book published in 1880 named History of Winnebago County, Wisconsin, and early history of the Northwest. The Hinman farm drawing it contains is fantastic. Here it is. As always, click the image to enlarge it...

It would have been nice to see some hops growing there. It’s not surprising we don’t. Like most farmers in our area, Hinman had abandoned hop cultivation by the time this illustration appeared. But tucked in the midst of the image is an exceptionally rare glimpse into the Winnebago County hop culture of old.

Among the buildings shown on the Hinman farm is an oast house: a special type of barn designed for the drying and baling of hops. Here’s a detail of the image showing Hinman’s oast house.

During the 1860s and 1870s, such barns were found throughout much of Wisconsin. Winnebago County certainly had to have had her share of them. Yet the illustration of the Hinman farm contains the only representation of a Winnebago County oast house I’ve come across.

For added perspective, here are a couple of oast houses similar to Hinman’s. These were on hop farms in Washington State.

These buildings were designed to be simple and effective. The taller portion of the oast house with its steeply pitched roof was above a slatted floor where freshly picked hops were laid out. Below them was a heat source, either a coal or wood fire.

The cone-like roof helped draw the warm air through the hops, drying them in the process (and perhaps adding a smoky character to the finished product?). The black pipe that appears at the front of the Hinman oast house acted as a secondary vent to help control the heat generated within.

When the hops were sufficiently dry, they were raked into the adjoining portion of the barn. There they cooled before being dropped through a hole in the floor and compressed into burlap sacks known as pockets.

Here’s a diagram of an oast house very much like Hinman’s that illustrates the process.

And here are three pockets of finished product outside of an English oast house.

By the 1900s, this handcraft method of processing hops once used at the Hinman farm had given way to a more mechanical approach. And by that time, hop cultivation in Winnebago County had been over and done with for decades. Barely a trace of that culture survived the ensuing years. The drawing of the Hinman farm is a faint echo from that past.


  1. The Lorenzo Hinman farm is just so comfortably pastoral. Perfectly straight fence, prosperous looking home, orchard, and of course the oast. Even his small farm oast makes you wonder how many hands were needed to hand pick the annual hop harvest. The hand labor required to plant, weed, and irrigate his hop yard just to bring it to harvest must have been tremendous. This is a very interesting blog post. Good work.

    1. Thanks, Leigh. That's one of the things that keeps coming back to me when I dig into these old hop yards: the sheer amount of hand work must have seemed overwhelming. It's a wonder they were able to do it.