Monday, November 4, 2019

Leonard Arnold and His Unusual Brewery

Once upon a time, there was a small brewery on the east side of South Main Street in Oshkosh. Here's what that site looks like today.

1600 South Main Street

Leonard G. Arnold made beer there from 1875 until about 1879. His brewery was like no other in Oshkosh.

Arnold wasn't your typical Oshkosh brewery owner. Prior to launching his brewery, he had no previous brewing experience. He was born in Milwaukee in 1845. His parents, Frederick and Barbara, had emigrated from Bavaria in the late 1830s. They were married in Cleveland where they had the first of their nine children in 1841. A couple of years later, they relocated to Milwaukee. In 1851, the Arnold clan moved to Oshkosh and began putting down roots.

Frederick Arnold bought land at the northwest corner of what is now Bay Shore and Frankfort streets and proceeded to build a house there for his growing family. The home Leonard Arnold grew up in still stands. It’s about 165 years old.

1124 Bay Shore Drive.

Leonard Arnold spent his youth working as a butcher. He had learned the trade from his father. In early adulthood he began roaming. He lived for a while in Chicago. Then Nashville. And then Manhattan, Kansas. He supported himself by sometimes working as a butcher and at other times working for railroad companies. Arnold was 20 in 1865 when he moved back to Wisconsin.

He settled in Fond du Lac. There he opened a meat market with his older brother Joseph, a Civil War veteran. Joseph had recently been released from a POW camp. He had been taken prisoner in 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg.

A drawing of Joseph Arnold, circa 1897.

The Arnold brother’s Fond du Lac meat market folded in 1872. Both Leonard and Joseph returned to Oshkosh. And this is when Leonard Arnold's drift towards beer begins.

Back in Oshkosh, Leonard Arnold partnered with August Fugleberg. Together they purchased the Northwestern Vinegar Works from John Young. Allow me yet another digression. Young had sold off his vinegar works because he was about to start working for Philip Best Brewing of Milwaukee. This would later become Pabst Brewing. Young’s job was to distribute the brewery’s beer in Oshkosh.

Oshkosh City Directory, 1876.

OK, let’s get back to Leonard Arnold. The vinegar works he and Fugleberg acquired from Young was located between Doty and South Main streets just below 19th Avenue. That land is now part of Fugleberg Park. The clipping that follows is from an 1873 map of Oshkosh that lists the different types of vinegar produced by Fugleberg and Arnold.

The Fugleberg/Arnold partnership soon fell apart. At the end of 1874, Leonard Arnold moved on. Fugleberg stayed on. The Fugleberg Park vinegar plant would remain in operation into the early 1900s. There's a marker in Fugleberg Park that mentions the old vinegar factory that once stood there.

Fugleberg Park

After splitting with Fugleberg, Leonard Arnold took his newly acquired skills up the road. On March 11, 1875, he purchased a pair of lots at what is now 1600 South Main Street. He began building his own vinegar plant there. It was just three blocks up from the older Fugleberg facility.

The primary building was two-stories, wood-framed and veneered with brick. Inside an attached structure, Arnold drilled down and tapped an artesian well that supplied the water tank he used to capture his brewing water. He also constructed an ice house adjacent to what was about to become his brewery.

There are several fire insurance maps that show the configuration of the Arnold’s brewery. The best of them is from 1890. This was made a decade after Leonard Arnold had stopped brewing beer, but the basic make-up of the facility had remained unchanged. Here's that 1890 map.

Arnold's brewery went up in an area that had become Oshkosh's prime corridor for beer production and packaging. Across the street was Horn and Schwalm's Brooklyn Brewery. Further south along Doty were two white beer breweries and two beer bottling plants. At the end of the street was Glatz and Elser's Union Brewery, at the time the largest brewery in Oshkosh.

By June 1875, Arnold had his brewery up and running. Vinegar was his original concern, but he was soon turning out beer as well. The connection between vinegar and beer brewing was not at all uncommon. The manufacturing processes are similar and have a long tradition of being paired. Arnold wasn't the only brewer in Winnebago County to produce beer and vinegar in tandem. Fritz Bogk in Butte des Morts was doing that, too. But Arnold added his own twist. He made spruce beer.

Prior to 1875, spruce beer was rarely seen in Oshkosh. It was, however, quite common in other parts of the region and especially so in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Arnold may have been drinking it in the late 1860s when he was living in Fond du Lac. At that time, Hiram Eaton's Spruce Beer Brewery was doing well there. Perhaps Arnold saw an untapped market for it in Oshkosh.

Spruce beers of this period were low in alcohol, typically less than 3% ABV. It's not known how Arnold formulated his recipe, but spruce tips or essence would probably have been the main flavoring component. Molasses and brown sugar were commonly used ingredients. Some spruce beers were brewed with hops. Arnold had a mash tun in his facility, so it's possible he was using a grist that included malted barley. Regardless of what Arnold was up to on that front, it appears he soon moved beyond the production of the spruce beers, lemon beers, and ginger beers that constituted his earliest efforts.

In the fall of 1875, Arnold advertised that he was now producing a standard beer. Below is an ad from the Wisconsin Telegraph, a German-language newspaper published in Oshkosh.

Here's my clumsy translation:
L.G. Arnold
Manufacturer of
Vinegar, Ink and Beer
Building located at 16 Kansas Street
Post Office Box 176 - Oshkosh, WI
Orders can be left at 7 Main Street

Vinegar and beer I can see, but ink? It didn't take much digging to discover that it makes sense. Vinegar was commonly used in the production of ink, as was beer; though to a lesser extent. The "7 Main Street" address where orders could be left was home to a restaurant. It was run by the one and only Joseph Arnold, whom we met earlier. The image below is from 1875 and shows Joseph Arnold’s restaurant. The red arrow beneath the sign for "REFRESHMENTS" indicates 7 Main, the place to place orders for Arnold's beer.

Arnold's beer production raises more questions than answers. He began at a time when bottled beer was becoming more common in Oshkosh. His spruce beer, which would not have been the sort of beer most saloon keepers would have put on tap, would have been an ideal candidate for bottling. But I’ve yet to find anything confirming that Arnold bottled his spruce beer.

Arnold's standard beer remains similarly elusive. What sort of beer was this? That question hovers over most of the beer from this period. It's only in the latter part of the 1870s that we begin to see Oshkosh brewers identifying their beers by style or type. Before this, it was all just beer. Or in Arnold's case, Bier.

Arnold's brewery is made more obscure by the fact that it lasted for such a short time. His beer brewing appears to have ended by late 1878 or early 1879. By 1880 he had moved to Menasha where he was living with his younger sister Lilly. He had gone into the candy making business.

In 1881, Leonard Arnold sold the property at 1600 South Main to his younger brother George. George kept the place going producing vinegar and yeast well into the 1930s. Leonard Arnold served as the vice-president of that business into the 1900s. But he doesn't seem to have had much to do with its daily operations.

In 1885, while still living in Menasha, the 40-year-old Arnold married a 26-year-old Oshkosh woman named Minnie Arnold. She was the daughter of early Oshkosh settler Johann Sixtus Arnold. But despite sharing a last name, the two of them appear not to have been related.

Minnie Arnold.

Minnie died of a lung disease two years after their marriage.

Leonard Arnold died in Los Angeles in 1919. He was 73 years old. His body was brought back to Oshkosh. He’s buried in Riverside Cemetery next to his parents in the Arnold family plot.

Leonard G. Arnold 1845-1919.


  1. Great beer history find. I wonder if that Fugelburg had anything to do with the greenhouses that were next to the park.

    1. You are correct! The Fugleberg family opened a florist business after their vinegar business.

  2. In the 1960s and early 1970s, I Remember a tavern at the 1600 south Main address. I think it was called Jabber's. Oshkosh urban legend had a pipeline of beer running underground from the Peoples brewery to Jabber's tap lines, as the tavern and brewery were adjacent to each other.