Pioneer Brewery; the Full Story

By David Votta

Local breweries and brew pubs have a long tradition in Lansing. The Lansing Brewing Company on the corner of Turner and Clinton operated between 1898 and 1914. Yeiter & Co. opened the Grand River Brewery on Madison overlooking the river in 1865. Their water came from an artesian well. Additional smaller breweries came and went during the late 19th century.

Most of the description of the first brewery derives from two sources An Account of Ingham County from its Organization by Frank N. Turner and a Pioneer History of Ingham County by Mrs. Franc L. Adams. The accounts are nearly exact duplicates. Adams includes more editorial comment. She was the secretary of the Ingham County Pioneer and Historical Society and in addition to writing compiles other’s accounts adding her own comments and thoughts.

Imbibing in the story of Lansing’s first brewery one travels to the NE corner of Pine and Maple Streets circa 1856. There is a spring fed creek crossing Maple and providing fresh water for brewing. Its source was deep in the “impenetrable” Bogus Swamp, a haven for miscreants, now the Westside Neighborhood. There are two buildings. A long porch faces east off a one and a half story residence. This porch is for the public house addition to the home and overlooking the beer garden in a stand of maples. Adjacent to the north is the brew house, east of that a “young forest of hop poles”.

A cabbage patch thrives in the fertile soil of the creek flats. Pens house pigs fattened on waste malt. There is the smell of sauerkraut, “steaming malt” and pipe tobacco billowing from “large porcelain pipes.” To the south cows grazed in an unfenced pasture. The sound of their bells “tinkling” during the day was drowned by drinking songs, sometimes late into the night, sung “by a score of lusty Germans.”

The proprietors were Frederick and Anna Weinmann. He was born circa 1822 and described as tall, “full of energy and hard work”. Anna was about 7 years his junior, “short and sturdy”. They had several children and emigrated from Württemberg Germany.

With a large German population in town business thrived. The problem was the new neighbors. In 1858 across Pine from the brau haus a school opened. Sisters Abigail and Delia Rogers moved into the new location of their Lansing Female Seminary, later the Michigan Female College, the Odd Fellows Institute and eventually the Michigan School for the Blind. The Rogers sisters, Abigail especially, are recognized as part of the First Wave of the Women’s Movement.

Pioneers in women’s education and the Temperance Movement the sisters catered to the wealthiest and most influential families in the state. Apparently they did not celebrate the only entrance to their institution serenaded by lusty Germans in “harsh guttural tones” or smelling of pigs, tobacco and beer. The Rogers were equally well funded and connected.

In our first installment we learned the Weinmann family emigrated from Germany and set up the first brewery in Lansing. Business appeared to be going well until a full funded Female Seminary opened across the street.

All known descriptive sources indicate Weinmann quickly relinquished. It is reported Abigail Rogers petitioned the brewer and the neighbors to close the establishment. In Adams Pioneer history of Ingham County she states “[c]an you image such a woman letting a German brewer get the best of her in a deal or argument? No, he had to give way and his dream of a beer garden, on the German plan, vanished as well as his profits and customers.”

Evidence contradicts this narrative. The Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory of 1863 lists Fred Weinman[n] as a brewer. Abigail Rogers passes from this world in 1869, soon after State Agricultural College, now MSU, admitted women, followed by U of M in 1870. The Michigan Female College soon closes. The 1870 Federal Census states Weinman[n]’s occupation as brewer in Lansing’s fourth ward. By 1873 the Female College building had become the Odd Fellows Institute and Weimann is listed as operating a saloon and restaurant on Turner Street near Grand River (then Franklin). The 1874 County Atlas of Ingham clearly shows the brewery, calling it and the owner by name. The spelling is changed to Wineman. The 1878 Lansing City Directory lists Frederick as a brewer on Chestnut, directly around the block from the Pine address, but the same location for the still operating Weinmann Brewery.

Why the conflicting data? Partially this could be an echo chamber [One purveyor of information will make a claim, which many like-minded people then repeat, overhear, and repeat again (often in an exaggerated or otherwise distorted form) until most people assume that some extreme variation of the story is true. Wikipedia]. Many county histories and locally written pioneer accounts borrow heavily from earlier sources and from oral tradition. Both can be valid, sometimes they are not and often are unverifiable.

It is a common theme in this genre, 19th and early 20th century local/county histories, that progressive, well educated, well-funded community leaders vanquish unsavory unintelligibles. Often elements of Tall Tales seep in reinforcing a specific community cohesiveness. This narrative demonstrates the pioneers were of high social status deriving from prominent families. Adams “imagines” a scenario where Abigail Rogers converses with Weinmann. She derogatorily refers to beer as a “plebian” drink, referencing her ancestors drinking “New England Rum”, the connotation being rum as the more refined option.

In this instance the answer for misleading information may also be propaganda. In 1923 and 1924, the year’s of Adam’s and Turner’s respective publications the United States was in the third and fourth years of the 13-year-run of prohibition. What these historians were musing about was contraband. No explanation is provided if temperance was an issue why rum is better than beer.

More sinister is the characterization of the immigrant Weinmanns as unable to compete intellectually. The overall theme of both articles, copied word for word in many places, is patronizing. Nativism surged in the 1920s. WW1 heightened prejudices against Germans, making them a common target. The relationship of Lansing with its German immigrants was complex. There was a high percentage of Germans, four German churches and a very popular mayor in the teens Gottlieb Reutter, was a German immigrant.

The Klu Klux Klan reemerged strongly in this period, and prominently in Mid-Michigan with anti-immigrant rhetoric. This article in no way suggests the previous authors agreed with the Klan’s sentiments. However, the political climate of the time allowed for some of the largest Klan rallies ever. Labor Day 1924, saw a Klan parade in Lansing of 15 thousand and Klanvocation of nearly 50 thousand Klan members and supporters.

The true relationship between the Weinmanns and Rogers sisters may never be known. The German language was taught at their school. Possibly they had a cordial rapport. Adams’ “imagine[s]” Rogers describing “the smell of…sauerkraut disturbed her digestion”. The Rogers sisters may have enjoyed homemade sausage and sauerkraut available across the street.

It is known Abigail Rogers’ legacy grew. She was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007. Weinmann descendants continue to populate the Lansing area, and the creek which fed their pioneer brewery still exists. It is now a storm drain running the same approximate course; a cement bottom and expanded culvert under Walnut were constructed in 1884. In City of Lansing documentation this amalgam of natural waterway and human engineering, once described as “the finest and most substantial work of its sort in the city”, still bears the name Weinmann.

An Account of Ingham County from its Organization by Frank N. Turner
Pioneer History of Ingham County by Mrs. Franc L. Adams
History of Ingham and Eaton Counties by Samuel Durant
Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory 1863
Report of the Pioneer Society of the State of Michigan Volume 6
Lansing Journal Newspaper 9/2/1924
State Republican Newspaper 1/13/1880
State Republican Newspaper 11/18/1884
Lansing Republican Newspaper 3/4/1898
Birds eye view of the city of Lansing, Michigan 1866 Drawn & published by A. Ruger
History and Manual of Odd Fellowship by Theodore A. Ross
Lansing City Directory 1873
Lansing City Directory 1878

1860 U.S. Federal Census
1870 U.S. Federal Census

Peninsular Brewery (1875-1882)

Michigan state gazetteer and business directory for ...

Image from the Michigan Gazetteer 1881

Adam Foerster owned a brewery and bottling house situated just north of the Grand Trunk Railway. The brewery was constructed by August Galler in 1875. (Durant 140) 

“Another case of wholesale beer-slinging without a license occurred this morning. The Foerster brewery team ran away, breaking the wagon, and piling a large consignment of German nectar in front of the post office.” (LR 3/13/1880)

“Peninsular Brewery, A. Foerster, Proprietor. The Best Beer in Central Michigan is brewed at the Peninsular Brewery. The trade furnished on good terms. The bottling of beer for table use and for medical purposes is made a specialty. Washington avenue near the S.E. Depot. Orders by mail promptly attended to. (LR 3/23/1880)

“Last Wednesday Adam Foerster of the Peninsular brewery bought of[f] Fred. Yeiter (of) the Grand River Brewery. He intends to run both breweries.” (LR 5/8/1880)

Foerster operated both breweries until 1882 when the Peninsular Brewery on South Washington was closed. The Lansing Journal Weekly on May 22nd, 1884 noted that eight boxes of cigars from George Ganssly were found hidden in the old brewery on South Washington. Later the site was the home to the car barns for the Lansing Suburban Traction Company, it is unknown if the old brewery was repurposed as the car barn or if a new structure was built. The story that appeared in the Lansing Journal Weekly was really the trigger to research the history of brewing in Lansing. I was unaware that a brewery ever existed on South Washington Avenue.

Ok no idea where to place these.

The Michigan Gazetteer for 1877 and 1879 listed a George Stortz as a brewer on Washington Avenue. It is entirely possible that Stortz was operating what today we consider a brewpub. There is no other information on Stortz’s operation.

There is also a listing for Mary Renz who operated a brewery in 1878. There was a Conrad and Mary Renz (Rentz) who operated a 40-acre farm in Meridian Township. The book, American Breweries II listed that Mary Renz operated a brewery in Lansing in 1878, just where this information originated is unknown. (American Breweries II, 158) One of the stumbling blocks is that I have been unable to locate an obituary for Conrad and Mary, Conrad died in Ingham County on May 8, 1911 while Mary passed away on August 27, 1880.

Next the Pioneer Brewery; the Full Story by David Votta

© Lost Lansing 2015

Christ Wolf Brewery 1873-1875


Christian Wolf Beer Garden, Hazel and Lee Streets, From the County Atlas of Ingham, Michigan, 1874

According to the available records there were two Christ Wolf’s living in Lansing in 1870, Christian Wolf a farmer who lived on the corner of Elm and Lee Streets and Christian Wolf managing a saloon on South Washington and living with his sister-in-law on St. Josephs Street. I believe there was only one Christian Wolf living in Lansing in 1870. You need to bear with me on this it gets confusing.

The Michigan Gazetteer 1863-1864 listed Christ Wolf as operating a brewery in Lansing’ Middle town. The Michigan Gazetteer 1867-68 listed Wolf, C & Brother (Christian and Jacob) as operating a saloon Washington Avenue. In 1864 Christian Wolf enlisted in the 5th Regiment Michigan Infantry and served for one year. His brother Jacob oversaw the management of the salon. Jacob passed away on January 2, 1870. The 1870 Census records two Crist Wolf’s in Lansing; both were born in Württemberg, Germany on or about 1833 or 1839.

The Lansing City Directory, 1873 listed Christian Wolf as running the Wolf & Roberts Saloon on Washington Avenue and lived with his widowed sister-in-law[?], Mary A. Wolf on St. Josephs. The second listing for Christian Wolf in the Lansing City Directory, 1873 has him operating a Lager Beer Gardens on the corner of Elm and Lee Streets. The County Atlas of Ingham, Michigan, 1874 tells us that C. Wolf operated a Beer Garden. In all probability the Christ Wolf who operated the Brewery in Lansing in 1863 was the same Christ Wolf who operated the Beer Garden on Elm Street as well as the saloon.

The Lansing City Directory 1878 listed a J.C. Wolf as owning a saloon at the corner of Michigan and Grand Avenues. While the Mudge’s Directory of Lansing City, 1878 records a J.C. Wolf as operating a saloon at East Michigan Avenue and the bridge and a Chris Wolf as a farmer living at the corner Lee [Grand] and Elm Streets. The J.C. Wolf who is listed is Julius C. Wolf a completely different person.

The Christian Wolf who operated the saloon on South Washington and later East Allegan passed away on May 13, 1880, of inflammation of the bowels. Christian was born in Württemberg, Germany in 1839 and just when he immigrated to the United States is unknown. With the start of the Civil War; Christian enlisted in the 2nd United States Sharpshooters Company B. In late 1864 Company B was incorporated into the 5th Regiment Michigan Infantry. After the war Wolf returned to Lansing where he owned a saloon with his brother Jacob. Christian married Miss Elizabeth Folger in the 1850s. The couple had five children; Christene, Caroline, Emela, Flora and Christian.

“Chris. Wolf died on Thursday night, and on Friday his saloon, near the 2nd ward engine-house, was closed, and crape placed on the door. Between 11 o’clock A.M. and 3 o’clock P.M. of that day some person broke into the saloon from the rear and stole several boxes of cigars, a quantity of liquors and what change the till contained, and a brass knuckle, — a relic of the army days of the deceased. That fellow would steal the pennies from the eyes of a corpse, if he wasn’t watched, or if he wasn’t fuddled.” (LRW 5/19/1880)

So why is this important? Because the above Christian Wolf served in the Civil War, from the brass knuckles reference. Elizabeth Wolf who lived at Lee [Grand] and Elm Streets is listed as a widow, in the 1880 Census, in the 1870 Census she was married to Christ. Wolf. Later Elizabeth filed a claim for a Civil War widow’s pension after the death of her husband Christian. This links the Christian Wolf who operated the Beer Garden to the Christian Wolf who operated the saloon. Just remember the census is not always accurate. Christian could have been staying with his sister-in-law after working at the saloon when the census taker arrived, while later he was working at the Beer Garden when the census taker visited. There is no record of a Christian or Christ Wolf after 1878 in the Lansing area or in Michigan based upon census data.

Wolf Beer200

Image from the Lansing City Directory 1891

The story of Julius Wolf is far different. Born in Germany in 1850 the date of his immigration to the United States is unknown. He was married to Florence; the couple had four sons, Charles F.A., Albert E., Adolphus H., and Julius E. Wolf. Their father, Julius continued in the saloon business until about 1890 when he opened the bottling company at 221-223- E Shiawassee. The bottling works was one of the largest in Michigan and bottled a variety of kegged beer for distribution in Mid-Michigan. Julius C. Wolf died in Saginaw on June 2, 1914.

Next the Peninsular Brewery

© Lost Lansing 2015