Frederick Weinmann

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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

Old_Lansing 1890

Lansing in 1890

Recently a friend asked a question concerning the location of a brewery on South Washington Avenue. To be honest, I was unaware that a brewery ever existed on South Washington so I decided ask Jim in regards to what breweries existed in Lansing prior to the Lansing Brewing Company, founded in 1898, and where were these early breweries located. Little did I know that he had worked on this question for a book on that he and Craig were considering writing on the History of Michigan Breweries prior to Prohibition. Here is an excerpt from their research.

Just a short note before we begin. There is a lack of bottles and ephemera that survived from these local breweries. Why? Well prior to 1890 breweries handled their beer differently than they do today. The simple explanation is that brewer’s kegged beer and bottlers bottled the beer. A brewery was prohibited from bottling their beer onsite. Brewers were taxed on the number of barrels of beer produced because it was easier for the Internal Revenue Service, and bottling onsite was verboten. Breweries paid the tax, then sent the barrels to an independent bottler or set up a separate bottling plant off site from the brewery. All this changed when the Pabst Brewery lobbied its congressman to modify the law.  The Ferment Liquors Act of June 18, 1890, revised the law. Simply, in Lansing when beer was bottled it was done independently of the brewery. So in the years 1863 to 1890 a bottle that survived has the name of the bottler not the brewery. Additionally the top seal for a bottle, a crown cork or crown cap was not developed until 1892 when William Painter patented his idea. This is what we know today as the twenty-one teeth (ridges) of a beer cap. What this means is there is little that survived from these breweries in the way of ephemera. If you do find anything, consider purchasing it but keep in mind it may be a reproduction.


Weinmann Brewery (1856-1873)

Weinmann Brewery

North East Corner Pine and Maple Streets 1873

The first brewery established in Lansing was the Weinmann (Weimanns) Beer Garden (Biergarten), which operated between 1856-1878 and was located on the North East corner of Pine and Maple Streets. Frederick and Anna Weinmann owned the Beer Garden.[1] There has been quite a bit of misinformation concerning the operation of the Weinmann Beer Garden, the first being in the true sense in was not a full-scale brewery. It was more like todays brew pubs, think Midtown Brewing Company rather than Bell’s Brewery. A beer garden produced only enough beer to meet the needs of its clientele and did not manufacture beer for distribution to off-site retailers. The second myth is that Abigail and Delia Rogers, proprietors of the Michigan Female College, forced the closure of the Beer Garden. David Votta successfully dismissed this legend in his paper Pioneer Brewing, where he verified that the Beer Garden was operating well after the death of Abigail Rogers and the demise of the Michigan Female College. [2] The precise date when Frederick sold the Beer Garden to Augustus Galler is unknown but is seems to have occurred between 1873 and 1874. The Beer Garden disappeared from all records in 1878 and no images or ephemera survived.

Frederick Weinmann passed away from dropsy at his farm six miles northwest of Lansing on November 12, 1878. (LRTW 11/15/1878) Frederick’s wife Anna was born in Wittenberg, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany on February 21, 1830. In 1855 Anna came to the United States and settled with her brother Jacob Seeger (Seager or Seiger) in Lansing. Oddly enough Anna may have been a distant cousin of the Rogers sisters, which may help explain the location of the Beer Garden. Shortly after her arrival in Lansing, Anna married Frederick Weinman. Anna passed away on March 3, 1914. (LSJ 3/6/1914)


Galler & Reber Brewery (1875)

The County Atlas of Ingham, Michigan 1874 not only contained the map shown here of the Weimanns Brewery on Pine and Maple Streets but also a description of the brewery under the management of Galler & Reber, which placed the date of the sale of the Brewery from Weinmann to August Galler and Jacob Reber in 1873. One year later in 1874 August Galler began construction of a brewery on South Washington Avenue that he sold in 1875 to Adam Foester. (Durant, 140) Just where the brewery was located on South Washington is a bit of a mystery. The Lansing City Directory from 1878 placed its location at Hazel and Elizabeth Streets, Elizabeth was the old name for Washington Avenue south of the Grand River Bridge. Durant placed the location of the brewery just north of Grand Trunk Railroad Line, while an article in the State Republican sited the brewery’s location on the Oviatt Property, the south half of Lots 1-4, Block 195 and in 1886 the site of the Lansing Street Railway Company Car Barns. Today the address is 1114 S. Washington Avenue.[3] Galler & Reber continued to operate the Beer Gardens in North Lansing until 1878, when the business ceased operations. There is a census record for August Galler in 1880 where he is listed as a laborer, but Jacob Reber has vanished from all records.

Next Jacob Weber Brewery and City Brewery

[1] State Republican 5/8/1886

[2] Listed in the 1856-1857 Michigan Gazetteer as Frederick Weiman, his death notice list Wineman other sources listed Weimanns.

[3] David Votta has graciously agreed to allow his paper Pioneer Brewery to be reproduced at the end of this paper.

© Lost Lansing 2015