Historic Wisconsin South Shore Breweries (1881–1937)

The Washburn Brewery, date unknown. [Image: J. Steiner]

Besides those breweries of Superior, other outfits made beer along the Wisconsin South Shore of Lake Superior in Washburn and Ashland before and briefly after Prohibition. The first brewery on Lake Superior’s South Shore was likely in the township of Bay City, within the city limits of today’s Ashland. Brewing historian Doug Hoverson, author of The Drink that Made Wisconsin Famous, recently found an 1881 report that declared, “The first brewery [in Ashland] was built in Bay City, but was discontinued a er a short time.” Hoverson notes that Bay City was vacated in 1860, so the brewery’s activity had to be in the 1850s. Today Bay City Creek empties into Lake Superior between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues East in Ashland.

Ashland itself was home to three brewing operations prior to Prohibition. Frank Schomueller opened his Ashland Brewery in 1872 at 900 East Second Street and in 1885 sold it to Philip Becker. Schomueller, Hoverson reports, had come to Ashland a er opening a brewery in Taylors Falls, Minnesota, and that Becker also owned a brewery in Hurley, Wisconsin. Becker closed the Ashland Brewery in 1892.

An outfit named Muehler, Goeltz & Co. set up the Union Brewing Co. in Ashland in 1874 on Bay City Creek. Muehler was likely Erghott Muehler, a German immigrant who later became a saloonkeeper and then worked as a wheelwright. Conrad Goeltz, also a German immigrant, and his son Adam put the Goeltz in Muehler & Goeltz. While the brewery started with ambitious plans—the Ashland Daily Press reported its capacity at 12,500 barrels a year—the company lasted just two years.

Frederick W. Miller opened the Miller & Co. Brewery in 1888 between 107 and 123 Tenth Avenue East, which would have placed it along Bay City Creek at roughly the point where Lake Shore Drive (Highway 2) crosses the creek today. According to Hoverson, the outfit soon began advertising as the Ashland Brewing Co., a name it officially took on in 1901 when it reorganized with $100,00 in capital stock and Edward Bakken and Thomas B. Culver joined as vice president and secretary-treasurer, respectively. The brewery’s labels included White Ribbon and Ashland Export and it also produced a pilsner and a malt extract called Mullenhauer’s Tonic. The tonic was advertised as “a pure health giving malt tonic that tones up and invigorates the whole system.” And despite its location along Bay City Creek, the Duluth News Tribune noted in 1905 that the brewery, capable of producing 24,000 barrels a year, used water drawn from an artesian well that reached 308 feet into the ground and had a “perpetual flow of 4,000 gallons an hour.”

When Prohibition became law, Culver, who managed the brewery, converted its equipment to make condensed milk, and the News Tribune reported that in May 1919 the company changed its name to the Ashland Dairy Products Co. By the following April the facility was also manufacturing butter and ice cream as, according to newspapers, most of Ashland’s fifty-eight former saloons had “converted to ice cream parlors.” Unfortunately, by April 1922 Ashland Dairy Products was forced to lease the facility to another creamery due to “financial distress.” Several investors tried to restart the brewery following Prohibition, but as Hoverson notes it never produced more than 440 barrels a year and closed in 1937.

It was an Ashland family that opened the Washburn Brewing Company in Washburn at the Southwest Corner of Third Avenue West and Fifth Street in 1890. According to Hoverson the Waegerles—John, Mary Madelaine, and George—ran the brewery until 1893, when that year’s financial panic likely forced them to close. Another Ashlander, Charles Flynn, purchased the facility in 1896 and three years later, along with new investors, changed the name to the Washburn Brewing Association. Hoverson explains that at this time the association may have entered an agreement with Schlitz to stop brewing.

Ed Borgan’s Pure Brewing Company began leasing the facility in 1904 and purchased it in 1908, very likely following Flynn’s arrest for “assault with attempt to kill.” At a saloon in Washburn’s east end Flynn had go en into a fight with Martin Larson and slashed his jugular vein, but Larson survived. The News Tribune reported that “Flynn was a prominent character in the city. In the early days of the city he was very wealthy…. At one time he was owner of a great deal of property…. During the last few years he has lost nearly all of his property and is now almost penniless.”

Borgan kept the brewery operating until 1913, when he sold it to Fitger’s along with Washburn’s Opera House Block, Capitol Saloon, and Union Hall Saloon. in 1915 the city of Washburn voted to go dry. Soon thereafter newspapers reported that the brewery was being dismantled and its equipment shipped to Wisconsin’s Arcadia Brewing Company. The Washburn brewery was demolished in 1941 to make room for a new Washburn High School.