Located at the foot of the bluffs in St. Paul's Bruce Vento Sanctuary are the last remnants of the former North Star Brewery. The brewery had a long history in the area, overcoming a series of early ownership changes as well as significant competition to achieve a moderate level of business success. The venture proved to be unsustainable. A bitter dispute between long-time partners spelled the end of the brewery in Phalen Creek, and a destructive fire left it as little more than a footnote in local history. Its story continues due in part to the water-logged, barred up sandstone cave that remains as a lasting nod to what it once was.
The North Star Brewery was founded by Edward Drewry and George Scotten in 1855 and was initially known as the Drewry & Scotten Brewery. It was located near Phalen Creek on Plum Street and was one of at least four breweries in the area to take advantage of a seemingly infinite supply of underground artesian spring water. The entire establishment was two buildings, a 50 x75 ft brewery, and a 50 x 75 ft malt house. The owners added a four-story-high distillery in 1864. Scottish and English immigrants, Drewry and Scotten, produced ales and porters instead of the lager beers typically brewed by their contemporaries. In 1864 the company was also known as the North Western Brewery.
Changes in ownership were the norm for rest of the decade. In Spring 1864 Scotten sold his portion of the company to brothers Louis B. and Charles Greig. The Drewry & Scotten partnership was dissolved, and the company became known as both the Drewry & Greig Brewery and North Western Brewery. At first, the new pairing continued to produce ales but by 1867 had given into demand and also made lagers. The arrangement continued until 1868 when Edward Drewry left the partnership, and Louis B. Greig became the company’s sole owner. He remained in that role until 1870, in spite of the fact that 1869 tax receipts suggest the brewery was likely inactive for the year.
In 1870 John Holland became the brewery’s new owner, and the company was known as Holland’s Brewery. That was short-lived, however, and by 1872 Jacob Gahr was the owner of the brewery. He named it the North Star Brewery. In October of the same year, local grocer William Constans purchased the real estate holdings associated with the establishment and the surrounding area. In doing so, he became Gahr’s business partner. Gahr sold his interest to William Gilger in 1875, and Gilger sold to Reinhold Koch in 1879.
By the 1880s Koch had grown the company into the second largest brewery west of Chicago. However, like his many predecessors, Koch’s tenure as owner was short lived. On August 4, 1884, Jacob Schmidt purchased a fifty-percent interest in the North Star Brewery to replace Koch as Constans’ business partner. In 1888 Constans stepped away from the business, eventually renting the portion of the building he owned to Schmidt for an indefinite period at the cost of $100 per month.
Over the years little had been done to improve the brewery complex, and by 1896 Schmidt felt the grounds had become dilapidated to the point of no longer being usable. To remain a competitive business and safe environment for employees, it needed a new barley house, malt house floor, elevator, dry kiln, among other improvements. Constans, no longer a part of the day-to-day operations of the brewery, refused to pay for half of the updates unless Schmidt agreed to a rent increase to $150 per month. Schmidt declined and paid for the alterations himself. He held back future rent payments from Constans to recoup a portion of the improvement costs.
Schmidt sued Constans for the rest, and in July 1900 a local court ruled the buildings were to be sold at auction. The money from the sale was to be split among the former business partners — minus Schmidt’s $3224.57 in repair costs. Constans appealed. He believed that Schmidt bore the financial responsibility for the unapproved repairs. The case eventually reached the Minnesota Supreme Court. On February 6, 1901, the high court agreed, ruling in Constans favor and reversing the lower court’s earlier decision. Schmidt soon after relinquished the building to settle the claim against him.
A week earlier, on January 31, 1901, a local paper announced Jacob Schmidt had purchased the former Stahlman Cave Brewery on West Seventh Street for $75,000. He soon after moved his business from the location near Phalen Creek to the West End brewery. On June 27, 1905, the former North Star Brewery, unoccupied for years, burned to the ground. The property wasn’t insured, and the loss was calculated at approximately $3000. The complex was never rebuilt.
- Brueggeman, Gary J. "Beer Capital of the State - -St. Paul’s Historic Family Breweries." Master Brewers Association (blog). 2004. https://www.mbaa.com/districts/stPaulMpls/about/Documents/DistrictHistory.pdf.
- Hoverson, Doug. Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
- The Minneapolis Tribune. "Old Time Brewery Burns." June 28, 1905, 2. https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn83016771/1905-06-28/ed-1/seq-2.
- The Saint Paul Globe. "Schmidt Buys a Brewery." January 31, 1901, 10. https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn90059523/1901-01-31/ed-1/seq-11.
- Trimble, Steve. "A Toast to the Old North Star Brewery." Saint Paul Historical. Accessed May 8, 2021. https://saintpaulhistorical.com/items/show/6.
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