NEW ULM, MN - August Schell came to newly established New Ulm, Minnesota, to help prop up a struggling German-American immigrant community. He began a brewery while living there. Despite having to navigate several pioneer-era challenges, he prospered. A self-made man, his generosity and thoughtfulness, as well as his love of the outdoors, shone through during his lifetime.
Schell was born on February 15, 1828, in Durbach, Baden, Germany, to Carolus "Karl" Schell and Maria Anna Vicellio. His father was the head forester near the Black Forest near Durbach. Because of that, Schell spent his childhood surrounded by trees and animals. In the years after his father's 1837 death, he learned the machinist trade.
A twenty-year-old Schell immigrated to the United States in 1848, initially settling in New Orleans, Louisiana. He struggled to find work in the region and eventually traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, to join a growing German-American settlement. Schell became a machinist for the Cincinnati Locomotive Works. On March 7, 1853, he married Theresia (Theresa) Hermann. The couple's first two children, daughters Emilie and Emma, were born in the area in 1854 and 1856.
In 1856 the family of four moved to New Ulm. Schell was a member of the Turner Colonization Society of Cincinnati, a group that came to the area to establish an American frontier city built on staunch German values. He was involved with the milling industry during his first four years in New Ulm. Schell worked as a machinist and supervisor for the Cincinnati Globe Mill Company.
Eldest son Adolph was born in New Ulm on February 12, 1858. Two years later, on July 19, 1860, daughter Anna was born.
The mill had significant financial issues within a year of its inception. The German Land Company, its ownership group, searched for a buyer to take over the business. Schell, believing the problems were because of material and equipment debts instead of the business itself, leased the company. While he achieved some success, he soon realized brewing beer for the predominantly German community would be a more profitable venture.
In 1860, Schell purchased land in a heavily wooded area near the banks of the Cottonwood River to start his brewery. Construction began in January 1861. His brewery, the area's second, opened for business in the fall of 1861. Schell and his business partner Jacob Bernhardt, former brewmaster of Saint Paul's North Mississippi Brewery, produced two hundred barrels of beer in their company's first year of business.
The land Schell built the brewery on was in the heart of Dakota territory. In 1862, it became part of the deadly Dakota Conflict. After the second attack on New Ulm in August, residents were evacuated to Mankato, Saint Peter, and Saint Paul. Upon their return, they found their homes and businesses had been destroyed. What wasn't burned down was ransacked. The brewery, located beyond the town's limits, had been raided but remained standing.
On July 15, 1862, the Schell family welcomed their second son, Otto. Their youngest child, a daughter named Augusta, was born two years later.
In 1865, Bernhardt took ill and decided to sell his ownership stake in the brewery. To ensure the greatest financial return for his partner, Schell offered his half of the company for sale as well. On August 11, 1866, a public auction was held. August Schell submitted the winning bid of $12,000. He was now the sole owner of the brewery.
The company flourished over the next several years, but the Schell family was not without tragedy. Nine-year-old Anna passed away on March 31, 1870, and seven years later, at the age of fifty, Schell developed severe rheumatoid arthritis. He struggled to move and could no longer perform his duties as the company owner. Schell turned over many of the brewery's day-to-day business responsibilities to sons Adolph and Otto. He remained its chief executive.
Schell's Brewery grew despite increased local competition. By the 1870s, the brewery grounds boasted a sizable main complex surrounded by several smaller buildings. Rapid expansion continued with Otto Schell at the helm.
For years the Schell family had lived in a small home on the brewery grounds. In 1885, August and Theresa Schell had a ten-room mansion with an elaborate garden and deer park built nearby. The house cost $5000 to construct.
On September 20, 1891, Schell died of heart failure. After his passing, his son Otto ran the business. When Otto Schell incorporated the brewery in October 1902, he began the tradition of appointing only family members to the company's board of directors.
August Schell came to New Ulm to participate in the growth of the nascent German-American community that had settled there. He made a home for his family in the area and built a thriving business. Life in nineteenth-century southwest Minnesota was not without its challenges, but Schell successfully navigated each of them. In doing so, he created an enduring family legacy, one that continues over one-hundred and sixty years after the Schell's Brewery first opened.
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- Hoverson, Doug. Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
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- Memorial Record of Southwestern Minnesota. 1897.
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- U.S. National Park Service. "National Register of Historic Places Inventory - Nomination Form: August Schell Brewing Company." National Park Service. Last modified December 27, 1974. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/2db60017-8edd-4d25-a748-2dfaf1f4ed42.