A True Small-Town Brewery
Reprinted from the Spring 2005 issue of The Breweriana Collector
Written by Kevin Kious and Donald Roussin.
The village of Marine, Illinois, so named because a number of its early settlers were former sea captains, is one of the smaller towns in Madison County, and seemingly an unlikely spot to have ever had a brewery. But the town had grown to several hundred residents in the decade of the Civil War and after, and was able to support a surprising number of industries, including a brewery operated by Rudolph Nicolay. In his wonderful historical booklet “A Walk Through Marine”, the late local historian Ronald Loos said, “there is no way can prove that there was some type of brewery operating at or close to Marine in the 1850s. But I get small bits and pieces of information indicating that it was probably true.” There was indeed a brewery, and it was located in the heart of town, as can be found from census records and the old land records preserved in the bulky bound volumes kept in the county recorder’s office.
The Village Brewer
On July 18, 1856, Rudolph Nicolay, a resident of St. Louis County, Missouri, purchased four lots of land in Marine. For $1050, he received from Adam Weber title to lots 5,6,11 and 12 in Block 4 of the village. The selling price would indicate that there were already improvements on the parcel, perhaps a house if not a brewery. Within the next few years Nicolay must have constructed or improved a brewery on the site, for the 1860 census for “Marinetown” lists him as a brewer, forty years old, and a native of Hesse, Germany. His real estate was listed as being worth $2000, his personal property $200. His wife Louisa, nearly two decades his junior, was from Baden, Germany, while their three young children had all been born in Illinois, presumably Marine. Living with the family was John Sinthrimer, a 22- year-old from Frankfurt, Germany. He also listed his occupation as brewer, indicating that the Marine brewery was at least a two-man operation.
In the 1866 Madison County Gazetteer, Nicolay is listed as the sole Marine brewer, showing that the business was still making a go of it. The 1870 census indicates that Nicolay was still at the helm of his brewery, and his holdings had increased to $4000 of real estate and $300 of personal property. By this time the family’s brood had increased to six children, ages 1 through 14. Next door lived saloon keeper Jacob Wentz, who was no doubt selling beer made by his neighbor. Financial troubles were to hit the brewery early in the 1870s though. In February of 1870, Nicolay had to mortgage the property in exchange for a $600 promissory note, payable in one year to the St. Louis malting firm of Linze and Schmidt. It is interesting to note that in the next year the same company would come to own the brewery in nearby Edwardsville after it was unable to pay a mortgage owed the Missourians. This was not to be the fate of Nicolay’s brewery, as there is no indication he defaulted on that loan. But he soon became indebted to various local men who had loaned him money. He borrowed $400 from Jacob Kolb in October, 1870, then $500 more from the duo of Knitzberg and Gehrs in September, 1871, in order to pay a debt owed Stortzenberg and Gehrke. At the same time he borrowed $500 more from a gentleman named Fruitiger in order to pay off an old note from 1868. The writing was clearly on the wall for the future of the brewery in Marine. Nicolay was unable to pay the October, 1870 note when it came due, and he was declared in default. So on New Year’s Day, 1872, the brewery was put up for auction. Standing in front of the Marine post office, just down the street, prominent local businessman John Neudecker made the winning bid of $2400.
If Neudecker, Nicolay, or anyone else continued making beer at the site, it is not recorded. Any brewing that did continue was undoubtedly of short duration. Rudolph Nicolay soon left the town where he had brewed for many years and moved to St. Louis. There he worked briefly as a laborer and then returned to the brewing industry as a watchman at the Southern Brewery of Klausmann and Company. By 1876 he and his family were running a south-St. Louis cigar and tobacco shop in the same neighborhood. No brewers are listed in Marine in the 1880 census. According to historian Loos, John Neudecker, the new owner of the brewery grounds, had settled in Marine in 1853, then purchased a saw mill which he converted to a steam flouring mill. He ran the mill for over a decade and was able to amass considerable wealth. According to the 1866 Gazetteer, he was by then a Justice of the Peace. Neudecker died on September 6, 1883. The four lots that he had acquired from Rudolph Nicolay were advertised for sale, and subsequently purchased at auction by Henry Eikman for just $852. After Eikman’s death in 1890, the property was sold to Fred Schreiber for just $400. Schreiber and his family operated a saloon just up the street, in a two-story brick building that was later converted to a shoe factory and then into a garment factory. This building still stands, but the site of the old brewery is now occupied by a newer home and a large garage or shed. Any remnants of the brewery building are either gone or hidden. Beer drinkers in Marine have had to content themselves with beer made elsewhere for well over a century now. Turn of the 20th-century photos taken of a local tavern show advertising for both the Pabst and Hyde Park brands. A picture of the above mentioned Wentz saloon shows a sign advertising Paragon beer out of East St. Louis. The Highland Brewing Company, located about ten miles away, established a large depot in Marine just a couple blocks from the old brewery, of which old photographs also still exist. The town still boasts a couple of taverns. Judging by their signage, the products of Anheuser-Busch are the most popular. It is likely that if anybody entered these saloons and mentioned that a brewery used to operate up the street, he or she would be greeted with utter disbelief. But like many other small southern Illinois towns, Marine has an all but forgotten brewing heritage.
Authors’ note – Both Kevin Klaus and Donald Roussin are members of NASA, and items from both of their collections were utilized in this article. Sources for this article included: The 1866 Madison County Gazetteer: the 1860 and 1870 U.S. Census; Deeds and other land records; Holmes and Arnold’s 1861 Atlas of Madison County; Marine, Illinois, An Historical Review by Earl Shepard, DDS; A Walk Through Marine by Ronald Loos; St. Louis & Carondelet, 1873; and the 1874-77 St. Louis City Directories.