Wisconsin Historical Society

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Architecture and History Inventory
1ST ST (500' E OF HASTINGS ST) | Property Record | Wisconsin Historical Society
Other Name:Melchoir Hotel & Brewery/Ruins
Reference Number:16861
Location (Address):1ST ST (500' E OF HASTINGS ST)
Unincorporated Community:
Quarter Section:
Quarter/Quarter Section:
Year Built:1857
Additions: 1900
Survey Date:1982
Historic Use:brewery
Architectural Style:NA (unknown or not a building)
Structural System:Unknown
Wall Material:Sandstone
Other Buildings On Site:0
Demolished Date:
National/State Register Listing Name: Melchoir Hotel and Brewery Ruins
National Register Listing Date:11/15/1984
National Register Multiple Property Name:Multiple Resources of Trempealeau
Additional Information:Standing two stories in height and constructed of carefully coursed sandstone blocks extracted from bluffs behind the building, the riverfront Melchoir Hotel & Brewery still retains much of its original profile and many of its distinguishing features despite the currently ruinous state. Although missing one complete exterior wall, the roof, and any interior features, the building nonetheless preserves parts of three of its original sandstone walls, most of its original fenestration pattern, the original brick arches above each extant window and door, and some of the original wooden window trim. As such, the building retains enough of its structural integrity to accurately convey its historical character and appearance. More interestingly, the property still contains the large sandstone caves cut into the bluff at the rear of the building which were used to store newly brewed beer at a constant temperature of 40 year round. The caves were accessible directly through the house and the connecting passages are still intact. The structure is a dramatic visual and archaeological reminder of the early industrial and commercial history of this Mississippi River town.

Of interest as the ruin of a unique building type in the area and as a handsome landmark on the river, the structure is of primitive ashlar construction. The sandstone blocks were taken from large caves extending into the bluff behind the building; these were used to store newly brewed beer at a constant temperature of 44'F. the year round. The caves were connected by passages created by enlarging a natural fault in the sandstone.

The structure was the first brewery in Trempealeau County. Melchoir Lager Beer enhanced Trempealeau's reputation. The Tavern/Hotel was well known because of its river frontage location. An original investment of $6,000 made this brewery one of the biggest businesses in the County in 1860. Melchoir Beer was more famous than Milwaukee Beer in St., Paul-Minneapolis.

Built in 1857 by Jacob Melchoir, and quickly established as one of Trempealeau's largest and most successful enterprises, the Melchoir Hotel & Brewery is a significant remnant of the 19th centu7ry commercial and industrial development of the village. When Melchoir arrived in the frontier community from his native Prussia in the early 1850s, he started a small brewery in a log house which survived from the fur trade era. But in 1857 (during a national depression which stunted the village's economic growth) Melchor invested $6,000 and built a two story riverfront hotel and brewery. To provide natural refrigeration for his brew, Melchoir cut deep caves into the sandstone bluffs which abutted the building, accessible from inside the brewery through special passageways. By the 1860s, the wheat boom had revived the lcal economy and Melchoir's investment began to pay off. While the hotel capitalized of its riverfront location, the brewery became one of the largest industries in the county. The continuing success of the combined operation was reflected in 1870 census figures which reported that Melchoir's building was perhaps the most valuable property in town. By 1880, Melchoir was producing 150 barrels of beer annually, and shipping some of it via rail to Minneapolis and St. Paul, where it was reputedly more famous than the beers of Milwaukee. Although the building survived a devastating fire which ravaged the village's commercial center in 1888, it is unlikely the brewery was able to withstand for long the general economic decline of the village which began at the close of the 19th century. Currently in a ruinous state, the brewery was identified in an archaeological and historical survey of the Great River Road (conducted by the State Historical Society and sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation) as being among the most significant historical sites in the county. The standing walls, brick arches, fenestration patterns, caves and passageways which remain provide valuable insights into the construction and operations of a small-scale 19th century brewery, although further investigation is needed to determine the extent of archeological information likely to be yielded by the site.
Bibliographic References:RUSCH AND PENMAN, "HISTORIC SITES ALONG THE GREAT RIVER ROAD." A. Trempealeau Historical Album, 1867-1967. B. Merle Curti, The Making of An American Community, (Stanford, 1959), p. 234. C. Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge, History of Trempealeau County, Wisconsin, (Chicago, 1917) p. 75. D. Western Historical Co. History of Northern Wisconsin (Chicago, 1881), p. 1045. E. Rusch & Penman, Historic Sites Along the Great River Road, 1982, p. 41. F. 1860 Manuscript Census, Trempealeau County, WI 1870 U.S. Manuscript Census, Trempealeau County, Wis. p. 244. G. Wayne Kroll, Badger Breweries, Past and Present (Jefferson, WI, 1976), p. 130.
Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory, State Historic Preservation Office, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin

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