The history of beer in Lititz by Cory Van Brookhoven
Beer has a rich history in Lititz
Many years ago, malt houses were common across the United States. At these facilities, cereal grain was converted into malt with the end result being crucial to both breweries and distillers both near and far in the production of alcoholic beverages.
Here in Lititz, in 1822, Michael Greiter first began a malt house on Broad Street, currently in the vicinity of the parking lot of Citizens Bank. Then, in 1830, he sold the business to a Mr. R.R. Tshudy. In 1856, fire destroyed the building, but the operation was rebuilt on what is now Lititz Mutual Insurance’s parking lot, along West Main Street. In 1878, rye malt was a special export of this company.
By 1881, records indicate that business was still booming, with 300 bushels of grain malted weekly, most of which were shipped out of state to Baltimore, Md. During this time, the malt house was operated by J.A. Buch and Brothers.
The malt house remained in operation for a few more years, and was eventually purchased in August 1889 by Owen P. Bricker. That year, several ideas were tabled as to what to permanently convert the building into. While this was being decided, it served as an occasional meeting place including acting as a hall where an oyster supper was given by the Literary Society of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and as the location of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) fair.
The building was eventually sold again, and converted into a tobacco warehouse. For many years, it served this purpose until finally being torn down.
The Lititz Brewery
In 1833, John Kreiter first began a brewery with permission from the Moravian church. During this era, Lititz was a closed town, with only people of the Moravian faith as inhabitants. In order to operate a new business, an idea had to be presented to the church elders, who would then decide whether or not the establishment would benefit the community. The brewery was eventually approved due to the beer that was to be produced being less potent and thus, would create less problems and “drunkedness” by the townspeople who were, up to this point, for the most part only consuming the stronger whiskeys that were being produced in other parts of the town.
The Lititz Brewery was erected on the hill along Maple Street, near the head end of the Lititz Springs Park. A short time later, Kreider sold the business to Michael Muicke. A gentleman named John Hamm purchased it next, with his son in law, Jacob Weitzel, actually in charge of operations from 1840 to 1859. The next owners were Francis Rauch and Richard R. Tshudy (previously owning the malt house mentioned above), who had a very successful partnership for six years.
In 1865, the Rauch and Tshudy brewery burned to the ground. The fire originated in the kiln used for drying malt and destroyed fixtures, barley, and ruined the beer. The loss was estimated at $12,000 &tstr; about half of which was covered by insurance. News of the fire made headlines in newspapers as far away as Philadelphia. After the fire, Rauch decided not to go back in business with his partner, but Tshudy found a new partner in a Mr. Keller, and the partners ran the new brewery for another three years, finally selling it to two new partners, Bruckhart and Kauffman, in 1868 for the sum of $28,500. Subsequent owners after that included David Burkholder; Adam Groff and David Landis; Henry Zartman; David Landis; and Zartman and Scheef.
Not only was the brewery profitable, but the building served as a meeting place and restaurant of sorts over the years. In 1877, fresh oysters were available for purchase at the brewery, with local deliveries being free. Additionally, orchestras from various parts of the county played there, much to the pleasure of the patrons.
By October 1883, the brewery had new owners, and the first few batches of beer in a long time were brewed at the facility. The following advertisement ran in our local newspaper for several weeks:
The proprietors would call the attention of hotel keepers and others to the fact that they constantly have on hand the best lager beer, which can be ordered in large and small quantities and shipped to any place desired, at rates as low as elsewhere. Their beer is warranted FRESH, PURE, AND FREE FROM ALL ADULTERATIONS. Try it and be convinced. Address all orders to Zartman and Sheef.
However, a year later, in October, 1884, the beer-making facility was again up for sale. An advertisement for the facility read as follows:
“The improvements thereon are a three-story brick building, 30×60 feet, known as the Lititz Brewery, conveniently arranged for beer brewing and as a dwelling house, with brick engine house and frame shed attached, the latter 30×60 feet; frame stable, with wagon shed attached, and other out-buildings. The brewery is outfitted complete with brewing apparatus, including a 14 horse power engine and boiler, hogsheads, kegs, etc. Two vaults are beneath the brewery, divided into several apartments, which for convenience and coolness have few equals in Lancaster county. A well of good water beneath the brewery, arranged for pumping by steam; a number of fruit trees and grapevines on the premises.”
Although the building did find a buyer, beer production more or less stopped around this time.
Into the early 1890s, the building was used as a meeting place for the Lititz Cornet Band, which met there Monday and Friday evenings. The building was sold again in 1907, and still stands, containing several apartments.
The Beer Vault
The beer vault or “cellar” has been the subject of Lititz lore for many generations. One has to go down the dark and damp stairwell to gain access from outside to the “caves” containing the stone catacombs with high arched ceilings which helped keep the finished beer cold. The outline of a brick floor can also be noticed. On one side of a room, a hole, which may be the well mentioned above, can be seen.
At the far end of the cavern is a pile of rubble stacked to the ceiling, blocking further access. Small stalactites can also be noticed hanging from the roof above, proof of the old age of the cellar.
But did the this cellar serve another purpose? Legend has it that at one time, a passageway underneath the brewery continued onward to what is now Orange Street. Other tales mention a very sophisticated network of tunnels starting at the brewery and running underneath Main Street, eventually ending up in the basement of the Parkview Hotel.
In 1908, the following paragraph appeared in the Lititz Record:
“In the old Lititz brewery were piles of apples, probably 200 bushels, just as perfect as the day they were carefully picked from the trees. The old brewery vaults have proven a good cold storage place. The vault runs for a stretch of 100 feet and is about 20 feet under the ground. It is all stone lined and arched and was a good job. The cool chamber may have been a good place for keeping beer, but from the temperance standpoint it is a much better place for storing apples. Yet it is the first time that it has been put to use for this latter purpose.”
Currently, the inside of the beer cellar matches what is described above. However, at the one end of the “cave” is a large pile of rubble &tstr; perhaps placed there on purpose to prevent someone from going any further? At least one opinion heard over the years is that if one were to clear away the rubble, a door would be revealed, leading further on. But how much further on is the question? We may never know. Unfortunately, not one single mention of this passageway could be found in my research when writing this piece. If there was a passageway at one time, it was evidently blocked off at some point, most likely for safety concerns.
Although the old malt house and brewery have both been gone for many years, the art of brewing beer right here in Lititz has seen a recent resurgence, with locally-brewed micro and craft beers readily available and made right here in town.
So the next time you raise a pint in Lititz, think back to our forefathers who spent countless hours many years ago roasting malt or brewing beer in Lititz for their customers.