Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Forgotten Brewery Caves - The Bloomer Mystery

Note: this post only makes sense if read after my main post on the Bloomer Brewery cave.
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Having given this matter a bit of thought and consulted outside sources I have come to strongly suspect that the cave visible under the Bloomer Brewery is only a fraction of what is down there.  Here is our dilemma.

In 1964 tensions with Russia were high.  It was not long after the world came to the nuclear brink at the Bay of Pigs.  So a study was commissioned looking at all available underground shelter spaces.  It is helpfully indexed by states and divided up into categories.  Caves and Mines get their own category.

The Bloomer Brewery site is said to have a cave with room for 560 nuclear refugees.  Does this look like enough room for that many people?

Umm, can everyone squeeze in a little tighter?

For comparison the first cave I visited, that in Chippewa Falls, was four or five times as big.  And the same report rates it as a suitable size for only 13 people.

Something is really not right here.  There would seem to be several possible theories, each of which deserve exploration.

1. The cave has been sealed off.
The paint on the back wall is a bit brighter and cleaner than the rest of the cave, but honestly, who would bother to repaint a later wall this neatly and with even the red stripe across the bottom?  I have a good eye for such things and did not detect any recent tampering.  Heck, if this was sealed off in the 1960's or 70's they would have used cinder block to do it.  Could you even have found a mason in the 1960's who would work in real stone?  Why would you pay extra to do so?

2. This was not a brewery cave in the first place.
As I have said, it is too small to really keep beer cold, and it does rather look like a niche for some other purpose.  But note the drain in the floor, they were expecting water run off.  And up in the ceiling we find a typical vent hole.


No, this was at some point a beer storage cave....or maybe only part of one?

3. Perhaps there are other entrances to a cave system?  (sub-theory, the cap at the end of the visible tunnel is old but the system is intact and was accessed from other entries).

If you stood where I took that first picture and just turned 180 degrees you can see where the more recent basement intersects the visible cave entrance:


It is just plain old drywall.  So at some point the back wall of the current basement was presumably the rock face.  Here is the interface closer up:


Personally I cannot see any reason why there may not be another cave entrance somewhere behind this modern wall.  That does of course leave unanswered the question of why nobody remembers it.  The current owners have actively sought out the opinions of old timers, and that drywall looks fairly recent. Was the entrance concealed somehow?  Is there still a batch of moonshine that the revenuers never found?  And while we are at it, my assumption that the basement space was refrigerated storage is looking a little less likely.  I don't see any insulation.  

4. Maybe the larger cave system is no longer connected to the rebuilt brewery.  
I have not seen any pictures of the 1870s facility nor to date have I read any accounts of the initial building process or the rebuild.  If you step outside the current brewery and look around you see some interesting clues....


Bloomer Brewery, showing the back.  Note the stone face.  The road is probably newer.  


Standing on the hill with the back of the brewery in line.  The "known" cave points in this direction.


An odd feature in the hillside.  There is a saying in archeology:  "One stone is a rock.  Two is a feature. Three makes a wall."  


I have on several occasions seen a "dimple" like this above known brewery caves.  So this could be another vent hole with roughly 130 years of silting in.

Of course I have a final theory:

5. Maybe the owners of the brewery fibbed.
I assume that offering your space as a potential fallout shelter got you some small annual stipend. Maybe they just cheated a little and counted the basement area as "cave".  I think this would be a very bad thing to do.  Would you want 500 panicked citizens turning up at your door looking for a refuge from Armageddon?

These theories are all potentially testable if curiosity ever was sufficient to warrant peeking behind a few bits of drywall and chipping away a small bit of the back wall of the visible cave.

Personally I am voting for theory number three.  In the era before mechanical refrigeration you selected your brewery site very carefully.  A suitable site for a storage cave was one of the biggest considerations, maybe in fact the single biggest one.  Water, land, these you can find anywhere.  But a decent limestone/sandstone face is hard to find in some areas.  The Bloomer Brewery was built right up against one, and I have to assume it was for a better reason than to carve the puny broom closet of a cave currently visible.

Perhaps someday there will be a Discovery.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Bloomer, Wisconsin

I had been hoping to get in and see this cave for some time.  One of my fellow caving enthusiasts had come across information on it, indicating that in the era when it was a possible Civil Defense shelter it was a very large space.  Larger than one might expect from a small town brewery with a rather checkered past.

The brewery was established in 1875 by a John Wendtlandt.  It went through the usual tribulations of small breweries, some management changes and damaging fires in both 1883 and 1888.  After the latter fire it was commented that the ageing cellars were largely undamaged.

Prohibition of course shut the place down, but the owner at that time, a John Breunig, turned to the production of moonshine liquor. This was actually quite common in rural Wisconsin at the time, generally the local sheriffs just looked the other way.

Perhaps a payoff was missed, because the place got raided by the Feds and Breunig spent a year behind bars.  I guess the Federal government did not hold a grudge because Breunig later landed a very profitable contract to supply beer to the US Army. This served him very well during the World War II years, but post war the business faltered and closed in 1947.

All sorts of businesses came and went in the old brewery, I heard tales of a fish farm on the premises in the 1970s. Circa 1980 it was purchased by a Dan Wolf who gradually fixed it up while using it for storage and rental properties.

One of his tenants, Dan Stolt developed an interest in brewing and has started a small brewery on the premises.  They sell their product to a few local bars and serve up beer fresh from the kegs in their hospitality room on Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons.


The Bloomer Brewery from the outside.  While it is nice to see old buildings preserved I do have to say this one is a bit of a hash architecturally.  The red brick part appears to be the 1889 rebuild, perhaps on some of the foundations of the 1870's building. Newer parts are stuck on all over.


The tap room space is beyond.  They had four beers going.  The one I had was tasty and reasonably priced.  The video gambling machines are of course for fun only.  There are rumors that if you hit a jackpot in some saloons you can get a payout from the bartender.  I have never tested this theory.


Well, here's the cave.  It is not very big, just a single room and an anteroom.  These actually extend out behind the existing brewery and are underneath a service road out back.  I assume they were an original feature of the 1875 brewery.  The space seems so small that I started to wonder.  Was the first brewery tiny? Or are there other caves now inaccessible?  The brewmaster who gave us the tour did not know.


The back room of the cave.  You don't seem many caves with original paint on them.  Note the vent hole in the roof.  The dark stripes seem to be some kind of mold.  Looking at this photo after the fact it does seem as if the paint on the back wall is fresher than elsewhere.  I suppose it is possible that this is a later wall sealing off a longer cave.  Darn, I should have looked closer.


The walls of the cave have been coated with a smooth layer of mortar.  In one spot it had chipped off.


The 1870's cave opens out of this basement.  It appears to be a large refrigeration space.  I assume that by the time of the 1889 rebuild they sprang for mechanical cooling units.

Here is my favorite room in the place.  Mr. Wolf apparently is a hunter.  With all the available room he of course decided he needed a Guy Paradise!


We had a nice visit.  The cave was enigmatic if somewhat underwhelming.  But the brewery as a whole has plenty of history.  Cold beer, a guided tour by the brew master, taxidermy....it does not get much better than that.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Oak Hill

I had a few minutes to spare while my wife was in shopping, so I wandered over to a cemetery across the street.  This is in Bloomington Minnesota, not at first glance the best place to find old monuments. It became a rapidly growing suburb in the 1950's and 60's, but did have enough of an earlier settlement that Oak Hill Cemetery contains graves going clear back to the 1850's.

In my quest for tree shaped tombstones I only found one specimen, but a rather nice one...


A nice tall specimen, with a much newer Madonna standing at the base.

The inscription is on an "open book" supported by a rather odd jumble of sticks and some kind of ball (?).


But the fun part was hidden way up near the top......


A very nicely rendered woodpecker!

Oak Hill cemetery did contain two additional objects that caught the eye of a "tree stump" collector. Recall my posting on "widow's chairs" carved to look like stumps?  Seen in Hastings, MN was this:


Well, the groundskeeper at Oak Hill apparently decided to get rid of a couple of annoying trees by doing this to them:




Odd.  Instead of tombstones shaped like tree stumps we have tree stumps shaped like tombstones!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Pictures from the Road

My sister in law drove from Minnesota to Ohio.  She must have taken back roads as she kindly sent a few pictures of tree shaped tombstones taken at what appear to be far less than highway velocities!


An interesting and rather highly stylized tree stump.  The vines and lillys are kind of taking over here.  I have not seen this placement of the "clasped hands" on the cut surface of the stump before.


A nice family grouping.  On the far right is what looks like a cement base for a now vanished component to this grouping.  We will see more of this, artistic as soft limestone is for stone carvers it is not as durable as hard granite.  The geometry of this picture puzzles me.  The little short stumps with an A on top would seem to mark out four corners of the Alexander family plot.  But where are the other two?  Hard to imagine that those pushy newcomers, the Allon Yerkes, would just be allowed to plop right down in Alexander real estate....


Here is a nice one.  The peak popularity of tree shaped tombstones roughly matched the demise of the Civil War generation.  I assume this fellow served in the artillery.  Note again the advanced weathering of the inscription.  Not even memory is permanent.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Sickle and Cut Wheat

The first time I encountered a short "tree stump" style monument like this I admit to a bit of bewilderment;


The cut sheaf of wheat and the sickle were clear symbolism of a life ended.  Perhaps too soon or perhaps at the due time for a rich harvest.  But the odd thing draped over the wheat sheaf puzzled me. I thought it looked like a chicken foot!  But it was simply a somewhat poorly executed edition of what must have been a stock form for the monument carvers.  Below are a few more that have come my way since this first one.





As you can see, the work is done with variable levels of skill.  And the odd "chicken foot" is nothing more than a twist of stalks used in the traditional fashion to bind up a sheave.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Defending Cornwall - A Thousand Dawns

Cornwall has a seacoast full of hidden coves.  That's what contributes to its long association with the honorable practice of smuggling.  As we walked about last spring I was surprised to see that pretty much every tiny little beach on the south coast was under the watchful eye of a decommissioned World War II bunker !


Sometimes you have to look closely for them, and I imagine it was even harder when they were camouflaged.


This overlooks the small harbor at Charlestown.  See the bunker to the left of the house?


A public swimming beach, the bunker is about 1/3 of the way up the slope, even with the right edge of the house above.


Now being used as storage for a kayak rental business.

When I saw all these bunkers my first thought was that many of them must have been completed after any real threat of invasion had passed.  The time interval from the Fall of France to the end of the Battle of Britain was a matter of months really.  Even if you figure that some threat of invasion remained in theory until Hitler invaded Russia, that's only a year.  So many military schemes these days have a long planning stage and are obsolete when finished.

But I underestimated the Brits.  It seems that most of these bunkers were actually completed in 1940 or 41.  Bunker construction went on at a furious pace.  One source I encountered said that at peak construction in the summer of 1940, a bunker was finished every 20 minutes!   We forget how much can be accomplished under existential threat.

After a while though, watching the seas for an invasion that would never arrive must have become tedious.  But it still had to be done.  The British were mindful of the need to keep the Germans from landing spies and saboteurs.  That of course being exactly the sort of thing that the British did all the time and the Germans almost never.  By 1943/44 that need was actually rising, Cornwall was a staging area for the Normany invasion and any slip in the secrecy that surrounded Operation Overlord would have cost many thousands of lives.

It must have been a lonely vigil.  High up in the cliffs west of Falmouth we found a monument to this diligence:


"Dad's Army", they also serve who only stand and wait.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Defending Cornwall - Enemy Sails !

My earlier post on St. Mawes touched upon the subject of "Device Forts", fortifications from the era of Henry VIII that breathed one final breath of life into the concept of castles.  These were designed not for royal pomp, nor for withstanding a long siege.  They actually took advantage of the development of artillery which had generally doomed castles to obsolescence.  They were designed to sink approaching enemy ships.

In recent years Cornwall has become a most unlikely route by which to conquer England. The distance from Continental ports is much greater than at say, Dover.  Modern inventions such as aircraft and submarines would make the approach fraught with danger.  Also, having seen the ridiculous little sunken roads of Cornwall I can say for certain that no modern army would wish to attack this inhospitable chunk of rock.  I suspect that elderly Home Guards with pitch forks could keep a sizable foe at bay without much trouble.

But in earlier times it made sense for enemies, be they French or Spanish, to consider an attack. The fortunes of England depended on her command of the seas, and if you could occupy a few key ports along the Cornwall and Devon coasts you might challenge the Royal Navy's mastery.

On our walking tour in April and May we ran across many fortifications old and new.


This is St. Catherine's Castle overlooking the approach to Fowey.  It is another "Device Fort" built by Henry in the 1530s.  It is named not for Henry's last wife Catherine Parr (although I actually think all of his Queens deserve some kind of Sainthood for putting up with him), but for the point of land on which it stood.  It was refurbished and rearmed to keep watch for a possible Napoleonic invasion fleet in the late 1700s.  In 1855 a lower battery was added with a pair of 64 pounders.  I am not sure exactly who they were expecting to defend against at that point in history.


I'd be surprised if a few bad jokes about St. Catherine did not originate from this design.  Faintly visible on the far point is the expected fort on the opposite side of the harbor.

Falmouth is the most important port on the south Cornwall coast.  So it is well defended. You see a mix of fortifications near the town proper, some old, some new.


This location has served for many centuries.  The carved out arch is very old, the cement probably World War II.  The odd arrangement that looks like a picnic table set up is some kind of range finding device.

On the opposite side of the bay we find a very well preserved coastal battery.  It was built in 1880. Once again I am not sure who they thought they were guarding against at that point in history.  Queen Victoria seemed to have the whole world running smoothly back then.




I found it rather charming that the aiming marks for this six inch gun were scratched into the cement.

At some sites you find all different eras of lookout stations.


This is on a point of land called "The Gribbon".  Iron age folk lived here.  From this spot the Spanish Armada was sighted and a warning beacon was lit.  Later a signal station was build to watch out for Bonaparte.  Exactly which of these eras is recalled in the above remains is difficult to say.