A History of Local Breweries & Brew Pubs, Pt. 2

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In our first installment we learned the Weinmann family emigrated from Germany and set up the first brewery in Lansing. Business appeared to be going well until a full funded Female Seminary opened across the street.

weinmann brewery 1866All known descriptive sources indicate Weinmann quickly relinquished.  It is reported Abigail Rogers petitioned the brewer and the neighbors to close the establishment. In Adams Pioneer history of Ingham County she states “[c]an you image such a woman letting a German brewer get the best of her in a deal or argument? No, he had to give way and his dream of a beer garden, on the German plan, vanished as well as his profits and customers.”

Evidence contradicts this narrative. The Michigan State Gazateer and Business Directory of 1863 lists Fred Weinman[n] as a brewer. Abigail Rogers passes from this world in 1869, soon after State Agricultural College, now MSU, admitted women, followed by U of M in 1870. The Michigan Female College soon closes. The 1870 Federal Census states Weinman[n]’s occupation as brewer in Lansing’s fourth ward. By 1873 the Female College building had become the Odd Fellows Institute and Weimann is listed as operating a saloon and restaurant on Turner Street near Grand River (then Franklin). The 1874 County Atlas of Ingham clearly shows the brewery, calling it and the owner by name. The spelling is changed to Wineman. The 1878 Lansing City Directory lists Frederick as a brewer on Chestnut, directly around the block from the Pine address, but the same location for the still operating Weinmann Brewery.

Why the conflicting data? Partially this could be an echo chamber. Many county histories and locally written pioneer accounts borrow heavily from earlier sources and from oral tradition. Both can be valid, sometimes they are not and often are unverifiable.

It is a common theme in this genre, 19th and early 20th century local/county histories, that progressive, well educated, well funded community leaders vanquish unsavory unintelligibles. Often elements of Tall Tales seep in reinforcing a specific community cohesiveness. This narrative demonstrates the pioneers were of high social status deriving from prominent families. Adams “imagines” a scenario where Abigail Rogers converses with Weinmann. She derogatorily refers to beer as a “plebian” drink, referencing her ancestors drinking “New England Rum”, the connotation being rum as the more refined option.

In this instance the answer for misleading information may also be propaganda. In 1923 and 1924, the year’s of Adam’s and Turner’s respective publications the United States was in the third and fourth years of the 13-year-run of prohibition. What these historians were musing about was contraband. No explanation is provided if temperance was an issue why rum is better than beer.

More sinister is the characterization of the immigrant Weinmanns as unable to compete intellectually.  The overall theme of both articles, copied word for word in many places, is patronizing. Nativism surged in the 1920s. WW1 heightened prejudices against Germans, making them a common target. The relationship of Lansing with its German immigrants was complex. There was a high percentage of Germans, four German churches and a very popular mayor in the teens Gottlieb Reutter, was a German immigrant.

The Klu Klux Klan reemerged strongly in this period, and prominently in Mid Michigan with anti immigrant rhetoric. This article in no way suggests the previous authors agreed with the Klan’s sentiments. However, the political climate of the time allowed for some of the largest Klan rallies ever. Labor Day 1924, saw a Klan parade in Lansing of 15 thousand and Klanvocation of nearly 50 thousand Klan members and supporters.

The true relationship between the Weinmanns and Rogers sisters may never be known. The German language was taught at their school. Possibly they had a cordial rapport. Adams’ “imagine[s]” Rogers describing “the smell of…sauerkraut disturbed her digestion”. The Rogers sisters may have enjoyed homemade sausage and sauerkraut available across the street.

It is known Abigail Rogers’ legacy grew. She was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007. Weinmann descendants continue to populate the Lansing area, and the creek which fed their pioneer brewery still exists. It is now a storm drain running the same approximate course; a cement bottom and expanded culvert under Walnut were constructed in 1884. In City of Lansing documentation this amalgam of natural waterway and human engineering, once described as “the finest and most substantial work of its sort in the city”, still bears the name Weinmann.

An Account of Ingham County from its Organization by Frank N. Turner
Pioneer History of Ingham County by Mrs. Franc L. Adams
History of Ingham and Eaton Counties by Samuel Durant
Michigan State Gazateer and Business Directory 1863
Report of the Pioneer Society of the State of Michigan Volume 6
Lansing Journal Newspaper 9/2/1924
State Republican Newspaper 1/13/1880
State Republican Newspaper 11/18/1884
Lansing Republican Newspaper 3/4/1898
Birds eye view of the city of Lansing, Michigan 1866 Drawn & published by A. Ruger
History and Manual of Odd Fellowship by Theodore A. Ross
Lansing City Directory 1873
Lansing City Directory 1878
1860 U.S. Federal Census
1870 U.S. Federal Census

-Dave V., CADL Local History Librarian

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