Vacant brewery in Kentucky

Bavarian Brewing Company, Covington Kentucky
Date added: December 23, 2022 Categories: Kentucky Brewery

The Bavarian Brewery had its beginnings in 1866, when a brewery was founded on Pike Street by Julius Deglow. Originally called the Deglow & Co. Brewery, as early as 1869 the brewery was known as the Bavarian Brewery. The Brewery was originally located on the Lexington Pike (now Pike Street), adjacent to a tannery also operated by the Deglow family. As early as 1877, the Brewery property included a large property that stretched from Pike Street south to 12th (at that time, 11th Street stopped west of Bullock).

Ownership and management of the brewery changed several times through the 1870s, but it remained consistently in operation under the name Bavarian. Finally, in 1882, a German immigrant named William Riedlin entered into partnership with John Meyer, who had been involved with the operations of the brewery since 1879.

The Bavarian Brewery continued to occupy a large parcel of land that in 1886 is identified as part of the Western Baptist's Theological Institute 3rd Subdivision. As mentioned above, in that year, the Brewery building was located on Pike Street at the intersection with 11th, with ice ponds occupying much of the block, and an ice house located along 12th Street. A number of dwellings are also identified facing 12th Street. A street paralleling 12th, Lehmer Street, does not extend west of Main at this time.

The brewery's location in proximity to large ponds used for the manufacture of ice was undoubtedly intentional; refrigeration was critical to the fermentation process for lager beer. Before refrigeration was readily available, most breweries incorporated deep, extensive cellars to provide a cool environment for storing the beer until it was ready for tapping. The Bavarian's location evidently provided a ready supply of ice before refrigeration became common.

At the turn of the century, Bavarian's market area was the Cincinnati metropolitan area. The company was incorporated as The Bavarian Brewing Company in 1889 with William Riedlin as president, Anton Ruh as superintendent, and J. H. Kruse as secretary-treasurer. Ruh also served in the capacity of brewmaster, and by 1894 was named vice president. The incorporation of the company at this time followed a national trend. According to William Downard, who studied the history of beermaking in Greater Cincinnati, it was common for brewers, as well as manufacturers in general, to change their organizational structure from individual proprietorships and partnerships to corporations. The reasons for this were many. For example, laws were changed simplifying the process for incorporation, making it easier to do. Secondly, a corporate structure allowed the company to continuously operate, even when the partner or founder died; this was unlike a partnership or proprietorship, which had to be completely restructured after the loss of a partner. Finally, most of the incorporations created closed corporations, enabling the family to retain ownership and management of the company.

Riedlin was an important community leader in Covington, as well. He had immigrated to the United States in 1870, and arrived in Cincinnati. He held a variety of jobs until 1878, when he opened a saloon and beer hall in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine, an important German-American community. In 1882, he sold the saloon to become a partner with John Meyer in the Bavarian Brewery. By 1893, Riedlin had been elected to the Covington Board of Aldermen. He was also a director of Covington's German National Bank and treasurer for the Covington Turner Society, a German-American civic group.

During Riedlin's tenure as president of Bavarian, many changes occurred to the physical plant of the brewery. One source states that a major renovation of the brewery was undertaken in 1886. The brewery's first bottling plant was constructed in 1892, which must have occurred shortly after the crown cap for bottles was invented. This cap, along with pasteurization, made it possible for large quantities of beer to be bottled for distribution to a wider area. The 1894 Sanborn map shows that the block had been subdivided east of the brewery property, and Bush Street (later Lehmer) and an unnamed north-south street had been laid out. The brewery complex itself is limited to a few buildings, facing both Pike and 12th Streets.

The changes to the physical plant of the Bavarian Brewery reflect changes also in the brewing and distribution of beer. In the mid-nineteenth century, when refrigeration was not common, pasteurization had not been invented, and the only way to seal a bottle was with a cork, it was difficult to bottle and ship beer. Breweries were primarily local operations, and the beer was consumed near its point of manufacture. New technology, such as refrigeration, automatic bottles, and the crown bottle cap, made it possible to manufacture beer on a larger scale and ship it further from its point of production, while a transcontinental railway system made shipping beer farther from its point of manufacture more feasible. William Riedlin came upon the scene as a partner in the Bavarian Brewery at the same time of these technological advances; it seems that he was able to capitalize upon these advances and turn his brewery into a successful operation. Under Riedlin's leadership, the Bavarian Brewery evolved from a small operation serving the local community to a modern facility that was identified in 1893 as "one of the fastest growing businesses in Covington".

In 1903, an article appeared in the Kentucky Post announcing plans for the construction of a two-story bottling house, a two-story stable and a two-story washhouse. These changes are reflected on the 1909 Sanborn, which shows the brewery complex had grown to include several buildings, and houses have been built facing Main Street. The new construction must have included the building facing 11th Street, which is identified on the 1909 Sanborn as "Bottling Dept.", as well as the core of the complex now known as the Brewery, which has a date that appears to read "1903" on the top of the north elevation. Riedlin held a luncheon in 1906 to celebrate the completion of this building. However, the physical plant of the brewery continued to grow and evolve; in August of 1913 ground was broken for a new stock house, which is a three-story building that originally faced the now-closed Lehmer Street. The changes to the physical plant of the Bavarian Brewery was another common-trend among Cincinnati brewers, according to Downard. The evolving mechanical devices and technology resulted in physical changes to the breweries themselves.

In 1908, William Riedlin, Jr. replaced Anton Ruh as vice president of The Bavarian Brewery, although apparently, Ruh continued as brewmaster until 1917, when his son Joseph took over the position. In 1918, and in all likelihood in anticipation of Prohibition, the name of the company was changed to "The William Riedlin Beverage Company". This name change seems to suggest that there were plans to continue operating the facility in some capacity after prohibition set in. However, William Riedlin, Sr. died in February 1919. It is probable that his son was being groomed to take over the leadership at Bavarian; unfortunately, he, too, died a few weeks after his father, in March of 1919. Whatever plans there may have been before the Riedlins' deaths, the Brewery was simply closed down during Prohibition, although The William Riedlin Beverage Company continued to exist as an entity. Part of the property facing 11th Street was sold to the Kenton County Ice Company in 1925 by William Riedlin's daughter, Lucia Riedlin Schott. The secretary of the Kenton County Ice Company was Joseph Ruh, who had been brewmaster for the Bavarian. From the 1909 Sanborn, corrected most recently in 1945, it appears that additional land was sold off for the construction of houses; Lehmer Street (now Riedlin) was extended through the block and a group of homes was built.

After prohibition, the Brewery was reopened, but, according to one source, did not open as quickly as other breweries in the area). In fact, a May 1933 newspaper article announced the opening of a brewery completely new to Covington, the Heidelberg Brewery. The brewmaster for Heidelberg Brewery was Joseph Ruh, who before Prohibition, had been Bavarian's brewmaster. When The Bavarian Brewery reopened, it was under the leadership of a man named M. L. Vorhees, who was married to Riedlin's granddaughter, Rosemary. Little else is known of Vorhees, although by 1937, he and Rosemary were divorced. The Brewery apparently struggled financially under Vorhees' leadership, and went into receivership in 1937. In 1938, the Brewery and all of its assets was purchased from the United States District Court by Lucia Riedlin Schott's sons, George M., William C., Louis, and Chris Schott.

Through the remainder of the history of the brewery, Riedlin's descendants were involved in the company's leadership and the company thrived, at least initially. In 1949, the Heidelberg Brewery was purchased by Bavarian; their building at Fourth and Philadelphia (demolished in 1985) became Bavarian Plant No. 2. A brewery in Cincinnati, Bruckmann, was purchased the next year. According to one report, between 1945 and 1952, Bavarian operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to meet the demand for its beer. The Heidelberg plant was subsequently sold in 1956. In 1959, The Bavarian Brewery merged with International Brewing of Detroit and continued to operate as the Bavarian Division. A new bottling plant was constructed in Covington in 1960. Bavarian won first prize for taste for its beer at a 1962 European beer festival. Despite this success, the brewery was losing money, and in 1966, a decision was made to close the plant. The buildings and equipment were sold at auction in that same year.

Building Description

The Bavarian Brewery building is located at 522 West 12th Street in Covington, Kentucky. It is a complex of contiguous industrial buildings dating from the early decades of the twentieth century.

The Bavarian Brewing Company occupied the complex from its construction until 1966, when the brewery was closed. The complex is the dominant structure in the block bounded by 12th Street on the south, Main Street on the east, 11th Street on the north, and Willow Run or the I-75/71 off-ramp on the west. Although there are residential buildings lining the north side of 12th Street and on Riedlin Street, the mass and scale of the Brewery building causes it to be the most visible structure on the block. The surrounding residential district consists primarily of townhouses from the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

The plan of the building is irregular, due to a variety of additions that have in some cases connected what were originally separate buildings. The most prominent section of the building is a large block fronting on 12th Street, dating from approximately 1910. This block consists of a five-story mill house flanked by the four-story brew house to the north, and a four-story unidentified portion to the south facing 12th Street. Brick corbeling, recessed bays, a crenelated parapet wall, round-arched window openings, and a tower highlight this prominent section of the building. These details, which are Romanesque in character, are combined in a way that is suggestive of a castle, perhaps a design device suggested by the company's name. The name "Bavarian Brewing Co." is found engraved in stone on the west and south elevation; in addition, the mill house and brew house are also identified with engraved stone tablets.

The building extends 270 feet to the east, behind a row of homes facing 12th Street. This section of the building, also four stories in height, is identified as the stock house. It is much simpler in detail and is industrial in character. It is treated at the top with brick corbeling; original window openings (now filled in) were jack arched. This portion of the building was built at two different times; the westernmost portion was constructed by 1909. The easternmost portion, which features greater details, was the bottling section of the plant; it was built between 1909 and 1945.

The north side of the building has an addition that was built probably after 1969, when the city of Covington agreed to the complete closing of Lehmer Street, the street on the north side of Brewery property. It connects the main building to a one-story building that was originally an ice house, and later served as a garage. This building, which was built between 1894 and 1909, is undetailed, and is utilitarian in character. It is immediately east of a 1960 brick addition, which was built as the bottling plant. It is faced in modern yellow brick. The only articulation on this building is found on the north elevation, which is arcaded. This portion of the building is essentially utilitarian in character; it is also a non-contributing element due to its late construction date. It is in turn connected on the west to a two-story building, built by 1894, which is plainly detailed but does have brick corbeling and windows with jack arches. This building is wrapped on the south elevation with a modern office two-story office addition.

The interior of the building is for the most part unfinished industrial space, with exposed mechanicals and support columns. There are a variety of structural systems and materials found in the building, a result of its construction over time. The most unique portion of the interior is found in the five-story portion, which features an open stairwell with intact metal railings. Some damage occurred on the interior when brewing equipment was removed in the late 1960s.

The building has not had a primary tenant since the brewery was closed in 1966; as a result, it is in disrepair. Holes in the roof and missing windows have allowed the elements to infiltrate, resulting in additional damage.