Born Capital Brewery Bottling Works - Hercules Trouser Company, Columbus Ohio

Date added: September 29, 2022 Categories: Ohio Industrial Brewery

Concentrated in the southern part of the city's downtown area, German-owned businesses were an important part of the city for most of the 19th century and well into the early 20th century. The primary residential area for people of German background was to the east of High Street, in what is today the German Village historic district. The German-owned breweries west of High Street, along South Front Street, were among the city's largest German-owned enterprises, and the four breweries here constituted the greatest concentration of such businesses in Columbus. The Born Capital Brewery was one of the four, and this firm's former bottling works is the sole surviving structure of the Born complex.

Although it has received an addition and some alterations, the building retains nearly all of its original late 19th century Romanesque Revival design elements and materials, including double-hung wood two-over-two windows; rectangular, segmental-arched, and round-arched window openings; ornate brickwork; and a painted metal cornice, parapet wall, and parapet cap.

On the interior, the wood structural system of the original building remains, with some reinforcement or replacements by newer steel elements. In the addition on the south, the original steel and wood structural system is intact. Both portions of the building, while lacking any equipment from the period when the bottling works was located here, retain the open plan that characterized the building when it was built and then later expanded.

The Born bottling works is one of only three buildings in the South Front Street brewery district that were known to have been built as free-standing bottling plants. The others were the Nicholas Schlee Bottling House at the northeast corner of Wall and Hoster streets, and the Louis Hoster Bottling Department at the northeast corner of Brewers Alley and South Front Street. The Schlee building was built after 1887 and prior to 1899 and by 1910 was used for non-brewery purposes; the Hoster building was built in the same period as the Schlee, expanded by 1910, and continued as a bottling works into the 1920s. Both were brick buildings, rectangular in form, with flat roofs and modest ornamentation; they were vernacular in design and did not receive the level of architectural ornamentation of the Born bottling works. Both of the other buildings have been rehabilitated and remain standing today. The Wagner brewery likely had its own bottling works, as well, but it is not known from available information which building would have housed it; all Wagner buildings have been demolished.

Federal law required that bottling plants had to be on sites other than those of the main brewery. Clearly this was an impetus for construction of the free-standing plants associated with the Hoster, Schlee, and Born breweries. However, all three bottling works also represent the growth and physical expansion of the German breweries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Bottling of product would have occurred at all the breweries early on, typically under the same roof as the brewing process itself. Expansion of production and sales would have required larger bottling facilities, forcing the decision to build additional facilities and, as noted in separate buildings as the law required.

Conrad Born was born in Germany in 1812 and emigrated to the United States in 1837. He had entered the butcher's trade in Germany and continued in that business in both New York and Ohio. He settled in Columbus in 1839 and became a United States citizen in 1844.

Born was the one German brewer in Columbus not trained as a brewer. He went into real estate in 1856 and in 1858 bought land on South Front Street in order to enter the brewing business, seeing an opportunity in the fact that existing breweries could not keep up with demand. With an investment of $10,000, Born established the Capital City Brewery in 1859. Capacity was 6,000 barrels a year.

By 1872 the Born brewery, now known simply as the Capital Brewery, consisted of three buildings located on the west side of South Front Street, somewhat north of College (later Sycamore) Street, and the enterprise was controlled by Born and his sons. By the late 1880s, the Born brewery had doubled in size, with more than a dozen buildings and additions and a capacity of 60,000 barrels a year. All of the Born plant remained west of South Front Street; Born's home, dating from sometime between 1872 and 1887, at this time was the only Born building on the east side of the street.

By 1899 two more major buildings had been added to the Born complex: a large stable on the west side of the street, which housed the motive power for the firm's delivery wagons and was the southernmost of the brewery's buildings; and the bottling works, at the southeast corner of Front and Beck streets. The original bottling plant building occupied about half of the block between Front Street and Wall Alley, but by 1910 it had been extended nearly all the way east to Wall. Both the stable (now demolished) and the bottling works were designed in the same Romanesque Revival style as the main brewery across the street: This reflected the firm's prosperity, but also the attitude of industrialists of the time that their production buildings should have a sense of character, permanence, and style.

In this same period the Born brewery continued under family control (Conrad Born passed away in 1890), and both capacity and production continued to grow. By 1900 the brewery had a capacity of 100,000 barrels, but production was only about 65,000. Even operating at 65% of capacity, however, the Born brewery was the city's second largest, behind only the Hoster brewery's output of over 300,000 barrels at the turn of the 20th century. The 1905 brewery combination would largely put an end to the friendly rivalries among the German brewing firms and, as noted, both World War I and Prohibition marked the end the colorful era of German brewing in Ohio's capital city.

Between 1910 and 1922 almost the entire Born brewery complex was demolished following that period's abrupt decline in the German breweries' beer market. By 1922 only the stable, the bottling works, and Born's house survived. The stable housed both a Coca-Cola bottling works and the Columbus Buttermilk Company, while the Hercules Trouser Company had set up its operation in the former bottling works. Born's house came down sometime between 1937 and 1955, and the stable survived into the late 1980s or early 1990s; the sites of both have been re-developed.

The Hercules Trouser Company expanded the bottling works by constructing a large addition along the building's south side, along with a wing at the rear used for shipping and receiving. Both these additions were made between 1937 and 1955. The first addition along the south side probably dates from the late 1930s or early 1940s. The rear wing, which was one story in height and built of concrete block, and was removed during 2007; it probably dated from the early 1950s. Hercules is shown as occupying the building as late as 1962; sometime after that, Hercules moved out and the building served as a Salvation Army warehouse and retail store, which moved to another location in 2007.

Beer brewing in Columbus began shortly after the new community became Ohio's capital in 1812. Undertaken at first by English immigrants with English brewing techniques, the industry came to be dominated by German immigrants within two or three decades. Bernhard Burck was the first German brewer, opening his brewery in 1834 a few blocks north and east of what became the main German brewery district on South Front Street. His enterprise was short-lived due to his untimely death in 1850.

Louis Hoster, the second German brewer in the city and the first in what would become the South Front brewery district, established his brewery on the west side of the street below Livingston Street (later Livingston Avenue) in 1836. The evolution of the brewery district over time can be seen. He found a ready market in the growing German population of Columbus, which by the late 19th century would count about a third of its citizens as being of German heritage.

Hoster's City Brewery stood on the west side of South Front Street, opposite what today is called Brewers Alley, and was the principal German brewery until George Schlegel opened the Bavarian Brewery in 1849. Schlegel's brewery was just south and east of Hoster's, at the southeast corner of Front and Reinhard (today Blenkner) streets.

The southward growth of the Front Street area as the center of German brewing in Columbus took another step in 1859, when Conrad Born opened the Capital Brewery in 1859. By the end of the 19th century, the Born brewery would become one of the two largest breweries in this area. Except for the bottling works, all of the Born brewery operations were located on the west side of South Front Street.

In 1860, Nicholas Schlee took over the Bavarian Brewery, and it is Schlee's name that is most commonly associated with that property. As was often typical of entrepreneurial industrialists personally involved in the daily operation of their businesses, Schlee built his home in 1865 on the west side of South Front Street, just across and a little south of his brewery; Born's brewery was just south of Schlee's house. In turn, Born built his home east of Front Street, opposite his brewery and south of Schlee's. Born's bottling plant would later be built just north of his house. Hoster's home was near his brewery, at 31 West Livingston Avenue, just west of South High Street. Increases in beer output in the late 19th century tracked the success and growth of the German brewers. From 4,000 barrels a year coming out of the three German breweries by the late 1870s, production grew to over 200,000 barrels a year twenty years later.

The fourth and final German brewery came well after the first three. August Wagner, an immigrant from Bavaria who arrived in 1898, was working as brewmaster at the Hoster operation when, in 1905, he decided to open his own brewery. The next year he completed the August Wagner Brewery at the northwest corner of South Front and West Sycamore streets. The building featured a large statue of the jovial and portly King Gambrinus, the "Patron Saint of Beer," posed with one foot on a beer keg, a foaming mug of beer in his upraised hand.

A burgeoning Columbus population between the end of the Civil War and the era of World War I provided a large and growing market for local brewers. As much as a third of the city's population in this period was of German heritage and tended to concentrate in the near south side, close to the principal German brewers. From only 18,554 citizens in the 1860 census, Columbus grew to 88,150 by 1890 and to 181,511 by the census of 1910. After World War I, growth continued unabated. From the eve of Word War II until today, the city more than doubled in population, from 306,087 in 1940 to an estimated 747,755 in 2007.

The large German population of Columbus was concentrated in the southern part of the downtown area, between the railroads and the canal on the west and around Parsons Avenue on the east, a large area of several square miles. This formed a ready market for the brewers' products, which also went by rail to other parts of Ohio and out of state as well.

That traffic, however, was two-way. Competing breweries outside Columbus, able to ship their products into the city by the area's dense railroad network, began to cut into the German brewers' markets. In 1905, the Hoster, Born, and Schlee operations combined to form the Hoster Columbus Associated Breweries Company as a means of gaining efficiencies of scale and increased marketing clout. Operations at the three breweries, however, remained largely unchanged. Wagner continued alone as an independent brewer.

The consolidated breweries struggled to remain profitable but faced serious headwinds in the early 20th century. They posted deficits in 1908, 1909, 1912, and 1914, no doubt affected by the fact that the temperance movement was gaining momentum. By 1908, for example, 57 of Ohio's 88 counties were dry, and the invasion by brewers outside Columbus continued to eat into what markets were left. Nicholas Schlee, last of the original German braumeisters, died in 1914, and his brewery went into receivership. At this same time, anti-German sentiment arising from the start of World War I further cut into sales of the German brewers' products, and then Prohibition in 1920 made it impossible to brew and sell beer at all. All the German breweries stopped beer production when Prohibition took effect, and the various brewery buildings were put to other uses. Some, for example, became warehouses and storage buildings; another housed a paper company; yet another was home to the Columbus Buttermilk Company. With one exception, beer production would not return.

August Wagner was the exception. After the start of Prohibition, Wagner continued in the beverage business, but only with non-alcoholic products. A 1927 advertisement for the August Wagner & Sons Products Company promoted such treats as Wagner's Famous Augustiner, Wagner's Malt Tonic, and Champagne Mist. These all seemed to be intended to sound as though they had an alcoholic kick, but the tag line "Healthful -- Stimulating -- Nourishing" indicated that they were pretty tame. The other brewing companies had left the beer business permanently, but Wagner survived on his soft drinks and returned to brewing after Repeal in 1933. His 1906 brewery was the last to cease production, early in 1974.