MASON CITY - Buried around the cavernous limestone remains of an old German brewery set off from a wooded trail at Lime Creek Nature Center, are artifacts that reveal bits and pieces of the history of the site and life in early Mason City.
Todd Von Ehwegen, natural resource manager for environmental education with the Cerro Gordo County Conservation Board, and volunteer Rita Goranson have uncovered artifacts such as medicine bottles, pieces of china and animal bones that they hope someday to incorporate into a historical display at the Nature Center.
Their goal is to find remnants from the brewery itself, such as pottery vessels that may have been used in the days before glass bottles.
“We don’t want to disturb the area any more than necessary,” Von Ehwegen said. “The history of our site is as important as the natural life here.”
Built by John Weiss in 1873, the three-story brewery was known as Mason City Brewing Co. It was located near the Winnebago River a mile or two north of what is now Mason City.
Weiss prided himself on brewing the best beer in the country, Von Ehwegen said. He had beer ready to be shipped all over.
Michael Brahm was the brewmaster.
Local farmers in those days raised barley, which could be used for brewing, Goranson said.
The brewery operated until 1879, when a city ordinance prohibited the sales of beer and liquor in Mason City, said Goranson, who has researched the history of Mason City’s two breweries.
A second brewery was located at Fourth Street Northeast and North Carolina Avenue. It was started by Joseph Dorfner in about 1872.
The Mason City Brewing Co. was sold in 1890 to Nicholai Peterson, who used the cellar for keeping ice removed from the river in winter, Goranson said.
The first story housed animals and the second story served as living quarters.
In 1914, the brewery was sold to local butcher Peter Ebeling, who used it as a slaughterhouse and ice storage facility.
In 1933, it was sold to Northwestern States Portland Cement Co., which made it into a headquarters for quarry workers.
The Cerro Gordo County Conservation Board acquired the brewery ruins in 1976, when Northwestern States and Lehigh Portland Cement companies sold 260 areas to the county.
The items discovered so far date to the post-brewery days. They include pieces of white china inscribed with a black Jefferson Bus Lines logo, a tin cup, old battery, empty ink bottles, animal bones from the slaughterhouse days, an early lightbulb that has survived intact, a 1934 business card from a Des Moines insurance agent and clear glass bottles and brown bottles from the 1920s and 1930s.
One clear bottle is inscribed “Tom Moore Ginger Ale” from Minneapolis. A “Lucky Tiger” bottle once contained a men’s hair product manufactured in Kansas City, Mo.
Today, all that remains is the limestone cellar with arching limestone ceiling, which appears in remarkably sturdy shape. The cool cellar with earthen floor was where the beer was stored.
A boarded-up door once opened onto steps leading up into the brewery, Goranson said.
Only the foundations remain of other outbuildings where brewing also took place.
The partial remains of the third story living quarters can be viewed with a climb up the hill to the top of the cellar. The brewery as seen from the trail is actually the back of the original structure, Von Ehwegen said.
It is a protected site. Members of the public are not allowed to remove anything from it.
“The brewery has always been a part of Lime Creek Nature Center,” Von Ehwegen said. “We’ve always tried to preserve it.”