From feast to famine

From feast to famine

Dayton’s brewing legacy

 By Kyle Melton

 
Photo: The Riverside Brewing Company along the western bank of the Great Miami River before it was razed after the Great Flood of 1913; photo courtesy Dayton History

Beer is, arguably, the foundation upon which civilization is built. From the ancient Sumerian and Egyptian cultures of the 7th century B.C. up to the present day, beer, and its production, served as engines of social development. Over several centuries, beer evolved throughout Europe into numerous regional styles, and these flavors were brought to American colonies in its earliest days. As America grew as a nation and expanded westward, beer became an essential part of any new settlement. Even here in Dayton.

Newcom’s Tavern, Dayton’s first permanent structure, was built in 1796 by Col. George Newcom. By 1810, Newcom had added a brewery – Montgomery County’s first – next to his first building.

Although presumably primitive by the standards of modern brewery facilities, from these humble beginnings, Dayton’s breweries would continue to grow and thrive along with the city, playing an integral role in its development both culturally and financially.

While small breweries such as the Dayton Brewery, established on Jefferson Street in 1828, existed around the city producing various ales, porters, stouts and common beer, it was the introduction in 1852 of a new kind of beer that would change the face of Dayton – lager.

Introduced by German-born brewers John and Michael Shiml at their J. & M. Schiml Brewery – located at the corner of Wayne Avenue and Hickory Street – the proliferation of lager throughout the city would give rise to several large breweries, such as the Dayton View Brewery and Riverside Brewery, both located just across the Great Miami River from downtown.

Although Dayton’s brewing industry flourished throughout the late 19th century, the march of Prohibition was rattling the stability of the industry.

In 1904, Adam Schantz, Jr. of the Riverside Brewery organized several of the larger breweries in Dayton into the Dayton Breweries Company. Amongst those included were Schantz’s brewery on River Street, the Schwind Brewery on River Street, the Schantz & Schwind Brewery on South Perry Street, the Wehner Brewery at Concord and Scovil Streets, the Dayton Brewery on Wyandotte, the Stickle Brewery (City Brewery) on Warren Street and the N. Thomas Brewery at First and Beckel, which joined in 1906.

According to a report from the Dayton Daily News upon the formation of the Dayton Breweries Company, Schantz said, “The chief motive of the consolidation of Dayton breweries is to elevate and regulate the saloon business in the city so that it shall be better for the public, the saloonist and the brewer.”

Much like cities across the United States, Dayton’s brewing industry was an integral part of the local economy. In addition to those employed directly by the breweries, countless more were employed in related manufacturing and distribution businesses throughout the city. According to a 1908 Dayton Journal article; “More than 200,000 barrels are made annually and to the workmen employed in the different departments $300,000 is paid each year in wages. The breweries are home factories and the beers and ales sold almost entirely to the people of Dayton and the surrounding towns. Although a large profit is made in a year by the brewers, the people are benefited to a considerable extent by having the breweries located in the city. They not only get their money’s worth when purchasing any of the products of the breweries, but the expense of maintaining the plants means much to the business portion of the city. More than $500,000 worth of material is purchased yearly for use in the nine breweries and $325,000 is paid out to the allied trades.”

Despite its role providing fresh beer to the Dayton area – with particular concern for the communities that they serviced – as of January 16, 1920, Prohibition, “The Noble Experiment,” rendered Dayton a dry city, and the 18th Amendment and Volstead Act effectively shut down the Dayton Breweries. By the end of 1919, the company had liquidated the bulk of their brewing facilities. While alcohol production ceased and hundreds lost their jobs, a few companies sought to remain in business by producing non-alcoholic beverages. The Olt Brothers, Hollenkamp  Products Company (formerly Hollencamp Ale Brewing Company) and the Miami Valley Brewing Company (formerly the Dayton Breweries) kept their doors open producing various sodas, malt beverages, near-beers and even milk products.

With the passage of the 21st Amendment in 1933, however, breweries were once again able to produce beer in Dayton. Certainly, Prohibition, along with the onset of the Great Depression, took a toll on the capacity for new breweries to emerge. Only three companies emerged after Prohibition to produce beer in the city: Hollenkamp Products Company, the Miami Valley Brewing Company (closed 1950) and Olt Brother’s Brewing Company (close 1942). Hollenkamp endured a few name changes – to Airline Brewing in 1941 (and a return to brewing beer after stopping in 1935), then to Ol’ Fashun Brewing Corporation in 1945, and finally to the Dayton Brewing Corporation in 1949. Although known for its Kitty Hawk Beer, Old Vienna Beer and Merit Select Beer, by 1962 the Dayton Brewing Corporation closed its doors – the last brewery in Dayton for over 50 years.

Credit goes to Curt Dalton and his book “Breweries of Dayton – A toast to brewers from the Gem City: 1810-1961.” For more information, please visit daytonhistorybooks.com.

 Reach DCP Editor Kyle Melton at Editor@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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