Today, because of the vast appeal of The University of Iowa, people from all over the world come to Iowa City. And while we’d expect that kind of diversity today, it’s surprising to see how many different lands were represented by those coming to Iowa City during its formative years.
I was particularly excited to see that Louis Englert, who came to Iowa City in 1842, hailed from the Kingdom of Bavaria (Beyern), which is the land my ggg grandfather, George F. Boller, called home when he left for the U.S. in 1816. As you most likely know, there was no nation of Germany back when Louis Englert (1810) and my ggg grandfather (1794) were born. Prior to 1815, Germany, as we know it today, was a collection of principalities, dukedoms, tiny states, church-states, and independent villages.
Now, I’m certain that I don’t need to tell you this – Germans love to drink beer.
And, for those of us from the land of Bavaria, that love of beer is more of a passion – to such a degree that many beer connoisseurs believe that the brews of Bavaria just might be the best in the world.
So now, back to Louis Englert, the Bavarian beer maker/farmer who came to Iowa City in 1842…
According to family records, Louis was born December 28, 1810 in Bavaria, and first came to New Orleans in 1840 (age 30), relocating to Cincinnati for a short time, before finally arriving in Iowa City in May of 1842. Upon his arrival, the first thing Englert did was buy a lot on Market Street (see map below) for $75. Soon, he had constructed a wooden-frame building (30′ x 40′), a project that cost him $250. On November 1, 1842 (other records indicate October-1843), Louis married Clara Kempfer, a 17-year-old German native (born 1825) who had just arrived in Iowa City with her family. Together, they made their first home on Market Street – just a block from St. Mary’s (Louis & Clara were two of the parish’s earliest members).
In 1853, calling upon his Bavarian heritage, Louis Englert opened The Englert City Brewery, Iowa City’s first brewery, operating out of a 20′ x 36′ stone building he constructed next to his small frame home on Market Street. Louis and Clara moved their living space into the first floor of the new building while Englert successfully operated his new business out of the basement. Beer production, from day one, was a whopping six to ten barrels per day, using a Brobdingnagian kettle of brass, all carefully brewed in Louis’ modestly-equipped kitchen.
The only interruption in business came in 1862 when Louis enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War. As a 51-year-old, Englert joined the 37th Iowa Regiment – Company D, known as “the Graybeards.”
Upon returning home in 1865, Englert picked up right where he left off – keeping the family brewery going strong until selling it to his son, John Englert, and son-in-law, Frank Rittenmeyer for $6,000 – half of the business’ value of $12,000 in 1877.
In 1883, the Englert family began transitioning from their successful beer business to selling two even more lucrative products – firewood and ice. Read more about this transition from the beer business in the 1880’s – due to the Iowa prohibition law of 1882.
Obviously, people needed firewood to heat their homes and businesses in the winter. That was a no-brainer. But, back before the days of refrigeration, having ice for your icebox was vital in keeping staples like milk and meats from spoiling during the hot Iowa summers. According to family records, Louis built a large ice storage house on Dubuque Street, just north of town. Located adjacent to the Iowa River, the Englerts would harvest and store ice there during the winter months, delivering it to businesses and homes via delivery wagons throughout the spring and summer months. By fall, supplies were dwindling, but as we Iowans all know so very well … winter always returns, and with it, a fresh new inventory of ice.
Three generations of Englerts worked the fire & ice business in Iowa City, with Louis’ son, John, and grandson, Clarence, finally selling out in 1954. Before we leave this icy story, allow me to share Irving Weber’s personal account of working for the Englert family as a 17-year-old in 1917…
In the late 1850’s, before Louis went off to war, he purchased more land just north of town. Just as it is today, Dubuque Street was a major roadway leading into Iowa City. Even after the railroad came to town (1856), all stagecoach transportation (still the only way to travel westward until the railroad was expanded in 1860) used Dubuque Street to get in and out of town.
In 1857, Louis, the beer maker, saw a huge business opportunity and constructed a one-story building just south of Terrell’s Mill (see map above right), opening up a small stagecoach stop (an inn) on Dubuque Street that included a dining area and saloon. What better place for a beer maker to sell beverages than to overheated farmers needing to kill time while waiting for Terrell’s Mill to open? Apparently, once the building was completed, the Englert family moved in as well.
Family records show that the 1857 building had three large rooms, with the largest being a walk-out 20′ x 20′ space that served as the saloon. It had a nine-foot ceiling, with one whole wall of windows and doors that looked out toward Terrell’s Mill to the north and west.
Between 1843 and 1867, Louis and Clara had eleven children, with eight growing to adulthood: Henry (1846), Philip (1848) John (1849), Mary (1854), Francis (1859), George (1861), Louis L. (1867), and twin brother Frank (1867). As the children grew, so did their responsibility with the family business as well.
By the late 1870’s, Louis added a second and third floor on top of the original inn/tavern, giving his growing family a lot more living space. Historian Irving Weber relays this memory told by George, born in 1861…
As we reported earlier, in 1883, the Englerts also added a large ice house on the property, storing harvested Iowa River ice here during the summer months. This ice house was used all the way until the 1920’s, when the property was sold outside the Englert family.
The Englert home (pictured above and below) not only served as the family residence, but the original structure (lowest level – 1857) is widely believed to have been an important station stop on The Underground Railroad. Click here to read more about Iowa and The Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War.
More recently (2004), the home’s newest owner, Mary Helen Stefaniak, reported this interesting tidbit…
The cave in the yard had already thrilled my husband . . . (he) still likes to lead visitors into it after dark and make them turn off their flashlights. It’s clearly man-made: a 10- by 15-foot room with an arched stone entry and a stone ceiling that curves down from a height of six feet in the middle to touch the floor on each side. The ruins of other stonework suggest that the cave might have been inside another building at one time, but there’s no sign of a tunnel into or near the cave.
And before we leave this part of the Englert story, how about one more “cave” story from Stefaniak…
We found out later that Aunt Dorothy (A.D. for short), the last of her (Englert) line to live in the house, had been an eccentric but sociable soul. At least two generations of neighborhood children from the houses up at the top of the bluff had counted on her to let them climb down and play in her woods and in her cave. A.D. would come out with cookies and lemonade for the kids. On the 4th of July, she’d invite friends to her screened-in porch to watch the fireworks launched from City Park, on the other side of Dubuque Street. At Christmas, she’d have an open house for all her neighbors and friends. They’d come, too, though their eyes would water and their clothes would get furry, for A.D.’s hospitality did not end with her human friends. In her later years she opened her home to an untold number of free-ranging cats and things had gotten out of control.
Louis Englert died September 1, 1892 (age 82) and his dear wife, Clara (Kempfer) Englert, passed on December 19, 1900 (age 75). Both were long-time members of St. Mary’s Catholic Parish in Iowa City and are buried in St. Joseph’s cemetery. Godspeed.
We just can’t let our Englert family story close without mentioning, of course, The Englert Theatre in Iowa City.
One of the third generation Englerts, William H. Englert (1874-1920) and his wife Etta Englert, built the Englert Theatre, with the doors opening on September 26, 1912. The original theater building, which replaced a livery stable, was constructed at a cost of about $60,000 (equal to $1.5 million today) and it rivaled the finest stage and movie houses throughout the Midwest.
When opened, the Englert seated 1,079 with side aisles and no center aisle. College students, faculty and town residents often attended performances, as the theatre was the only one of its kind in Iowa City. The Englerts lived on the second floor of the theater building and provided rooms for traveling performers on the third floor.
In 1920, William Englert, only 46 years old, died of a cerebral hemorrhage. One Iowa City newspaper wrote that the theater was a fitting monument to Englert, “bespeaking his generosity, his enterprise, his fearlessness in industrial activity and his public spiritedness”.
It’s so exciting to see the good people of Iowa City keeping the Englert Theatre alive – a fitting tribute to the entire Englert family.
So, in closing, as one Bavarian to another…
Hopfen und Malz, Gott erhalt’s!
May God save the hops and malt … and The Englert!
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.