Wisconsin Historic Site Wants To Fire Up 19th Century Brewery

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From the 1840s to the late 1870s, hundreds of rural breweries dotted the landscape of Wisconsin, turning out a potent, dark, German-style lager that was a staple of the local saloons catering to the growing population of German immigrants.

These once-thriving breweries, operated by hard-working farmers who grew barley and hops in the summertime and spent winters tending the open fires under their brew kettles, now are almost forgotten.

But all that could change if a plan moves forward to re-create a working brewery from this period at Old World Wisconsin, the state's largest historic site whose mission is to give visitors a glimpse of rural life as it existed for the state's pioneer families.

"Breweries were such an important part of the rural landscape of 19th-century Wisconsin," said Marty Perkins, Old World's interpretation curator. "It was such a distinctive industry and so strong a presence in that time that we need to give this serious consideration."

Old World Director Peter Arnold presented the proposal, along with several others for adding new attractions at the site, to the state Historical Society's Board of Curators this month. The historical society, which owns and operates the site, would need to approve the proposal and include it in its next capital fund-raising campaign for it to become a reality.

But Perkins noted that building such a brewery at Old World Wisconsin in the Town of Eagle has been talked about since the site opened in 1976.

A small group of area brewery historians, who have been researching old breweries for decades and are working with Old World officials to re-create one there, believe the facility would give the historic site a unique year-round attraction that would give visitors a new appreciation for - and possibly an authentic taste of - Wisconsin's brewing history.

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