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Brewery gone but not forgotten

All that remains of the Upper Peninsula Brewing Company is a small castle-like building at the corner of West Washington and Meeske streets near U.S. 41 in Marquette.

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The Upper Peninsula Brewing Company complex on Meeske Street in Marquette is shown in 1915, a year before it closed due to local Prohibition laws. The castle-like sandstone buildings were intended to evoke the atmosphere of a German beer garden. The man pictured is local resident John Plattenberg Sr.

The company was begun as the pioneer brewery in the U.P. by George Rublein, an immigrant from Germany who arrived in 1849, just after Marquette itself had been settled. Rublein first built the Franklin Brewery on County Road 492, but it burnt down twice, prompting him to move to the current location and change the name to the Concordia Brewery in 1875.

Along with the name change came a re-creation of the German beer garden, as Rublein expanded to eight buildings and added ponds, outdoor seating and live entertainment to bring the atmosphere of his native country to Marquette.

For the grand opening, he hired private police to keep order amid nearly the entire population of Marquette, which had turned out for the party — probably in no small part because of the free samples.

Rublein got out of the business just three years later, selling the lot to Peter White. In turn, White leased it to a pair of immigrants from Swinemunde, Germany, named Carl Meeske and Reiner Hoch. They did well enough to buy the brewery outright in 1882, and began producing “the beer that made Marquette famous,” Drei Kaiser, or Three Kings beer.

Meeske and Hoch made more improvements, gradually replacing the wooden structures with brick and sandstone architecture to mimic a castle-on-the-Rhine feeling. The small building that still stands was Meeske’s home and office, constructed in 1894. He had a tunnel built to the brewery to get around a law that prohibited anyone from entering a brewery after sundown. With the tunnel, he could check on the beer production at night without re-entering the building.

Also remaining from the extended complex is the sandstone horse barn, now part of Jilbert Dairy.

The new look gave rise to a new name for the brewery’s main beer in 1913, as World War I loomed and the word Kaiser became unpopular. It became Castle Brew instead.

Pressure from local temperance groups prompted the county to pass Prohibition laws in 1916, four years before the national law went into effect. Meeske was quoted in a 1916 Mining Journal article as saying that the law would, in effect, transfer all of his business to Milwaukee brewers. When it passed, the UPBC did go out of business, and Meeske moved to Duluth, Minn., to continue his career.

The stone buildings were used as warehouses for a trucking business, but later fell into disrepair. The brewmaster’s office was more continually used, as a rock shop, then a law firm, then an antique shop.

In 1974 and 1975 the other buildings were demolished to make way for the Detroit and Northern Savings Bank. Meeske’s office was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, and in 1982 it was bought by a local company, Humboldt Ridge, which restored it to historical specifications. It’s now used as a private office building, but also houses the largest collection of UPBC artifacts in existence.

With a restored fountain and landscaping, it still evokes an idea of what the grand castle-on-the-Rhine beer garden must have been like, in the days when immigrant cultures shaped Marquette and a good beer was recommended by doctors as a health tonic.

Kim Hoyum

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