11/6/2017

Gebhard Brewery, Morris Illinois

Gebhard Brewery, Morris Illinois

Gebhard Brewery, Morris Illinois

I stumbled upon the Gebhard Brewery in Morris Illinois this summer while traveling between Peru and Joliet. I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't know about it before hand. Finding it, and later the Zorn Brewery on the same trip has sparked my latest obsession. That obsession being the architecture, location and present uses of pre-prohibition breweries. I've located about 150 so far. Many are only partially surviving. There were over 2,000 operating breweries in the US in the decades before prohibition so I'm sure I still have more to find. I'll post the results of my research on this website when I'm further along.

 

The Gebhard Brewery is pretty typical of breweries built from the 1870s to 1910. Gebhard had operated since 1866 but the building in the photo above and below was built in 1896. Larger breweries almost always had several specialized buildings. The tall building here was a brew house. Its design is fundamentally practical. The tower housed multiple tanks; the height of the tower allowed gravity to assist in moving material through the multiple steps of brewing. But Gebhard, maybe less than others, also has a significant amount of ornamentation. Late 19th century breweries, I've found, had more ornamentation and paid more attention to visual impact any other type of industrial building of that period. I'm not entirely sure why that is. Gebhard was designed in the Romanesque Revival style that was popular with the brewers of the day. It is smaller and has fewer flourishes that some but I think it serves as an excellent example of the type. I happened to find it on the day that the owner was having a "yard sale". So I got to walk around inside a little and talk to the owner briefly. Gebhard permanently closed at prohibition. The plant was subdivided and the different surviving buildings in the complex have different owners now. The brew house was converted into a flour mill in the 1930s and then, more recently, a plastics factory. The owner was in the process of selling it. Hopefully the new owner will take care of the building. It's a treasure. It's difficult to reuse old breweries. I think this is why so many of the most majestic ones have been demolished. The interiors of breweries were highly specialized and designed around the brewing process. Some were built with structures that were supported by internal tanks such that removing the brewing equipment would make them collapse. Later 19th century breweries had elaborate refrigeration and ventilation systems as well as the piping and tanks of earlier breweries. Once all of that equipment is removed, not much aside from an attractive but unstable shell remains. Many old brewery buildings have been successfully reused though. Grain Belt in Minneapolis and Blatz in Milwaukee being two examples.

 

Gebhard Brewery, Morris Illinois

Gebhard Brewery, Morris Illinois


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