Hop Growing History in Lisbon,
Waukesha County, and Wisconsin
Compiled and Edited by Michael R. Reilly
Last Revised 05/03/2009
Note: Additional non-Wisconsin material supplemented to provide insight into hop growing industry.
Why would James Weaver have brought hop plant roots to Lisbon in 1837? The first brewery in the area wasn't started until 1840 in Milwaukee (see below). Which means that if Weaver brought hop plants, then they were probably locally used in making small batches of ale, not lager beer. Lager beer did arrive after the first ale brewery in 1840.
One source says that "Wisconsin began hop cultivation in the 1860's.", but Mr. Libby of Lisbon was showing his hops at the Wisconsin State Fair in 1852.
So there may not have been a ready beer brewing market for hops, the early town of Lisbon residents surely put their hop crop to other uses.
James Weaver's brother in law, David Bonham, had his "public house" going in the Spring of 1837. David couldn't have used Weaver's hops that year to supply the thirsty with ale, and with no brewery yet in the area, David must have brewed his own in small batches using English or Eastern hops he probably purchased in Milwaukee.
It's interesting to note here that although the Weavers had a million dollar business, as written in Fred Keller's articles, no mention can be found (so far) of their hop business dealings in the local newspapers.
Occupation 2: 1831, Farmer, raised
hops, Oneida County, New York
William Weaver, 2d., hop-grower and dealer, Sec. 26; P. O. Sussex; was born in County Sussex, England, Oct. 2, 1824; in 1830 came with his parents, James and Elizabeth Weaver, to this country; lived in Oneida Co., N. Y., until 1837, then came to Wisconsin, settled in the town of Lisbon, Waukesha Co., where he married Miss Mary Howitt; they have four children living-Jane, Jeannette, George H. and Mary. Mr. Weaver has filled various local offices. Himself and wife are leading members of the Episcopal Church. Mr. Weaver is extensively engaged in dealing in hops, and is largely engaged in hop-growing.
FOR SALE by the Subscribers,
In the late 1830's to early 1840's, the equivalent of our neighborhood
taverns - although on a less reputable social footing - were the "rum holes"
which dotted the banks of the Milwaukee River in 1843, when 138 were counted. These dirty
and unsightly dives got their name from one of the liquids dispensed, and from their being
dug back into the hillside. They were boarded up in front and had crude bars, over which
was served rum, low grade home-brew, essig whisky heimer and challet. The last named was a
potent mess containing fermented wild berries, watercress, rum and limestone. "Essig
whiskey heimer" was a drink concocted by the first German settlers in Milwaukee
around the spring of 1839. Since no beer was available, they mixed whiskey and
vinegar with a little limestone thrown in to put a "head" on it; it was noted
that its devastating effects prompted the founding of the first brewery here.
The rum holes had "back rooms" - subterranean tunnels - where the owner could
store his beer. Some of these passages were provided with cots and straw ticks
where men, women, and children who had just gotten off the boat - 200 or 300
immigrants were arriving daily - could lodge temporarily. Despite its bad name,
the rum hole became quite an institution in its day, serving as a social center,
bank for short term credit, travelers' aid society, forum and lovers'
rendezvous. The rum holes eventually died a natural death, as they were replaced
by more modern taverns and hotels.
Source: "Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. : A Chronological History": 1848-1873; edited and written by Michael R. Reilly, copyright 1995
First Milwaukee Brewery
The Middle Europeans brought with them a
taste for beer, a beverage which had not been much admired in Milwaukee before
their arrival. A combination brewery and distillery, the "Milwaukee brewery",
had been established by Welshmen Richard G. Owens, William Pawlett [Pollett] and John
Davis at the foot of Huron (Clybourne) Street in 1840.
The second brewery in the city, and the first one to brew lager beer, was appropriately started by a German, Hermann Reuthlisberger (Reutelshofer), in the spring of 1841. This plant was at Walker's Point, at the corner of Hanover and Virginia Streets (S. 3rd and W. Virginia). Reuthlisberger's beer proved very popular, but he was without capital enough to operate, and soon sold his little plant to John B. Meyer, a baker.
In 1844 Meyer sold out to his father-in-law, Francis Neukirch, who carried on the business under the Neukirch name. In 1848 Neukirch took into partnership another son-in-law, Charles T. Melms, and the plant was moved to old 1st Ave. (S. 6th St.), end of the 6th St. bridge.
Shortly after the establishment of the Lake Brewery, several others were built, one, the Eagle Brewery* under the hill south of Chestnut St. by Levi Blossom, Esq., and another in the same neighborhood by the late General Phillip Best.
*Editor's note - According to another source, this ale brewery was originally started by "Frederick Miller" [of Miller Brewery fame] and William Pawlett in 1843 and taken over by Levi Blossom. More likely the brewery was started by "William Miller", which was later advertised as for sale by Levi Blossom; then Blossom went into business with Miller [brewery was operated by "Miller & Co." for a short time]. Later it became the Eagle Brewery under Blossom's ownership.
Source: "A History of Milwaukee and Wisconsin Breweries", Compiled and Edited by Michael R. Reilly, copyright 1996
List of Entries
The Kilbourn City Mirror, published in
one of the principal hop growing regions of Wisconsin, says, under date of
August 18, that recent rains and cool weather have had an almost magical effect
on the hop yards, and has caused the editor to replace his former estimate of
half last year's crop, with an estimate, "that at least three-fourths the amount
of last year will be realized, providing there is no serious drawback in the way
of blight, lice or mildew." With the present prospect the price is expected to
decline to 15 or 18 cents. A correspondent of the same paper has lately visited
127 yards in Sauk, Juneau and Vernon counties, and found most of them poor. He
says, "I think there is a might small show for a good crop of hops. Lice were
plenty in most yards."
A RECIPE for cough syrup appears in the Cincinnati Gazette,
from "A Farmer's Wife," "Take a small handful of hops and some old field
balsam, and some hoarhound, and make a strong tea; strain and put as much
molasses as tea, boil down to about one-half. To be taken before eating and
before going to bed. My husband had a very bad cough this spring, and this is
what cured him." Source: Stevens Point Journal, Stevens
Point, Wisconsin, September 30, 1876
"He made me mad as hops." Question - How did this phrase originate?
Plant to get historical marker
by Fred H. Keller, Source: Sussex Sun, Tuesday, September 10, 1996, page 27.
The Mech family of Sussex shares its home with a living fossil, a plant that goes back over a hundred years. It is something of a clinging vine and is growing and growing until each year it completely shrouds and strangles the fence line that it claims as its own. It doesn't allow anything else to live in its area without being completely covered over.
Don and Barbara Mech moved to W238 N6766 Laurie Ln., Sussex, in 1974. IN 1975, Barbara and her mother were out surveying the lot on the dead end road in the Hamilton Heights subdivision when her mother noticed the vine at the property's east property line, and thought it was a hop plant. The hop plant [Humulus Lupulus] is a clinging vine-type plant that will send runners up and over 15 foot poles if allowed to. The plant will produce cones in late August that are harvested to produce sharp taste in beer. The Mech's plant attracts visitors each year.
When James Weaver came to Sussex in 1837, he brought with him hop roots from New York. The roots started an agricultural business in the Town of Lisbon that eventually became a million dollar business for Waukesha County. In 1860, James and his son, Richard, became a partnership in growing, buying and selling hops. Three years later, James retired and another son, William II, entered the business, known far and wide as ". Weaver and Bros., Brokers in Fancy Hops." The business lasted from 1860 to 1896 and made Richard Weaver a millionaire and William II, a very rich man.
The main crop of the early pioneers was raising and selling wheat and Wisconsin was a bread basket of the United States with Milwaukee being dotted with many flour mills. Farmers were looking for an additional crop and began raising barley and hops for the emerging brewery business, Hops was a high labor industry that needed only a few acres of ground space.
In addition, there was a need for a specialized hop-drying tower building, a two-story plus structure with a stove on the first floor and drying racks on the second floor. The smoke and steam from the drying hops rose through the roof vents. Northwestern Waukesha County had sixteen of these peculiar buildings in the late 1800s. The town of Lisbon had the most of any township with six of them owned by the five Weaver brothers and a brother-in-law, James Craven.
Richard Weaver owned the farm that was the future Hamilton Heights subdivision site and one of his main crops was hops. A 10-acre spread of hops was big business. Tamarack poles up to 15 feet long were put up in teepee fashion with hop roots planted at the base of each pole. The vines went up the poles time and again to form a thick foliage a couple of feet thick.
the final week of August and the first two weeks of September were picking time, a time to harvest the hop cones about two inches long, process and ship them to market. The poles and their vines would be cut free and hauled by wagonloads to a hop picking year, usually outdoors, but if need be on rainy days, inside a barn.
Four huge boxes would be set up below the loaded hop poles and nimble fingers would strip the hop cones into the boxes. Lots of labor was needed. Especially prized for this work were women and kids. The farmer had to race frost to get the hop picking completed by mid-September.
Farmers would run wagons into the nearby villages and pick up wagon loads of pickers. For a days labor, an 1860's advertisement said, a good picker could earn $1.50 per day if they got three boxes full.
Both farmers and field hands looked forward with pleasure to harvesting the hops. Every evening there was dancing in the barn. A local fiddler played a lively tune. It was accentuated and the vigorous "hop step" became the fashion of the day. The term "hop" meaning social dance owes its origin to these lively stomps.
The fortunes of hop raising had ups and downs. Some great fortunes were made in the 1860s until the hop louse. It devastated the New York crop and then it came to the Midwest. The intensity of it was great and small depending on the year., and fortunes were at the mercy of the bug. In 1882, Richard Weaver had a business of $600,000. He heard over the telegraph of the devastation in other areas, and bought hops for 15 cents a pound. When the world found out there was going to be a crop failure that year he sold his small corner for $1 a pound.
However, the great Weaver business went into an eclipse after 1882 and 14 years later it was history since hops could no longer be raised in the Town of Lisbon because of the hop louse. Diversified dairy farming replaced hop growing as a way to earn money.
It is surmised that the particular hop plant that the Mechs have is a survivor of Weaver's crops, a plant that escaped the hop louse. It lives 100 years after he dissolved his brokerage business.
The Mechs have asked that a historical marker be put up by their living fossil of hop vines. The Village of Sussex has a series of such historical signs, but the Waukesha County Historical Society has heard about the plant and is considering putting a county historical marker on the site.
Right now Laurie Lane is a dead end road, but within a year it will be a throughway from Maple Avenue to Waukesha Avenue and will be a place of great exposure, both for the now secluded plant, the Mech property, and the proposed historical marker.
Who says a historical marker has to be by a
building, a formation or a famous piece of land? Now a living plant will get a