Retrospect: Old Boots Brewery fell to railroads, Milwaukee beers
The State of Wisconsin once had hundreds of breweries, 10 in Waukesha County, according to “The 1880 History of Waukesha County.”
None of the county’s 10 breweries remains, but a smattering of taverns offer their own brews on a small scale. People have also picked up the slack with crafted home brews.
Generally speaking, though, if you order a beer in Sussex-Lisbon-Lannon, you’ll be served a brew made somewhere else.
Back in 1880, the 10 breweries, including the one in Sussex, yielded 4,053 barrels for a county population of 28,964.
Stephen Weber’s Weber Brewery in Waukesha produced 728 barrels, Peter Binzel of Oconomowoc 1,092 barrels, the Ephraim Boots Brewery of Sussex 476 barrels, John Stock of Pewaukee 465 barrels, John Link at Golden Lake 185 barrels and Rasmus Fredrickson of North Lake 107 barrels, although his brewery boasted a 500-barrel capacity. The other four breweries produced small, unmeasured yields.
The Sussex Boots Brewery was the work of three mighty Lisbon pioneer families: Stone, Boots and Weaver. (A Lisbon park is named after the Stone family.)
The Boots Brewery’s 476 barrels was, for all practical purposes, consumed by the Lisbon and Sussex population of 1,453. The people of Lannon Springs and maybe Merton got a taste, too.
Most of that brewery’s sales went through the Boots-owned tavern that stood where Sussex Auto, N64 W23936 Main St., is today.
The Boots Brewery was on the east side of North Street – today’s Maple Avenue north of Main Street (Maple Avenue south of Main was called South Street) – just south of the little German cemetery owned by Redeemer United Church of Christ next to Champeny Road.
In the 1930’s, local businessman Alfred Otto built a Lannon-stone house on the site of the former brewery, whose address today is W239 N6638 Maple Ave.
Stephen Stone started the brewery in 1846, 10 years after the first settlers arrived in Lisbon and four years after the old Village of Sussex was founded at the “four corners” of Main Street and North and South streets.
The Stones and Weavers were early pioneers who took all the land south of Main Street on both sides of Maple Avenue almost up to Clover Drive.
Ephraim Boots was born Jan. 7, 1831, in Sussex, England. When he was 19, he followed his extended family to Sussex-Lisbon. He soon married the slightly older Eleanor Weaver (born Sept 3, 1829, in England). She was the first daughter and second child of William Weaver Sr. and his wife, Mary Smith.
Boots went to work for brewer Stephen Stone. He took over ownership of the brewery in 1861-62 and ran it until the 1890s. Stone had probably made English-type ales, porters and stouts, but Boots appears to have converted to German-style lager, using locally grown barley and hops.
The brewery is prominently placed on an 1873 property plat map, but has almost disappeared in the 1893 edition, appearing there unlabeled. (The extended Boots family is still there, though.) By the late 1890s, the Boots Brewery was out of business.
The brewery cooled and stored beer barrels in its basement-cave. Jerome Mudlitz used to roam the area around the brewery in his early youth and remembered the destroyed brewery and the deep Lannon-stone arched caves.
The caves were accessible from both the brewery and an outside entrance, he said, but when Alfred Otto built a home on the site in the 1930s, the caves disappeared. The caves were cool, he said, down in the 50s both summer and winter because they were so deep.
People from those days say the demise of the brewery was hastened by the coming of the railroads, which brought superior beers from the great Milwaukee breweries.
A Wisconsin beer-bottle collector, Henry Hecker, stated in 1981 that he had been trying for years to get a Boots Beer bottle or clay crock jar, but ultimately came to the conclusion that the beer had never been bottled, only sold in barrels, and that none of those had been saved.
Ephraim and Eleanor Boots never had any children and moved to Janesville in 1894, but still considered Sussex their home. They made frequent trips and took long stays back in the community because of their strong ties to St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.
Ephraim died April 16, 1915, at age 84 while Eleanor lived to be just shy of 100 years old, dying July 18, 1929. Both are buried in St. Alban’s God’s Acre Cemetery. One can see the burial plots from Main Street, marked by two pillars with round globes atop columns in the southeastern corner of the cemetery.