History of the Brewery District

The celebration of beer is a fiber of our history, beginning with the strong German population. The German immigrants recognized the similarities of their new city and it’s canal with their old world country and fondly named this 360-acre neighborhood 'Over-the-Rhine'.

Thousands of Germans immigrated to Cincinnati from European states, leaving behind economic depression, political instability and unsuccessful land reforms. Whole families left to seek a new life in the United States. Cincinnati's existing German community coupled with the economic growth and increasing job opportunities that the city offered, encouraged the immigration of the "Forty-Eighters" here. By 1850 the total population of the city was 115,435 of which 30,758 were German immigrants. At that time, Over-the-Rhine's population numbered approximately 43,000, the majority German.

The neighborhood took on a "German" character, although it was diverse in its ethnic makeup. The new German immigrants originated from various European German states, including Prussia, Bavaria, and Saxony, and brought with them a variety of customs, habits, attitudes, and dialects of the German language. These immigrants also displayed a range of religions, occupations, and classes, and this multi-dimensional diversity characterized the Over-the-Rhine German community for the rest of the century. The percentage of German and German-American residents in the neighborhood would continue to grow, peaking at an estimated 75% in the early twentieth century.

German entrepreneurs gradually built up a profitable brewing industry that became identified with Over-the-Rhine. The English had operated breweries in the city earlier but on a relatively small scale. With the introduction of lager beer in the 1830's, German brewers became the predominant force in the industry, and the number of breweries in the city increased from eight in 1840 to 36 in 1860. Producing for both local consumption and export, brewers like George Herancourt, John Hauck, Christian Moerlein, and Conrad Windisch became wealthy and influential figures in the German community. In the financial panic of 1857, many Cincinnati Germans entrusted their savings to the brewers rather than with the banks.

Industry continued to be an important factor in Over-the-Rhine's development. The canal area was still the location of many diversified industries, including lumberyards, foundries, pork packers, tanneries, and glycerin works. The brewing industry tended to concentrate along McMicken Avenue and the Miami and Erie canal (what is now the Brewery District). By 1866 the Jackson Brewery, J. G. John & Sons Brewery, Christian Moerlein Brewing Company, and John Kauffman Brewing Company dominated the industrial use of the area. In close association on the west side of the canal were the John Hauck and Windisch-Mulhauser Brewing Companies. Between 1875 and 1900 seventeen breweries were located in Over-the-Rhine and West End.

The beer gardens of Over-the-Rhine evolved as strong social centers for German culture during this period and attracted patrons from a broad range of economic and ethnic backgrounds. Enjoying a wide variety of German foods and locally brewed beer, patrons would occupy their customary tables and discuss the events of the day. Numerous singing societies, building and loan associations, Turner groups, and other social and cultural organizations patronized these local institutions and conducted their meetings and business activities at them. On Sundays, after church, the beer gardens became a place where social activities and music set the pace for the rest of the afternoon. Wielert's Beer Gardens was one such establishment. Opened in 1873 by Heinrich Wielert, it contained several drinking rooms, meeting rooms, and the garden, which hosted many social functions for Germans and non-Germans alike.

Industry developed along the Miami and Erie Canal. Pork-packing plants, soap and tallow factories, and various light industries lined the canal and provided job opportunities for Over-the-Rhine residents. Other entrepreneurs opened bakeries, dry goods stores, stables, lumberyards, grocery stores, theaters, and various small businesses. Beginning in 1855, commercial activity centered on Findlay Market, located between Elm and Race Streets on land left to the city by former mayor James Findlay. The market has remained in continuous operation since it’s opening and is the only original public market building still open in the city. Second-, third-, and fourth-generation German Americans still operate fruit, vegetable, and meat stands on market days, and the market remains one of the most colorful and vital elements of Over-the-Rhine. This market is similar to markets established in Germany and throughout Europe that continue in operation today.

The distinct sense of place now associated with Over-the-Rhine developed largely between 1860 and 1900. Most of the buildings in the area date from this period and still reflect everyday life in the community during the late nineteenth century. During this period, the German influence reached its peak. Institutions that embodied the German spirit and character helped to shape the community, both physically and culturally. Many of these meeting halls, theaters, churches, stores, breweries, light industrial buildings, beer garden, and cultural institutions still stand today.