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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Update on the Spring Hill Brewery

The former Biedermann property, 1933
If you'll recall, back in October I published a post about the Spring Hill Brewery, which was located on Barley Mill Road, between Red Clay Creek and the Hoopes Reservoir dam (which of course was not there at the time). I was able to piece together a fair amount of information about the brewery and its owners, frankly far more than I thought I would. One glaring hole in the story, though, was the circumstances and timing of the demise of the brewery. Since publishing that post I've figured out a little more regarding that issue (as well as a few other things), so I wanted to document all that here. The original post has already been updated to reflect the new findings. Also, how I found it is kind of an amusing and "Duh" sort of story that I'm sure anyone who's done research can relate to (or is it just me?).

I don't even remember what I was originally searching for that day (something else relating to the WW Railroad), when I thought to search using the only words I knew that had to do with it -- Wooddale brewery. When you do a Google news archive search with those terms, you come up with this. The first result is an article from The Baltimore Sun that talks about the brewery. Since it's behind a paywall (and I'm poor and cheap) I never read the whole article, but it gave me the names "Biedermann" and "Spring Hill", and I ran with it from there. I got so excited (sadly, not exaggerating, I think I literally got up and danced with joy) in fact, that I completely forgot/ignored what the article was actually about, which was apparent even from the Google result.

It wasn't until about a month and a half later that it occurred to me to follow up on that aspect of it, and how to do it. The topic was on my mind again because I was rewriting and adapting the post for inclusion in the next issue of the Wilmington & Western's newsletter, The Lantern. I finally recalled that it mentioned something about an explosion at the quarry that damaged the brewery. I also realized that even though I wasn't going to pay $4 or whatever The Sun wanted, the more local (and free!!) Sunday Morning Star might have a piece about the event. Turns out, it did.

I recommend that you follow the link and read the article, for several reasons. First of all, I think it documents the effective end of the Spring Hill Brewery. On Thursday August 12, 1909, 150 pounds of dynamite accidentally exploded "as the result of apparent carelessness of the Italian who was blown to pieces". The brewery was only 500 feet from the quarry, and though the article doesn't mention it, the quarry opens in that direction, so the blast would have been directed toward the Biedermanns' property. All the brewer's buildings were knocked from their foundations, and his house "was damaged beyond repair". The brewery was knocked out of commission.

Herman Biedermann stated in the article that he intended to sue the Baltimore-based company that owned the quarry, unless they made reparations. I haven't found any follow-up to this story, but my hunch is that either the quarry company never paid for the damages incurred, or Biedermann simply gave up. I have a feeling that the brewery probably never operated again after this time. One side note here is that an even greater calamity was luckily avoided. Only 150 pounds of dynamite actually exploded. The quarry's magazine (presumably on-site) had just received a shipment of explosives, and at the time held about ten tons of dynamite!

Aside from the explosion story, I did learn a few other little things, too. For one thing, there seems to be good reason to think that the Biedermann's Wyndmore Farm in Hockessin was located on Old Wilmington Road north of Valley Road, just past the Cox-Mitchell House. Second, I spoke with an acquaintance who is an avid bottle collector, and he tells me that Spring Hill bottles do surface from time to time, but they're understandably rare. And very interestingly, he told me that a friend of his, years ago, actually had a branding iron from the Spring Hill Brewery. It presumably would have been used to brand crates of beer leaving the brewery. He thought it was donated about 20 years ago to the Delaware Agricultural Museum in Dover. I contacted them, and though they have some other things donated by this gentleman, they don't seem to have the iron. If I find any more about this, I'll surely pass it along.

The Spring Hill Brewery?

Besides the details of its closing, the other big hole in the story was the lack of visual representation -- in other words, we ain't got no pictures. I still haven't found any photos or drawings of the brewery, but I might have the next best thing. The picture at the top of the post is an aerial shot from 1933, more than 20 years after its likely closing. It's definitely the right area, and I think what we might be seeing is Herman Biedermann's house (bottom) and the brewery buildings (top). If so, that puts the house basically right across the road from the quarry, which would explain why it received more damage from the blast. Another photo from a different angle may show a side view of the brewery. The picture above is a close-up from that photograph. Whether these really are Biedermann buildings or not, I can't say for sure. Is it the brewery? Again, maybe, maybe not. It could be a barn. I know they're in the right place, though.

The last thing I wanted to point out is kind of off topic, but has to do with the August 15, 1909 newspaper that contains the explosion story. I'm physically incapable of looking at an article like that without wandering around the rest of the paper, too. Check out the article up top, "Edict Against Spooning". 1909 was wilder than you thought, huh? MCH is well represented, too. The first column has a story of an outing at Brandywine Springs (even mentioning Dushane Cloward), and the third column has mention of an upcoming park event. Also, at the bottom left of page 11 is the mention of Brown's track in Stanton. Aimlessly reading the paper is how I first came across that.

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