History

Here's a short history of our project and lager beer saloons. For a deeper dive, click and download the Anthony Waldman House National Register of Historic Places Application.

WHAT'S THE [HI]STORY?

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Prominently positioned on the Mississippi river bluff near the foot of the Smith Avenue High Bridge in Uppertown, St. Paul, the Stone Saloon wasn’t recognized by its occupants or even architectural historians as anything other than an odd little limestone house. WPA photograph Francis Raymond identified (incorrectly) the bulding’s first owner as Henry Hastings Sibley, and some speculated that its two-foot thick limestone walls were built as a defense during the Dacotah War (also incorrect). Others insisted it was a federal post office along the mail route to Fort Snelling. More recent historians tagged it the “Anthony Waldman House,” after the Bavarian immigrant who lived in the house after the Civil War with his wife Wilhelmina. But none of this history was exactly true—or at least not the whole truth.

It wasn’t until Tom and Ann Schroeder bought the “house” in 2008 that the building’s actual history was uncovered. As the Schroeders and local architect John Yust carefully deconstructed the interior of the building, they found baseboards and finished plasterwork mysteriously running behind the front wall. That evidence, combined with the odd position of the front door and a significant fault line in the front exterior wall, made it clear that someone had filled in an original commercial façade with matching limestone masonry as part of a 125-year old residential rehab.

These discoveries sent Tom digging into the archives of Minnesota’s Territorial Period (1849-1858). They revealed that a saloon keeper named Edward Shindell had leased the building shortly after the stone portion was built in the fall of 1857. When Shindell abruptly left during the Financial Panic of 1857, Waldman took over his lease and operated a “Lager Beer Saloon” in the building, purchasing the property in October of 1860. Four years later, after the Civil War sent grain prices soaring, Waldman closed the saloon and opened a grain and feed store closer to downtown on Fort Road. Waldman and Wilhelmina had lived upstairs in the rooms above the saloon, but from that point forward the stone saloon became their (and subsequent renters’ and owners’) stone “house.” The Waldmans returned to Germany in 1886, which is when the evidence suggests the original commercial façade was filled in with new stonework. From that point forward, all memory of Waldman’s Lager Beer Saloon faded.

For a deeper dive into this history, click and download the Anthony Waldman House National Register of Historic Places Application.

WHAT'S A LAGER BEER SALOON?

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At the time the Stone Saloon was built, relatively few Americans drank beer. Mostly they consumed hard liquor—rum, whiskey and distilled brandies. And they drank a lot, almost four times more per capital than today. Enter the Germans and their miraculous microbe, saccharomyces uvarum, a/k/a lager yeast. Producing a much lighter, dryer and thirst-quenching beverage than the dark, warm Yankee ales, lager yeast and lager brewing took Minnesota by storm in the years before the Civil War. “We mention Lager Bier [sic] with emotion, as the most beneficent institution of modern society,” swooned one St. Paul editorialist in April of 1858. “If the Germans had given us nothing else, if Schiller and Goeth and Mozart were nix, they would have twice repaid the debt they owe us, in popularizing and establishing Lager Bier as the beverage of the people.”

German immigrants opened dozens of “Lager Beer Saloons” throughout St. Paul, especially in its heavily German-populated Third and Fourth Wards. The spread of these unique establishments was fueled further by Minnesota’s Lager Beer Act of 1860, which exempted all lager beer saloons (but not retailers of liquors or ales) from any licensure or tax. The conventional wisdom among the Yankee legislators was that lager beer was not intoxicating (much), and even some Temperance-minded folks were supporters.

Lager beer saloons were unique for another reason. In contrast to Yankee groggeries where men drank hard liquor and ladies were more offerings than guests, the lager beer saloon was a cultural and family refuge where locally-brewed, cave-cooled golden lagers accompanied traditional music, entertainment and hearty food. Waldman’s Stone Saloon was one of these establishments, serving the Uppertown neighborhood long before there was a High Bridge or the current commercial thoroughfare of West 7th Street. And undoubtedly business for Waldman was good, until a combination of high grain (and therefore beer) prices during the Civil War, the imposition of a federal excise tax on liquor retailers, and the repeal of the state’s Lager Beer Act prompted him to change careers.

More details of this history can be found in the Anthony Waldman House National Register of Historic Places Application.

SO WHAT'S THE PLAN?

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Our plans for the Stone Saloon? Back to the future! This sturdy little fortress is a veritable time-machine for transporting history and beer buffs alike to a simpler era. Right now we’re taking care to preserve and document the building’s history, and we’ve learn a lot about natural lime mortars, early wood-framing techniques and even the finer points of privy archeology. Our restoration includes wood stoves, virgin pinewood floors, hand-blown glass windows, our growing collection of  mid-19th century steamboat chairs, vintage whale oil lamps (we'll burn parafin) and lots of Lincoln and Civil War memorabilia. The latter pays tribute to the stone mason who built the Stone Saloon: Jacob Amos, Captain of Company E of Minnesota’s Fifth Civil War Infantry, one of the Minnesota Volunteers’ several German companies.

Most importantly, there will be beer. Beer you can’t buy anywhere else. Fresh, one-of-a-kind lager beer brewed in the German tradition but with local ingredients in our adjacent on-premises nano-brewery, some of which will be casked and cooled in the Stone Saloon’s original limestone cellar. Non-alcoholic root beer, birch beer and light German fare will also be in the offering, but no flatscreens, no neon, and no plastic cups or cheese poppers. If you’ve been to McSorley’s, America’s oldest pub in Lower Manhattan, then you know where our heads are at.