Historic 19th Century Beer Cave Rediscovered in Iowa

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Currents News Staff

Craft breweries get a lot of buzz these days, but more than 150 years ago, a beer cave was built in Winterset, Iowa. Only now is its history being discovered.

The stone building was once the first brewery in Madison County. In the mid-1800s, the way to keep beer cool was going underground – in a beer cave. While some locals had heard about it – the buried beer room had been lost for decades.

“I believe it’s about 12 foot by maybe 20 foot,” said Chuck Johnson, “beautiful arch ceiling.”

Chuck Johnson says a crew recently found the cave while working on some power lines – though they didn’t know what it was.

“When we poked our head in and the arched ceiling there isn’t a flaw in it,” said Chuck. “It’s just like it was brand new.”

There was even talk they’d found part of the underground railroad. But the Madison County Historical Society had a pretty good idea what it was from the start. Jared McDonald shows us a County atlas from 1875.

“This is union township,” said Jared, “which is where the beer cave is located. And we’re looking right there at the brewery by M Schroeder.”

Morris Schroeder’s Brewery had been quite divisive in a town with a very active temperance movement. This newspaper article from 1873 writes: “there is much complaint about the disturbances happening at the brewery.” It even notes a stabbing – and on the Sabbath.

“He was basically ran out because of the brewery,” said Morris. “His beer because they didn’t want it in the community anymore.”

For now – the beer cave is buried – but light imaging radar will eventually scan it. Madison County will then decide how best to preserve it.