History of Brewing in Mason City
By Rita Goranson
There were three distinct breweries on two sites in Mason City over the early years of the city. Some historians have not always separated the two sites but have at times combined the sites as one. However, the locations were almost two miles apart and there is plenty of evidence to indicate that these were separate establishments.
The first site was on Carolina Street just north of Fourth Street northeast and on the south side of the river. On November 15,1871 Dan and Joseph Farrell sold land in Section 3 of Mason township, Cerro Gordo County, to Samuel Wyatt and Joseph Dorfuer. It was 20 acres of timber along both sides of Lime Creek River (the Winnebago River today).
Joseph Dorfner owned brewery in the area of 4th N. Carolina. (Courtesy Mason City Public Library Historical Collection)
A brewery was erected on Lot 5, south of the river, on Carolina street and Joseph Dorfner and his wife ran the brewery. It was probably made of lumber. Local farmers brought in barley to sell to Dorfuer. Samuel Wyatt sold his share of the timber to John Baum, and on January 3,1873
Baumann and Dorfuer then sold the brewery in Lot 5 to Milton Z. Price. Milton Price was a clerk in a store in Mason City in 1870. He had the brewery only a short time, until April 10, 1873, when the local paper carried the news that a fire had destroyed the brewery.
Milton Price and his wife sold the property to E. N. Cole, his father-in-law, in 1874. Mr. Price and family then moved to the Dakotas. Joseph Dorfuer must have bought back the property from Mr. Cole, though there is no record of this. Dorfuer had built a large stone brewery in Lot 5. This building was two and one half stories made ofloca1limestone. There was a vault underneath.
Judge A. Cummings remembered that "the first (brewery) was built by Joseph Dorfuer at the comer of what is now Fourth street and Carolina avenue northeast in 1872. Part of the old vault can still be found there. (1931) The institution ran three years with most of the work done by the man and his wife." However the beer made there failed to make Mason City famous, Judge Cummings declared.
By August of 1874 at a Sheriff's sale, E. R. Lloyd, a loan broker, buys the property. It was sold as a foreclosure rendered against Joseph Dorfuer who owed $366.07 and $38.40. The property sold for $728.72. The sale was not filed until October of 1875, however.
By August 24, 1876 the land was listed for sale in the newspapers and was listed with a "good stone brewery and a small dwelling house with 2.5 acres of land" by E. R. Lloyd. In September of 1876 E. R. Lloyd sells the site to Mitchell Brahm. In October, Brahm and wife sell part of the lot to H. W. Burdette. Then in November of 1877 the newspaper lists the following: "Mike Brahm and H. W. Burdette purchased the Brewery building located near the Central depot and have overhauled it thoroughly. Mike Collins is the active man on the part of Mr. Burdette. They expect to have it in good running order soon and turn out the foaming lager in torrents." Mike Collins was a stone mason in Mason City at the time.
Alas, by February of 1880 at a Sheriff's sale, Brahm's share is sold out to Henry Burdette. Carrie Collins, the above Mike Collins wife, is deeded Lot 5 with the brewery from Henry Burdette, her father, later that February. A Mr. Barker who lived in Mason City remembers the brewery in operation in 1878. He thought it went out of business in 1880 or 1881, according to the newspaper.
On Nov. 29, 1879, the city council passed an ordinance "prohibiting the sale, gift, keeping with intent to sell ale, beer, wine, cider and other intoxicating liquor." The ordinance went into effect in January, 1880. By April of 1881 it was permitted to sell beer, malt and various liquors with a license, however, by July 1882 the state had adopted to prohibit the sale of all intoxicating liquors. This amendment lasted several years and put an end to the production of beer or any liquor in Mason City.
Joseph Dorfner is listed with an occupation of "beer bottling" in the 1880 census of Mason City. Possibly he had continued to help with the brewery. By 1888, Joseph Dorfner, his wife and family of eight children have moved to the Tacoma, Washington area where he again works as a brewer.
The brewery stood idle for awhile. Then in 1890 the brewery was bought by the Mason City Creamery Company from the Mason City Building and Loan Company. The building was turned into a creamery with an addition added on to hold the machinery needed to run the creamery. The operation was run by O. T. Dennison, who was the president of the organization and A. J. Miller, who was secretary.
In 1892 Samuel and Joe Kennedy bought the creamery and continued the business as the Kennedy Creamery. Kennedy sold the business to H. J. Turner in 1895 who continued to run the creamery for a few years. Eventually it was sold to the Bickel Produce Company and then it went into private hands. The buildings gave way to a church on the south half of the lot and a residence on the north half.
The second brewery in the Mason City area and actually called the Mason City Brewing Company was started in 1873 when John Weiss bought land from Anson C. Owen and wife in Section 28 in Lime Creek township north ofMason City on August 2,1873. John Weiss was from Oskaloosa, Iowa. Weiss had a stone building built that had two rooms and a cellar in the basement, two rooms on the main floor and a room upstairs supposedly used for living quarters. The brewery's comer stone had the year 1873 on it.
Brewery at Lime Creek (Courtesy Mason City Public Library Historical Collection)
In 1875 the ad in the Mason City paper read" Mason City Brewing company is now prepared to fill any and all orders for BEER which may be sent to them. Having lately refitted the Brewery they are making the best beer of any brewery in the country. Orders will be promptly filled. Address John Weiss, Mason City, Ia,"
In 1876 a John Schaefer of Willmar, Minn. was taken in for a partner in the operations. Mitchell Brahm, a German immigrant, supposedly helped to make the beer. Mr. Brahm had been living in Wisconsin and then Minnesota with his family prior to his arrival the Mason City area sometime around 1875. The family is not listed in the state census of 1875 but a son was born that year in Cerro Gordo County. Brahm and family are listed in the 1880 census, where his occupation is "making beer". He lived in Lime Creek township near the brewery. In 1885 he is found in the town of Mason City and his occupation is a "carpenter". According to Mr. Brahm's obituary in 1912, "For years he ran the brewery, the remains of which are still to be seen north of the city."
Unfortunately by the late 1870's the local farmers, who had been raising barley and selling it to Weiss for beer making, had a few difficult years with locusts, grasshoppers and other pests. Crops were poor to non-existent and so barley production was down. At the same time prohibitionists in Iowa were gaining momentum in the battle against the sale of liquor of any sort. An ordinance in Mason City in 1879 prohibited the sale of beer.
Mason City Brewing Company poster. (click for detail)
In Feb. 10, 1880 the property was sold at a Sheriff's sale to Byron Garnidge. By 1881 Garnidge sold the business and land to Christian Neuhaus and Mitchell Brahm. There was a brief respite in the liquor prohibition and perhaps they thought that they could rebuild the business. However, they in turn sold it in Nov. of 1881 to Samuel Marke. So Mitchell "Mike" Brahm appears to be connected to both breweries. According to family, he worked at the Mason City Brewery Company, north of town; he lived in the vicinity of the brewery and later even owned it for a short time. He also purchased the brewery on Carolina and ran that business for a few years.
There is no mention of the further use of the building for a brewery in the newspapers. Then in July of 1882 the law for prohibition of the sale of any sort of liquor was enacted and that ended any thoughts of beer production in Mason City.
By 1890 Nicholas Peterson had bought the land and the buildings, and used the brewery for storage in the winter. Soon the buildings weren't used at all; however the site was a place for picnics by local people. Eventually the brewery was taken apart and the wooden beams salvaged. The stone foundations are still visible.
The Mason City Brewery was on land owned by Cerro Gordo County today. The foundations can be seen at the Lime Creek Nature Center.
Ruins of old brewery at Lime Creek. Safford Lock photo taken in October 1941 (Courtesy Mason City Public Library Historical Collection)
Cerro Gordo County, Iowa Federal Census, 1860, 1870, 1880 and 1900.
Cerro Gordo County, Iowa Land Records, Cerro Gordo County Court House.
History of FrankIin and Cerro Gordo County, Iowa. Springfield, III. 1883.
Lime Creek Nature Center, picture and newspaper article.
The Mason City Express, Mason City, Iowa. 1873
The Cerro Gordo Republican, Mason City, Iowa. 1875-1877
The Globe-Gazette, Mason City, Iowa newspapers.
The Mason City Public Library Historical Collection, Mason City, Iowa (picture).
The Sam Kennedy Story, by Sam Kennedy, 1964