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Charmed Life

Hopping Westward

Christopher Myers

By Brennen Jensen | Posted 5/19/2004

Long before this curious age of low-carb brews (why bother?) and plastic beer bottles (make cans seem classy), Baltimore had a booming brewing industry. The most notable vestiges of our bygone beery days--besides cheap sixers of the now out-of-state-produced Natty Boh--are the ornate "gothic pagoda" building on the 1700 block of Gay Street (the former American Brewery), the towering former National Brewing complex atop Brewer's Hill near Canton, and National's hilltop neighbor, the erstwhile Gunther's Beer plant.

What does this trio have in common? They're all in East Baltimore. But don't let this geographic reality lead you to believe that Baltimore's west end was high and dry in our golden age of ales. The aroma of malt and hops once wafted around this side of the city as well, only there's not much left to show for it today.

Easily West Baltimore's most recognizable hunk of a hoppy past is the former Henry Eigenbrot Brewery (pictured) in the 100 block of Willard Street, between Hollins Street and Frederick Avenue. The redbrick complex includes towering (five to seven stories at least) Victorian-esque brew and stock houses that are easily seen looking northward from Frederick Avenue near the Westside Shopping center. Faded painted signage reading eigenbrot brewing co. can even be read on one of the lower outbuildings.

Brewing began here in 1873 and ceased with the onset of Prohibition in 1920. The place is a trash-strewn, weed tree-riddled dump today. Most of the facility's arch-topped windows are cinder-blocked shut and flowering shrubs grow out of crevices in the walls. (A moving and storage company was at one time making use of the buildings, but it has moved on as well.) More than 100,000 barrels of brew a year once rolled out of this brewery, which was launched by German-born Ferdinand Joh, and later expanded and named after Henry (husband of Ferdinand's daughter, Louisa, who had inherited the operation). William Kelley, in his mammoth tome Brewing in Maryland, wrote that Eigenbrot's "put out the best glass of beer in the city," and the brands bottled here included Extra Pale Adonis and Stock Lager. Efforts to reopen the pile at the end of the Noble Experiment failed, it seems, for lack of funds. A hardscrabble neighborhood lies in the crumbling brewery's shadow today. (During a visit to the site a few years ago, young men surrounded my car, earnestly endeavoring to sell me substances more mind-altering than a bottle of Adonis.)

Eigenbrot's didn't spring up where it did by a chance. A number of breweries flourished in these parts, drawn by the proximity of Gwynns Falls, where brewing by-products could be easily drained away. Nothing remains of the pioneering west-end brewery built by Jacob Seeger on Pratt Street between Smallwood and South Bentalou streets in 1854. The environs were still leafy then, and where Seeger's shop sat was referred to by the rustic name Snake Hollow. The brewery included a beer garden and flowerbeds behind a white picket fence. Alas, rowhouse development (started, in part, by home-seeking brewery workers) wiped out Seeger's
operation by 1901. Also gone is a sizable brewery that operated from 1856 to 1903 on the southwest corner of South Calverton Road and West Baltimore Street, just a block from Eigenbrot's. It was founded by Thomas Beck in 1856, and later operated as the Dukehart Brewery until 1912 or so. Whereas most Baltimore breweries made lager beer, Dukehart's turned out ales and porters. (The plant's Irish--not the typical German--brewmaster probably had something to do with this.)

Rivaling Eigenbrot's remains for abject squalor is what's left of the one-time brewery on the even side of the 100 block of South Calverton. A collection of abandoned, and in some cases burned-out, buildings huddling behind razor wire constitute all that's left of the plant where they that once turned out Lion Brew (and which was called, straightforwardly enough, Lion Brewing). It functioned from 1862 until around 1902; a lacquer manufacturer and a brush company later used the buildings.

Perhaps the oddest bit of west-side brewerania brings together foaming mugs and Formstone. August Beck (Tom Beck's half-brother) opened a brewery on what's now the 200 block of Franklintown Road back in 1865. Seeing success, in 1876 he built an impressive, three-story mansard-roofed home at the brewery. By the 1900s, the brewery had changed hands and was functioning as the Frank Steil Independent Brewing Co., which rolled out barrels until silenced by Prohibition.

Today, based on my observations, much of the plant still stands. There's even a looming mansard-roofed house on the premises--only it's not too impressive now, as it's encased foundation-to-eaves in Formstone. Indeed, all the buildings in the vicinity are slathered in the stuff. It really seems excessive. Signage says the place is now home to the Lasting Paint Co. (which, contrary to the name, appears not to have lasted; the place looks abandoned, and all the company phone numbers I tried were disconnected). But then, here's the thing: Lasting Paints used to be called Lasting Products, and it was the plucky firm that patented Formstone back in the 1930s.

And so, brewing and Formstone--two of Baltimore's once-bustling industries now snooze here side-by-side.

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