John Grund & the Kansas Brewery

John Grund

The recent discovery by McCann Plumbing of the old cold storage cave of the Kansas Brewing Company will certainly spike interest once again in not only the curiosity of underground Leavenworth but the early Leavenworth breweries. 

Some old newspaper articles claim that Leavenworth, as a young city, had eight breweries.  The articles assert that the first brewery was constructed in the fall of 1855 and operated by Fritzer & Mundee.  It was situated along the bank of the Missouri River near South Esplanade.  The second brewery was thought to have been on the south bank of Three-Mile Creek on Fourth Street, and known as the Kunz brewery.  However, Cindy Higgins, author of  “Kansas Breweries and Beer:  1854-1911”, contends that these accounts plus information contained  in H. Miles Moore’s “Early History of Leavenworth City and County” appear to be inaccurate in their dates of operation when compared to city directories, Sanborn maps, census reports and local histories including J.H. Johnston’s “Leavenworth Beginning to Bicentennial.”  Through her extensive research on early Leavenworth breweries, Higgins has concluded that the first brewery was actually begun by John Grund.  Despite conflicting historical accounts,  the discovery of John Grund’s brewery caves is thought provoking.

                        The John Grund Brewery, also known as the Kansas Brewery, was located  at the corner of Delaware and Sixth, in downtown Leavenworth, where Chickering Hall later stood and today is the Robert D. Beal Law Building.   The John Grund history is an interesting one.  Grund had come to Leavenworth from Germany in 1855.  Early Leavenworth news articles noted that the first boy born in the city of Leavenworth was the result of a Leavenworth romance between John Grund and Miss Eliza A. Tenell who had met in the new community.   The couple was one of the best liked and most popular of young people and were married January 18, 1856.  Their first born son was considered the first boy born of “Leavenworth parents.”   (Not to be confused with Cora Leavenworth Keller who holds the distinction of being the first female child born and George C. Robertson, the first male child—both of whose parents had both emigrated to Leavenworth City.)   [Pictured above, John Grund from the LCHS files.]

Henry Foot, a wealthy Leavenworth capitalist, joined with John C. Grund to construct a two-story brick building for the brewery.  Underneath the entire building was a large cellar and beneath that, a sub-cellar for storing beer in reservoirs and huge tanks from which the beer could be drawn off into barrels.  It is said that the best masonry possible was used in the construction, with no expense spared.  The brewery enjoyed a short-lived success, until it was discovered that the brew was not ripening properly in the storage caves and “did not retain the desired rich bouquet” after drawn for sale. 

Despite attempted improvements, the brewery was finally abandoned and the partners started over by buying out the Cannon Brewery, owned by another German, Peter Schmidt,  and located on a hill on Lawrence Avenue, south of Spruce street.  On a tract of land on the opposite side of the avenue Grund erected a large stone 3-story building with basement and a cellar under the hill for storage of beer.  At great expense, water was brought in through wooden pipes laid underground from the brewery to the springs at the foot of Pilot Knob Hill, more than a mile away.   While it was considered the largest and most extensive brewery in the West, large sums of money had been borrowed from Lucien Scott, President of the First National Bank, to help finance the project.   Coupled with the depression of 1859 and the start of the Civil War, the brewery was doomed. The Grund family was enumerated in the Kansas 1865 census in Leavenworth, along with six of their German brewers. However the brewery was abandoned in the late 1860s, with Grund eventually relocating to Boulder, then Denver in the 1870s.  Foot moved  to Pagosa Springs, Colorado.   After a time, the brewery was dismantled and the remains left to deteriorate and crumble. 

When John Grund died in 1904, his obituary recalled his glory days in Leavenworth and noted that the old brewery was one of the landmarks of the city, attracting interest with stories of the inhabitation of the old caves and storage rooms by imaginary ghosts that circulated among the superstitious and believed by many.  For a time the old structure was a mecca of the curious.  Grund’s body was brought back to Leavenworth, to be buried next to his wife at Mt. Muncie Cemetery.

Despite their lobby against it, Kansas breweries were eventually closed down in the years following the passage of statewide prohibition in 1880.  Cindy Higgins notes that the last Kansas brewery to close after state prohibition was in Leavenworth.  “After the Brandon Kirmeyer brewery officially closed in 1888, John Brandon found a new brewing partner in George Beal, son-in-law of John Walruff, the Lawrence brewer.  They set up a larger brewery complex on Kickapoo Street in Leavenworth that operated until 1911.”

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5 responses to “John Grund & the Kansas Brewery

  1. Great article! We found an ad in the Leavenworth City Clerk’s records.

    • Thanks! We had found an ad from the 1859 City Directory for Grund as well, which was recently sent to the Leavenworth Times in addition to a photo of John Grund.
      The circumstances of the final closing of the brewery due to non-payment of the loan from Lucien Scott, is of particular interest to the the historical society,
      since it was Lucien Scott, the banker, who later owned the Carroll Mansion, now home of the Leavenworth County Historical Society.

  2. Hi,
    In retrospect, first of all, I, the Cindy Higgins mentioned in this article, cinhiggins@yahoo.com, should have known better than to dub any brewery “first” and would have been smarter if I said, “one of the first.” Besides the coming to light of new information and lack of access to Leavenworth’s earliest newspapers and records, the fact remains that territorial Kansas was a time of flux with many trying out an enterprise and then fairly quickly moving off, changing partnerships, and even quitting a business within a few months other factors. For example, Frederick Hubert planned to continue to operate a brewery in Leavenworth when he left Hamburg, Germany, in 1856 but stayed only for a short while before taking his brewery supplies to Ogden. Did he even operate a brewery? Did he work at one? All I know for sure is what he planned to do in Leavenworth. Elisha Surritts left Leavenworth to run a 1860s brewery in Robinson in Brown County: what did he do in Leavenworth before he left?

    Because this year the Kansas Humanities Council has had me on its Speaker Bureau to talk about breweries in Kansas, I had the luxury of the Internet to go back and check a lot of what I wrote in 1992. The good news is that I have found that which I wrote has held up, plus more bits and pieces that flesh out the brewing industry. And how much fun to read the article on Grund’s storage caverns and see a photo of him this past month. Recently, too, digitized Kansas newspapers have been appearing on the Internet, including a news report by the Leavenworth Daily Times (December 24, 1862) showing Grund produced lager and told of its taxed profits:
    Lager.—The Kansas brewery of John C. Grand [newspaper spelling] will store this winter in its cellars two thousand kegs of lager; the Weston brewery one thousand, and Kuntz the same number at his brewery here. Four thousand kegs of lager—forty thousand gallons of lager—to be consumed by the thirsty denizens of the city next summer, already laid up in the caves.—In a keg are about 160 glasses, which at five cents each will bring in $8, a profit of $6 before the excise law went into operation. The whole at retail would amount to $32,000.—Upon this the Government tax—at $1 per barrel of 42 gallons—would be nearly $1,000. What a sum for hops and malt, and what a quantity of lager.

    Another Kansas City news article mentioned Leavenworth had five breweries when state prohibition was enacted but two were destroyed in an 1882 tornado. Yes, tornado!

    A luxury, the digitized newspapers are only as good as the keyword search. These brewers often had names spelled a variety of ways, e.g., Grund/Grand. Oh, if I could read German: Kansas had several German newspapers and they would be the best source (besides owner records) to really learn about early breweries because Germans pretty much operated Kansas’ breweries before state prohibition. Looking at an 1858 Kansas German newspaper on microfilm at the Kansas State Historical Society two months ago I saw it ran an add the Leavenworth Brauerei “von Saade & Marrsen, ede der 4. Und at Trake ?”

    To be fair, too, time is a consideration. Since I wrote about breweries 20 years ago, the Leavenworth Historical Society has unearthed more information and others have extensively researched certain topics, for example, the Uihlein family and their Leavenworth connection. I included a story about them from a local history of long ago; Mike Reilly in Wisconsin has spent more than a decade studying this family and probably is correct in saying that, yes, two did work in Leavenworth and went on to run Schlitz but worked for the Kunz family, and August, another brother, wasn’t in Leavenworth so they couldn’t have worked for him. But even Reilly wrote me saying “anything is possible.” Cities directories didn’t necessarily list every resident, especially not those who came and went in months, and these directories don’t date to the state of a town’s founding.

    Another problem with dates is definition. The two-story brewery of Fritzlen said to be built in the 1850s was a serious commercial investment; realistically, in the very first days of Leavenworth a brewer brewed out of his house, made do with an existing structure, or had a primitive set up before advancing to a more ambitious enterprise. There’s also Leavenworth’s Brandon and Beal brewery that stayed in production past state prohibition, but after a series of governmental crackdowns was most likely bottling an out-of-state’s beer rather than making its own. Brewer? Bottler? Add to this definitional dancing is the fact that often the source for “date” information is a newspaper or personal remembrance line or two, which aren’t necessarily accurate, and breweries had all sorts of tricks they used to keep in operation—ones they didn’t feel a need to share with newspapers.

    To conclude, “first” is very hard to prove in terms of Kansas history. When looking up information on a Kansas City, Kansas brewery recently, I found a reference to Grinter Place and notes from one of its past caretakers who was an excellent historian. He told of a visitor claiming to have two 1920s letters from the son of the man who built the bricks for Grinter Place. This Bernard Torteling/Terteling, born in 1826 in Westfallen, Prussia, Germany , had arrived in Wyandot County before it was a territory, and “started the first brewery here.” He gave up the brewery and went back to building bricks. Did he run Kansas’ first brewery? How can this be verified? So, maybe it’s safest to say that he may have operated one of Kansas’ first breweries!

    P.S. I listed the sources used for Leavenworth in the 1992 Kansas Breweries and Beer, which included Leavenworth city directories, early histories, WPA records, maps, and many news articles. My goal is to offer an updated version of this book soon in a digital form, and I will be not be saying “the first” for any brewery in any Kansas town!

    • Thanks for writing Cindy! Your book is not only in my private library but the one at the historical society as well. We look forward to your update, so, let us know when it becomes available. Your continued interest and research on the subject is greatly appreciated!

  3. Timothy Smith

    John Gund is my great, great grandfather. Thanks for putting a face
    To the story. Johns daughter is my great grandmother, Emma Elizabeth, Johanna Smith. She had a dairy near Denver with my grandfather, Otto Smith, called EEJ Smith & Son. From beer to milk!

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