By Tiah Edmunson-Morton
Hop merchants, brewers, and history? Sounds like a great way to spend a very chilly February evening in Salem. The February 5th “Mid-Valley Makers: Built by Beer” walking tour explored brewing history and heritage through several sites important to the development of downtown. Event organizer Ross Swartzendruber wanted to get people into the heritage of downtown and show that “modern day makers” are continuing a tradition.
Salem was a city built by beer and influenced by ingredients. With the help of archivist Kylie Pine at Willamette Heritage Center, Swartzendruber dug into the archives of Salem, tracking down hop merchants and brewery addresses to reconstruct the story of brewing in Salem. According to Pine, who led the tour, in 1911 growers produced 28,000,000 pounds of hops and $5 million in revenue. Hop growing was a multimillion-dollar industry at the turn of the last century and the growers were the city’s “movers and shakers.” As the industry boomed the influx of money funded many downtown building projects. Brewers were involved as well, with well-known characters like Sam Adolph and Frank Kenney running well-known breweries like the Salem Brewery, Capital Brewery, and Salem Brewery Association.
We gathered at the State Street Bayne Building, named after George Bayne (Pine called him the “Hop Man”). It was designed by architect William Christmas Knightwood, famous for Deepwood and the Supreme Court Building, and funded by hops. In addition to housing several hop brokers, visitors would also find the umbrella and bicycle repairman and the barber. Both useful since this was Oregon! Pine said that barbers offered services beyond a shave; in the early 20th century most of people in rural communities didn’t have running water, so the barbershop was a place to clean up.
Another notable stop was the Livesley Building, still considered the tallest commercial building in Salem. It’s named after Thomas Livesley (the “Hop King of Oregon”), who served as mayor and state representative, but best known for successes with hops. In 1915, his company produced a million pounds of hops – 1/10 all hops produced in Oregon and 1/30 all hops produced worldwide. Success success even during Prohibition because the company was large enough to sell its product overseas.
Speaking of success, Sam Adolph’s work led us through the end of the tour. Adolph co-founded Salem’s first brewery in what is now the Adolph Building. Pine and Swartzendruber have verified that the brewery opened in 1867, but burned in 1869. Adolph relocated to Cottage and Trade, which we didn’t visit, and relocated again in 1885 when Adolph built the large Capital Brewery on Commercial and Trade, where the Convention Center now stands. Mainly known for draught beer, the brewery had a small bottling plant. Brewing stayed on site, transitioning to the Salem Brewery Association in 1902. Post-prohibition Sick’s Brewery bought the plant and ran until the building was razed in 1955.
I can always get behind getting people downtown, connecting them with the past, and enjoying a little brewing history.
Want more history? http://www.brewerygems.com/salem.htm
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.