Historic Preservation Feature is a series of articles on the efforts to save and reuse historic buildings, districts and sites in Pennsylvania.

Touted as “America’s Oldest Brewery” by the family which originated and still owns the Pottsville brewing company, D. G. Yuengling & Son, Inc. is an unusual collection of mid-nineteenth century buildings which seem to cling pre­cariously to the steep northern slope of the Sharp Mountain above this Schuylkill County seat. The brewery was founded by David G. Yuengling, a 23-year-old immigrant, in 1829 and ownership has been passed to male heirs of succeeding generations. It represents not only preservation of handsome industrial brick buildings but of family tradition as well.

D. G. Yuengling & Son, Inc. was originally called the Eagle Brewery and has occupied its present site at the corner of Fifth and Mahantongo streets since 1831 following a fire which destroyed the original brewery buildings at a different location. The present buildings date from an 1840 “modernization” and, despite later and extensive renovations and addi­tions, still retain much of their early character. The sprawling complex covers four city blocks and produces 100,000 barrels of beer annually.

When David G. Yuengling founded his brewery, Pottsville was a booming coal town of 2,SOO residents; the same year the brewery was rebuilt, more than fifty substantial new brick build­ings were erected and “shantees” (tents made of hemlock and covered with branches) were being replaced by more permanent structures. Less than fifteen years later, I. Daniel Rupp in his History of Northampton, Lehigh, Monroe, Carbon, and Schuylkill Coun­ties described the city in glowing and florid prose:

Pottsville has every requisite for becoming a great city – an unin­terrupted navigation by the canal to Philadelphia, coal enough to supply the world for thousands of years; and if the resources of the county should be developed with the same untiring activity by the next as it has been by the present generation, Pottsville, bold as the assertion may seem, will rival the large cities of the sea-board in population and wealth.

Pottsville never did rival our great Eastern cities but it did provide oppor­tunities for thousands of immigrants who came and worked in the mines, the allied foundries and factories, and for the canal and railroads. Later, many of the early businesses which relied on the prosperity of the anthra­cite coal industry fell when the market slipped from under the coal trade several times, but D. G. Yuengling & Son, Inc. survived 150 years of turmoil and four generations of its founding family.


Commemorating 150 Years

The Yuengling Brewery celebrated its One Hundred Fiftieth Anniversary with a commemorative beer can. Canned beer was first introduced to the American public during the late 1930s. By 1941, more beer was being sold in cans and bottles than in barrels and kegs.


Founding Father

Little did David G. Yuengling realize he was founding a tradition as weU as a business when he began brew­ing ale, porter and lager in 1829. He served as president of the family brew­ing company until his death in 1876 and lived to see malt for his beer de­livered by railroad beginning in 1842 from the Perot Malting Company, Philadelphia. Until that lime, the ma1t was hauled from Philadelphia to Potts­ville on the Schuylkill Canal, a 108-mile odyssey which took six weeks.


Sprawling “New” Complex

The year David G. Yuengling began brewing his now famous beer, 250 commercial breweries were in business and, fifty years later, more than 4,000 breweries throughout the nation were satisfying America’s thirst. The current annual production of 100,000 barrels of Yuengling beer is up from the 600 barrels of “common beer and ale” produced by the Eagle Brewery in its first year in the new Mahantongo Street buildings. These frame buildings were erected in 1831 but were “modernized” and enlarged nine years later.


Off To Market!

Businessman and patriarch David G. Yuengling (standing at lamppost) over­sees the handling of his beer as it leaves the Mahantongo Street brewery in the early 1870s. The building’s openings on the top two stories were louvered panels which allowed the beer to breathe and cool in large trays after it was poured from the kettle. A 300-barrel kettle, the last surviving piece of original equipment, still re­mains as does a large stained and leaded glass skylight.


Significant Industrial Complex

Entered in the Pennsylvania Inven­tory of Historic Places, the Yuengling Brewery is being nominated by the Commission’s Office of Historic Preser­vation to the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural, commercial and industrial significance. The complex is an unusual industrial resource despite its architectural alter­ations, including the replacement of the louvered panels with windows and the removal of a tall grain elevator.


Historically Important

The two-story red-brick office building, constructed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, is a signifi­cant architectural and industrial com­ponent of the large brewery complex. In addition to the restrained ornamen­tal brickwork, the building is distin­guished by its heavy wooden cornice capped with decorative finials. Altera­tions to this building did little to destroy or adversely affect its original character and appearance. D. G. Yueng­ling & Son, Inc. has been characterized in the official National Register nomin­ation as “the best remaining example in Pennsylvania of the small local brewery representative of the histori­cal origins of this important industry.”


Bottling Works, 1898

Bottling works were added to the brewery in 1895. At this time, federal law required that all bottling be done in a building “entirely distinct and separate from, and having no com­munication with, the brewery or ware­house.” Under certain circumstances, the beer could be piped from the brewery to the bottling house.


Outer Office, 1890

Business never ceased at “America’s Oldest Brewery.” During Prohibition, which in its thirteen-year existence ruined thousands of breweries through­out the country, the Yuengling com­pany survived by producing a legal “near beer” containing only one-half of one percent alcohol. D. G. Yueng­ling & Son, Inc. celebrated the end of Prohibition by sending a truckload of real beer to Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the White House the night the 18th Amendment was repealed. The year following the end of Prohibition more than 750 commercial breweries were in full-time operation; today there are fewer than 40. The outer office of the Schuylkill County brewery is shown shortly before the turn of the century.


And Business Goes On

Except for the enlargement of the original brewery buildings throughout its ISO-year history, D.G. Yuengling & Son, Inc. has remained constant­ – both in operation and in ownership. Even the main office serves as reposi­tory for the artifacts of the inter­twined family and company history – ­old bottles and cans (many or them stuffed in the pigeonholes of two massive rolltop desks), family por­traits, brewing licenses, photographs, antique advertising posters, beer trays, ledgers and early receipt books. Richard L. Yuengling, Sr., current president, is the great-grandson of the company’s founder and keeps office in the same small building which also served as the Yuengling family residence between 1875 and 1883.


A Tradition Lives On

Historicity often implies a “distant” past – one whose utility and activity are separated from our world by years or research papers, masters’ theses, sepia colored photographs and hazy recollections. But historic preserva­tion, on the other hand, frequently suggests an ongoing activity as tangible and real as the buildings being pre­served. In the mountainous City of Pottsville, history has joined preserva­tion in a unique marriage of tradition and building for the last 150 years.


The photographs appearing in this article are all courtesy of D. G. Yueng­ling & Son, Inc. with appreciation due to Ione Geier who arranged for their publication.


Susan E. Hanna is a Curator for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Bureau of Museums.


Michael J. O’Malley is a Public Infor­mation Specialist for the Commis­sion’s Office of Historic Preservation.