Heurich’s Pure Beer

In the 19th century, a common marketing tactic among American breweries was to advertise their beer  as ‘pure,’ meaning that their beer did not contain harmful or undesirable additives, such as salicylic acid or bicarbonate of soda.  The Chr. Heurich Brewing Co. advertised its beer as pure, but for Heurich, the claims of purity were not just an advertising trope. What set Heurich apart from others in the brewing industry was that the brewery had medals and awards to back up its claims of purity.

The year 1900 was one of great excitement for people across the world.  The Exposition Universelle in Paris recognized achievements in arts and technological innovation, and it was the first place that the brewery would receive accolades for the quality of its beer.   The Chr. Heurich Brewery Co. won the silver medal for purity and clarity for its Senate and Maerzen beers.  Business was good, and Heurich would continue to gain international recognition for the purity of his beers.

 

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Heurich’s 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle Silver Medal Certificate   Credit: MS0537, courtesy Historical Society of Washington, D.C., http://www.DCHistory.org

 

Shortly following the awards from the 1900 Exposition in Paris, the brewery received more good news regarding the substance and purity of its beers. On February 6, 1901, the Bureau of Chemistry, which was then headed by Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, released a study on the Adulteration of Food Products (beer was frequently categorized under “Food Stuffs”).The study found Heurich’s beer to be absolutely pure and free from harmful elements.  This report was not initially released to the public, but Heurich made an appeal to Congress and the results were later released. As a result, Heurich’s ‘Pure Beer’ became even more well-respected by the community.   Of course, this didn’t stop other competitors from advertising their beer as pure, as seen below.

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Heurich’s Maerzen and Senate were widely touted as being of the highest purity and quality; they were even prescribed by doctors for any and all kinds of ailments. The popularity of his beers grew so quickly, that Heurich had to limit what establishments sold his beer.  Saloons were provided with plaques with the brewery or beer name to prove that they sold a legitimate Heurich product, but that didn’t stop some saloon owners from trying to cheat the system.

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June 3, 1901 Washington Evening Star Newspaper Clipping, Courtesy of the DC Public Library

 

In 1905, Heurich learned that his Maerzen and Senate beers had been awarded the gold medal at the Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Leige, Belgium.  Again, the brewery used this award to further promote the purity and and excellence of its beer by taking out a full page ad in The Washington Post.

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The Chr. Heurich Brewing Co. would continue to tout their various international awards and the purity of their beer on their labels and in advertising until the brewery closed in 1956.  It wasn’t until June 30, 1906 that the Pure Food and Drug Act was signed into law, which mandated the regulation and inspection of products, such as beer. Heurich’s Senate and Maerzen were among the most well-known beers the brewery produced and were a large part of the 19th and 20th century culture in Washington, D.C.

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The 1905 Exposition Universelle in Belgium commemorated the 75th anniversary of independence from the Kingdom of the Netherlands and celebrated 40 years of King Leopold II’s reign.  This year for Belgian National Day, which celebrates these events and takes place every July 21, the Heurich House Museum is teaming up with Greg Engert of The Sovereign (a Belgian beer-hall) and will be serving Belgian beers at our monthly History and Hops.

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Heurich’s 1905 Exposition Universelle Liege Gold Medal Certificate. Credit: MS0537, courtesy Historical Society of Washington, D.C., http://www.DCHistory.org

Collections Condition Reports


 

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The great group of registrars and collections managers who spent the day at the Heurich House  Museum, in front of the Grant Desk! All photos credit: Jason A. Smith

 

May and June have been busy months at the Heurich House Museum. At the end of May, the  American Alliance of Museums Annual Conference (AAM) was hosted in Washington, D.C. In January 2016, the museum was selected to be a candidate for the Registrars Reinforcement Crew (RRC) annual service project.  Started in 2007, this project is an annual event where professionals who are members of the Registrars Committee of the American Alliance of Museums (RC-AAM) donate their time to smaller institutions to work on a variety of projects the day before the official AAM conference begins.  Since it’s formation, the RRC has served 28 institutions, and over 150 professionals have volunteered their time to these service projects. Past projects that the RRC has worked on include: accessioning collections items, condition reporting, rehousing objects, photographing and inventory.  RRC service projects are made possible by generous sponsors and partners who donate the funds and materials necessary; this year’s sponsors and partners were Methods and Materials, Inc, TCI-Transportation Consultants InternationalTCI-Transportation Consultants International, Terry Dowd, LLC and Masterpak.

The Heurich House Museum applied for a grant from the RRC to request help with examining objects and completing condition reports on pieces in our collection.  The museum hasn’t completed condition reports since 2003, so it was important to begin implementation of baseline reports to better gauge the health of our collections throughout time.

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Using a flashlight, Susie is able to examine any fine cracks, chips, discoloration, etc.    All photo credits: Jason A. Smith

There was a lot of work to be done and decisions to be made before our amazing crew of 8 volunteers arrived.  First, we needed to decide exactly what objects we wanted the crew to examine. We decided to select objects according to certain criteria: 1) The object must be original to the Heurich Family, 2) Objects that receive more use, such as objects that are moved frequently for events or that are used by the museum, would be given higher priority, 3) Objects that are original, but for which we have little documentation on the condition or provenance would be given higher priority.  For example, on the first floor entry hall we decided to have the card receiver, suit of armor, grandfather clock and a wood table examined because they are original to the family and are at higher risk of damage since they are not behind a stanchion. Other items included the formal dining room chairs and dining room table, the hand-carved wood furniture in the Bierstube, and all of the marble topped tables in the kitchen. After the criteria were set, we selected 100 objects and identified 50 as high priority.

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Anne and Sebastian examine all parts of the dining room table.  All photos credit: Jason A. Smith

The next step in this process was to create a condition report form that could be used to assess a wide variety of items in our collection. The report had to include the objects’ dimensions, previous inventory or accession numbers, the medium, and general condition summary of the object. For example, the gaming table in the Reception Room is composed of a textile (the green leather panel), a wood base and body of the table, and metal hardware. The condition report form had allowed the examiner to identify all of the different materials on the piece and the various scratches, stains, oxidixation/tarnish and red rot conditions that they observed. We also asked the examiners to report on the stability of the piece.

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Susie pulls out a board within the sideboard in the Bierstube and dictates the condition to Emily, who records it on the condition report.

Working in pairs, the registrars were able to complete nearly all 50 of the high priority objects in the short five hours they were at the museum.  This crew was an excellent group of professionals and took the time to carefully examine and report on the smallest of details.

We thank the RRC volunteers for their time and hard work in completing these condition reports. You help us to better care for our collections!

Bellevue Dairy 4x6

Home, home on the farm

Our April installment of History and Hops features Manor Hill Brewing of Ellicott City, MD.  This ‘family-owned farm-brewed’, brewery is a thriving farm complete with beef cattle, herbs gardens and hop gardens. The Marriner family had a vision for a farm brewery after Mary Marriner read an article on how another brewery, Oskar Blues is operating a farm with crops and beef cattle, conveniently between two restaurants. The family also owns Victoria Gastro Pub, where the farm-fresh ingredients are used in their dishes.

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Heurich farm house and grounds, n.d., Featured item, Heurich House Collection

 

Although Heurich’s primary dwelling was at his home in Washington, D.C., he also had a summer farm and house, named Bellevue located in Hyattsville, MD (now the site the Mall at Prince George’s Plaza and the Metro stop).  Heurich purchased the 376 acre farm April 1887 at the recommendation of his physician as a place of rest, while still being close enough to his brewery to check on day to day operations.  The entire Heurich family enjoyed the farm in the summer months.

In addition to the farm house, Heurich also had an operating dairy farm, where he raised Holstein cows. Some in the Heurich family think the dairy farm was more of a hobby for the elder Heurich, and did not really make a profit.

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Cows walking in a pond at Bellevue Farm, featured item, Heurich House Collection

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Clipping of the Evening Star Newspaper, August 17, 1889  image courtesy of the DC Public Library

Heurich took great pride in making sure his beer was clean of any impurities and made it publicly known by posting advertisements in the newspaper and on his beer labels.  Similar, Heurich touted his dairy had the most sanitary and healthful milk.  By 1916, the dairy was producing about 200 gallons of milk a day.  This newspaper clipping, illustrates how an investigator visited the farm and examined all of the dairy farm operations, even writing “Cows Cleanly Beyond Comparison”, noting the cows were fed the very best feed and the water they drank is “…as clear and pure as the water of Takoma Spring.”  Having this approval by an investigator was not only important for your status, it was the law for the milk to be distributed within the District of Columbia.

 

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In a 1916 hearing before a subcommittee of the committee of the District of Columbia to the Senate, on the topic of the high cost of living in the District of Columbia many experts spoke about the legality of milk.  One individual that testified, was Mr. Herman E. Gasch, President of the Bellevue Dairy Farms, Hyattsville, MD noted many topics.  In his testimony he said:

“The milk situation here is not intelligently dealt with. Milk is not graded.  I can only hope that this committee will see the force of that point, that the city of Washington should be counted among other cities in the fortune of having a law that would require so very important a food product as milk to be graded, in order to show what you are getting…”

Gasch continued the explain the dairy farm was previously in a price-fixing agreement with the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers’ Association, however the contract had since expired. The goal of this contract was “…to get together and fix a price which they account to be a minimum at which the milk can be produced and provide a living…”

 

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Cows grazing at Bellevue Farm, n.d., featured item, Heurich House Collection

 A March 21, 1950 Washington Post article stated the area surrounding the farm had become too urbanized and the current property was no longer suited for a dairy farm. During the sale of the cattle, the sire of the herd, “Design Again” was sold for $3,700.

In 1951, Christian Heurich Jr sold most of the family land for over 1 million dollars to the Contee Sand and Gravel Company. That same year, the family mausoleum in which Christian Heurich Sr., Mathilde (Heurich’s second wife), Anna Marguerite (Amelia and Christian’s infant daughter) were buried was moved to Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.   The Contee Company dived the parcels of land and eventually Prince George’s Plaza was developed, which is host to a Target, Olive Garden and a shopping mall. Nearby, the Heurich name still lives on and is still in use at DeMatha High School’s Heurich Field and the Heurich Dog Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Die Braumeister

This month’s History & Hops features Gordon Biersch Brewery and Restaurant at Navy Yard.  Started in 1988 by Dan Gordon and Dean Biersch, the brewery reflects its founders’ love of German style lager beers.  Gordon Biersch was started as a small brewery and restaurant in Palo Alto, California, and within ten years the owners opened their first brewery and bottling facility in San Jose. The brewery at Gordon Biersch Navy Yard is managed by head brewer, Travis Tedrow, and the brewery features a selection of traditional German-style beers like maerzen, pilsners, and hefeweizens.

Dan Gordon, a co-founder and head brewer of Gordon Biersch, learned traditional German brewing techniques at the Technical University of Munich. The brewery takes pride in brewing its beers according to the German Purity Law, known as the Reinheitsgebot. When the law was first established in 1516, beer could only be brewed with water, malt and hops. The law was amended in the early 1990’s to allow for yeast to be used as a fourth ingredient.

Gordon was trained in the same German methods of brewing as generations of German brewers before him. Christian Heurich also learned the traditional style of German brewing as a young apprentice and continued to brew according to these standards when he ran his brewery. Like Gordon Biersch, the Chr. Heurich Brewing Company brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot and marketed its beers as being pure and of the highest quality. The Chr. Heurich Brewery Co. earned two gold and two silver medals for purity and clarity at world’s fairs, including  a medal at the 1900 Paris Exhibition for its Maerzen or ‘March Beer’.

Who were the brewers at the Chr. Heurich Brewing Company?

Since Christian Heurich was trained in Germany and brewed according to German Purity Laws, we were curious to know if he employed brewers who were trained in Germany like himself. The museum’s collection has over 600 Heurich Brewing Company Employee Federal Credit Union cards which range from the 1930’s to 1950’s.  These credit union membership cards contain information about the employees, such as what division the employee worked in at the brewery and where they were born. We sorted through hundreds of employee records and here is what we found:

21 cards listed the occupation of brewer, master brewer, assistant brewer or fermenter

11 cards listed Germany as birthplace

Of the 21 brewer cards, 7 brewers were German born14 brewers were born in the U.S.

Average Age of German Brewers: 43

Average Age of U.S. Born Brewers: 37

Average Age of Brewers total: 41

The other 4 Germans that worked at the brewery according to these cards held positions of: Engineer, Floor Man, Fireman and one simply put ‘Brewery’.

After 1933, approximately 33% of the brewer’s employed at the Chr. Heurich Brewing Co. were German born. According to these statistics, it is also clear Heurich employed German-born and U.S. born workers.  In fact, these employee cards show us there were more U.S. born brewers working for Heurich. However, many of the U.S. born brewers, had German surnames. Interestingly, the majority of the German-born workers that the brewery employed were trained as brewers (7 of 11 workers born in Germany). These brewers tended to be older than their American counterparts, as well. We do not know if the number of Germans that the brewery employed changed from the early years of the brewery in the 1870’s and 1880’s to the post-war years (we only have employee records from after 1933).

Another German-American brewery, the Pabst Brewery, employed a large number of German immigrants in the pre-war years. In his book, The Pabst Brewing Company:  The History of An American Business (1948),  author Thomas C. Cochran chronicles the history of the famous famous German-American brewing company. Cochran writes: “It must be remembered that few men of other than German birth of parentage were brought into the home office, which helped provide a certain camaraderie among the staff and to make them proud of the Captain as a fine example of German leadership in an American city.” (pg.91-92).

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Some of the German brewers listed the town they were from, such as Oberhausen, Grunthal or Bochum. These towns range from 2.5 to 5.5 hours away from Christian’s hometown of Haina, Germany.

 

Otto Schmalzried: A Chr. Heurich Brewery Company employee’s life

Otto Schmalzried Brewers Federal Credit Union

Otto Schmalzried was a U.S. born brewer at the Chr. Heurich Brewing Company.

The majority of U.S. born brewers at the Chr. Heurich Brewing Company had German surnames. We decided to research the life of one of these employees, Otto Schmalzried (1885-1942), to trace his roots to Germany. Otto was born in Philadelphia, PA and was the child of German immigrants, as noted in the 1930 Census of Philadelphia. In that census, Otto was listed as a Superintendent of Bottling Works. Otto married Mary Thomas in 1910 and together they had one daughter, Dorothy.  Prior to being a bottling superintendent, Otto was working as a brewmaster at the Arnold Brewery in Hazleton, PA. According to other census data, sometime between 1935-1940 the Schmalzrieds moved from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., and Otto began working for the Chr. Heurich Brewing Company.  In 1939 his wife passed away and was buried in Philadelphia. Whether Otto worked at the Heurich Brewery until his death in 1942 unclear, but it is evident that he worked in the brewing industry, eventually earning title of Master Brewer at the Heurich Brewing Company.

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Christian Stoll Federal Credit Union Card

Francis Omlar Brewers Federal Credit Union

Another example of a U.S.-born brewer that worked at the Heurich Brewing Company

 

Today’s brewers continue to be trained in traditional German brewing techniques. In fact, many local brewers in and around the District trained in German-style brewing at Gordon Biersch, including: Thor Cheston of Right Proper, Barrett Lauer of District Chophouse and Jason Oliver of Devils Backbone. Gordon Biersch continues this legacy of crafting staple German-style beers in tried and true methods, just as generations of German-trained brewers before them did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arlington Bottling Company Label

A Different ABC

This month’s History and Hops features Right Proper’s Production Brewhouse in Brookland, the city’s latest beer production facility. How is this new site different from Right Proper’s original brewpub in Shaw? A brewpub and a production brewery receive different treatment under the law. Although the brewpub can package its beer into kegs and distribute them to bars or fill growlers for customers onsite, it cannot can or bottle its product. On the other hand, a production brewery can produce its beer in cans and bottles, which means that it can distribute its product to retail establishments like grocery and liquor stores. With bottles and cans, the brewery can reach more individual customers.

Christian Heurich’s brewery was once hampered by a related but different law. For the first 18 years that Heurich operated his brewery, it was not legal to package beer onsite. Instead, the only way the beer could make it from kegs to bottles was by sending it to bottling companies. Heurich employed a number of bottling companies to package and distribute his beer. Facilities in Norfolk, VA, Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC, did much of this work, which is why many old Heurich bottles bear the name of one of those cities.

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3 different embossed bottles, The Arlington Bottling Company, Featured Items, Heurich House Collection

In his book, Capital Beer, historian Garrett Peck also notes that “An 1881 listing of bottlers and brewers in the Washington Post showed that James Butler, Julius Eisenbeiss and Frederick Herrmann were all bottling for Heurich…” By 1884, Heurich’s nephew, Charles P. Jacobsen, who had previously worked in his uncle’s brewery, had created the Arlington Bottling Company (ABC), located at 1021 27th Street, a block away from where Heurich would build his massive new brewery a decade later. Heurich bottled at least some of his beer at the ABC plant.

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L-R: Charles F. Jacobsen, Christian Heurich Sr., Karla Jacobsen, Charles P. Jacobsen, Christian Jacobsen taken at the Heurich Family Farm, c. 1940  Featured Item, Heurich House Collection

 

10 Nov 1896 Washington Post Article about new brewery

Fun Fact: The Heurich Brewery had German mottoes and murals decorating the brewery, similar to the ones in the Bierstube at the Heurich House.  Right Proper also has eccentric murals decorating the production house!

Congress finally enacted a law allowing breweries to package their own beer in 1890 (pg. 161), and Heurich built a new bottling plant at his Foggy Bottom Brewery in 1897. However, he still used his nephews’s bottling plant until at least 1912, and mentions of Heurich’s beer being bottled and sold from ABC disappeared slowly.

1912 Arlington Bottle Co

If the 1890 bottling law had not put the bottling plants out of business, Prohibition, which took effect in the District in 1917, hurt them almost as much as it hurt the breweries. As they could no longer bottle beer from 1917 to 1930 the Arlington Bottling Company bottled sodas and mineral water. In 1930 the owners closed the bottling company and converted the building to Sterling Laundry. The building was demolished shortly after the Heurich Brewery in 1962.

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Perhaps a Prohibition Era (1917-1933)truck for the Arlington Bottling Co., Image courtesy of Christian Squier

                                         

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View of the Chr. Heurich Brewing Company from the Potomac River, Photo courtesy of Jack Blush

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View of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts from the Potomac River after the Heurich Brewery was demolished, Photo courtesy of Jack Blush

 

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Something Lost

In many ways, the Heurich House Museum is a museum in formation; we have a wonderful archival collection of photographs and documents, but we are just now inventorying them for the first time. This means that is still a great deal of detective work to be done to determine exactly who is in each photograph, when and where they are taken, and what their significance may be.

One such photo shows an elderly Christian Heurich standing, with his hat in his hand, almost as if he is about to walk off somewhere.  Where is he? What is that interesting building behind him? How old is he? Why is he there?

With a magnifying glass and some squinting, we were able to make out the metal marquee to the right of Heurich’s head: Hotel Alpenhof.  A quick Google search initially led to the website for a new, sleek hotel with the same name. But further investigation turned up a Flicker album showing incredible photos of an abandoned hotel in Austria. Ghostly images of made-up beds, personal letters and photos, and empty bottles portray a once lively hotel, which at some point was deserted.

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Hotel Alpenhof metal sign.  Via Flickr

 

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Exterior of Hotel Alpenhof via Pinterest

According to one comment in the Flickr account, local residents say that a legal battle over the property since 1968 has kept it closed. The photos show letters with the name Nagele, and depict grave markers for Adolf Nagele (1960) and Rosa Nagele (1973). Searches for this name provided nothing, however a related search brought us to a nearby hotel, Hotel Post (built 1903).  In the chronicle of that hotel, a note from 1989 is of interest:

The restaurant is enlarged. The conservatory, hotel hall and new bar are built. This was only possible due to the acquisition of land from the 4 owners of the Hotel Alpenhof. The negotiations had taken 20 years.

A search for the Hotel Alpenhof property on Google Earth (dated 1999) and the the Flickr photos date to 2008 shows that the building is in fact still standing.

Far out view of Hotel Post and Hotel Alpenhof

 

The photo of Heurich with his hat sure looked a lot like Hotel Alpenhof, but we needed real confirmation from the Heurich House Museum archives.  Amelia Heurich’s “One Line a Day” journals, plus Christian Heurich’s detailed autobiographies that highlighted his European travels, were the best place to start.

In August 1927, Christian and Amelia Heurich traveled to Europe on the steamer Columbus, as they did almost every summer, bringing along Amelia’s sister and their friends the Gichners. Christopher_Columbus_whaleback_Milw_Broadway_bridgedock

On this trip, the Heurichs visited Innsbruk, Austria, the capital city of the state of Tirol.  This region was known for Tyrolean Oil, a mineral derived from shale and believed to have healing qualities.  Heurich was a great proponent of holistic healing remedies, often taking “cures” while traveling throughout Europe (he suffered from rheumatism), so it may not be a coincidence that he traveled to Tirol.

A few days after landing, the group took a ride along the scenic mountains, eventually finding themselves in Pertisau (or Gamisch, as Amelia write in her journal), a small town near Lake Achensee.

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Mountains and Lake Achensee in Pertisau, State of Tirol, Austria.

Amelia recorded many details of their trip, including this uncomfortable experience:

Aug. 14—“We took a ride in the mts.  In some way a yellow jacket stung me in my mouth.  I pulled the sting out myself—used plenty of whiskey.  

-Amelia Heurich’s journal entry for August 14, 1927.

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Amelia Heurich’s Journal, dated 1927-1931

On August 16, 1927, Amelia noted that the travel party had reached Garmisch Hotel Alpenhof Park Hotel.  BINGO!

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This is the only time that Amelia mentions Hotel Alpenhof, and it is enough to confirm our theory.

The Hotel Alpenhof was also thought to have been the inspiration for Elinor M. Brent-Dyer’s cult classic Chalet School books, and was known to many as the Chalet school or The School at the Chalet. Some believe that author was staying at the Hotel Alpenhof for a holiday and was inspired to reflect some of the hotel’s attributes in the Chalet School.  Others are skeptical that Dyer would have stayed at Hotel Alpenhof, as it was expensive. Whatever the real truth is, the setting for a few of these books are in beautiful Pertisau.

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The Art of Craft

Brewers Art sideboard

When I first saw a picture of the bar area at The Brewer’s Art, a brewery located in Baltimore, Maryland, the elegant and decorative interiors of the influential Scottish architect and designer Robert Adam came to mind. Adam was born in 1728 to a family of architects. After spending five years traveling and studying throughout France and Italy on a ‘Grand Tour’, he returned to London and established his own practice with his brother James. Adam became one of the most important British architects working in the Neo-classical style. He not only designed houses, but also the entire interior decoration scheme and every object within the house. The period from 1755 to 1785 is sometimes called the Age of Adam, and as Bill Bryson notes:

[Adam] had an inescapable weakness for overdecoration. To walk into an Adam room is rather like walking into a large, overfrosted cake.

(Bill Bryson, At Home, p. 173 – 174). The bar at Brewer’s Art is perhaps not as ornate as Adam’s interiors, but the fireplace and door frame decorations are a sort of quiet homage to the designs of a legend.

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Eating Parlour, Headfort House

If you have not guessed already, November’s installment of History & Hops features craft brewery The Brewer’s Art, a brewpub that has operated in a historic mansion in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore since 1996.  They currently brew approximately 1,800 barrels of draft beer at the Baltimore location, while a partnership with Sly Fox Brewing Co. of Pottstown, PA produces another 5,000 barrels of packaged product. Most of their beer stays in the local area, primarily serving MD, VA, and DC with small quantities in PA and NJ. Founding partner Volker Stuart and brewer Victor Rini will be on site at the Heurich House Museum on Thursday, November 19, 2015 to serve Resurrection Beazly and St. Festivus at the event.

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The Heurich House would not be the magnificent, unique, and utterly Victorian vision that it is today without the skills of the craftsmen and designers who worked with Christian and Mathilde. Perhaps the most visible, ornate and intricate work in the house was completed by the master carver August Grass and his workshop. Grass received the commission for the decorative woodwork and is responsible for the elaborately carved fireplace mantels throughout house and the suite of furniture in the dining room, including the monumental sideboard that still stands proudly.

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One of Grass’s surviving woodworking tools, a rabbiting tool. Photo by Historical Society of Washington, DC (HSW).

Grass is a relatively unknown craftsman, and as such, not much information survives on him or his business. What is known is that he was born in Prussia in 1828 and later died in 1902 in Washington, D.C. He came to the United States in 1852 and married another Prussian, Sophia Frank, in 1859. By 1878, Grass moved his family and workshop to 1204 New Hampshire Avenue Northwest, which is just a few blocks from the Heurich’s house (Michael Grass, a descendant of August Grass, provided the personal information on August Grass. The information is from a profile of the Grass family in a book on families buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.). E.E. Barton’s 1884 Historical and Commercial Sketches of Washington and Environs noted that:

Grass employed ten to twelve first-class workmen and that, Fine cabinet ware of all kinds is made, a specialty being made of mantles and art furniture. The mantles and art furniture manufactured by this establishment are among the finest made in this country.

(p. 251 – 252).

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Grass studio at 1204 New Hampshire Avenue NW. Photo by HSW.

 

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Grass sideboard at Heurich House Museum.

If you remember one thing when visiting the Heurich House, remember to truly look Grass’s sideboard.  You can’t miss it – it’s nearly fourteen feet high and arranged on three massive horizontal levels. It is richly carved and decorated with motifs associated with the Renaissance Revival style including dead game, bountiful harvests, and various architectural elements. Every surface is embellished with detail, from the cornice proudly displaying Christian’s initials to the lock plates that are fashioned as grotesque heads. Grass skipped no corners – literally – as each corner features a stylized leaf motif (as do the corners of each piece of furniture in the dining room suite). The sideboard is the center piece of the dining room. It built as a testament to Heurich’s heritage, wealth, status, and awareness of current interior fashion trends.

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Heurich sideboard cornucopia detail.

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The Heurichs’ sideboard boasts richly carved and decorated with motifs associated with the Renaissance Revival style including dead game.

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Every surface of the Heurichs’ sideboard is embellished.

During the nineteenth-century the sideboard rapidly rose in status. It became the most important piece of furniture in the dining room, the prime exhibition piece, and pieces of monumental proportions and lavish design were created. This is a significant event because the sideboard was relatively new piece of furniture, only having been first invented in the late eighteenth-century by the frosty Robert Adam. The piece at the Heurich House is interesting because of its late date of creation (assuming it was built sometime between 1892 and 1984 when the house was under construction) and the prominent use of the Renaissance Revival style, which was largely out-of-fashion in 1890s England.

Side board table, carved and gilded wood with mahogany top. Stands on turned baluster legs, two at the back corners, and four along the front, all having gadrooned, acorn-shaped feet. The legs intricately shaped and carved with stylized acanthus and gadrooning, have square blocks with rosettes just below the frieze. The frieze is decorated with the Greek key motif, incorporating circular paterae, and above each leg is a ram's head. Below the frieze a valence of pendent acroteria. The top is of plain mahogany, the edge of which is inset with a guilloche decoration of gilded wood.

Designed by Robert Adam, Sideboard display, 1767. Gilt-wood and mahogany table. Osterley Park, London.

Just as previously established English interior trends lagged in gaining popularity in America (Thomas Chippendale first published The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director in 1754, which had immediate success in England and took a good six years to truly influence American craftsmen), English Victorian fashions enjoyed delayed and prolonged popularity in America. In contrast to England where the Renaissance Revival was most popular between 1840 and 1870, in America the style remained in favor until the end of the nineteenth-century. The peak of the Renaissance Revival style in England is perhaps best illustrated by the Fourdinois sideboard, which was exhibited at the 1851 London Great Exhibition and received the highest awards. The Fourdinois sideboard had had such an impact on American designers, that at the 1853 New York City Exhibition, more than half a dozen prominent firms featured smaller versions of the sideboard with a surprising profusion of carved fruits, vegetables, birds, and game.  Additionally, most of the American furniture exhibited at the 1853 New York City Exhibition was carved in massive oak and walnut in the Renaissance Revival style.

Sideboard_1851

Sideboard by the Maison Fourdinois, on display at the Great Exhibition, 1851. Illustrated in Dickinson’s Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851 from the original painted, for HRH Prince Albert, London 1852. Taken from Barry Shifman, ‘The Fourdinois sideboard at the 1851 Great Exhibition’, Apollo, (2005), p. 15.

After the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, the Renaissance Revival took on new strength in America with an emphasis on niches, shelves and small turned balusters for cabinets and over-mantels. This most likely was an outcome of the strong influence of the Englishman Charles Eastlake’s work Hints on Household Taste, which was first published in America in 1872. He argued for ornament to be equally decorative and functional, and his designs are characterized by functional, non-ostentatious forms with shallow carving, geometric designs and rows of turned spindles. Harriet Prescott Spofford’s Art Decoration Applied to Furniture, published in 1878, was also an influential publication and argued for interior decoration in accordance with Eastlake’s ideals and the Aesthetic Movement. Spofford’s publication, however, also advocated for the use of the Renaissance Revival and noted that there was ‘nothing more luxurious’ than the Renaissance style for interior decoration (Mayhew and Myers, A Documentary History of American Interiors, p. 213). Additionally, the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, an event that took place while the Heurich’s mansion was being built, emphasized conservative and traditional historical revival styles for house design such as the Colonial, Renaissance, and Rococo (Shireman, ‘The Rise of Christian Heurich and His Mansion’, p. 23). So despite the Renaissance Revival style being considered extremely outdated in 1890s Arts and Crafts England, the style was still favored in America (and probably viewed as a bit conservative since it was considered especially appropriate for the houses of the very rich).

The sideboard, however, is so much more than just a display of wealth and style. The sideboard was – and continues to be – a hallmark of the Heurich’s German heritage. Grass used German design books for his work, one of which was the publication ‘Graef’s Journal für Bau-und-Möbel-Tischler’ (Graef’s Journal for Furniture Builders and Carpenters) by August Graef. A complete collection of Graef’s designs published in 1853 reveals that August Graef was a cabinetmaker and business leader of the furniture factory of Mr. von Hagen, who had a workshop in Erfurt. Erfurt became a part of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1802, and it is most likely Grass trained from similar designs while in Prussia.

Cabinet

17th century Cabinet (Fassadenschrank) from Nuremberg. Photo by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Considering the strong German tradition of cabinet furniture and carving, Grass is not unusual in continuing to use his sources and training received in Prussia while in America. Carvers played an important part in the decoration of furniture in Germany, and the characteristic form of two-tiered cupboard that evolved during the mid-fifteenth century lent itself particularly well to the embellishment of carved ornament. The large, flat-fronted press of the Gothic period gradually became more architectural in its conception and developed into the typical Fassadenschrank of the sixteenth and early seventeenth-century, with its massive structure and detailed Renaissance ornament (Thornton, ‘Review: German Furniture’, p. 545). During the nineteenth-century, the numerous revival styles found acceptance in Germany. The Renaissance Revival, in fact, was viewed as an expression of national ambition and associated with harmony and rebirth (History of Design: Decorative Arts and Material Culture, 1400 – 2000, ed. by Pat Kirkham and Susan Weber, p. 425). Grass’s sideboard harmonizes the strong German tradition of richly carved cabinet furniture with the nineteenth-century taste for the Renaissance Revival style.

One of the reasons I am so interested in furniture history and interior design is that any piece of furniture has the ability to reveal so much about its owners – where they came from, what they believed in, their status within society, and how they wished to be perceived. The sideboard at the Heurich House stands as tribute to the Heurich’s proud German heritage, high social status (or wish to be considered as such), knowledge of current fashions, and their wealth. It took the skill and imagination of the master craftsman August Grass to convey such a complex message so effortlessly within a single piece of furniture.

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Hilary Strimple graduated with a B.A. in Art History from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio in 2012. After graduation, she started as a curatorial intern at the Heruich House Museum and was later hired as the Special Events Coordinator and Collections Manager. She also worked as the Administrative Assistant for Brent D. Glass LLC, a museum and history consulting business lead by Dr. Brent Glass, Director Emeritus of The Smithsonian Museum of American History. This past year, she attended graduate school at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, England, pursing a master’s degree in Fine and Decorative Art. Her master’s thesis discussed the nineteenth-century fashion of monumental sideboards and A.W.N. Pugin’s involvement in the fashion trend. The sideboard at the Heurich House was a case study for the thesis. After completing her master’s course this past September, she has moved back to the United States and now works for Alex Cooper Auctioneers as the Auction Coordinator.

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This post is an abridged portion of a chapter of a master’s thesis. For full text citations, please contact the museum.

Sources:

Kirkham, Pat and Susan Weber, ed., History of Design: Decorative Arts and Material Culture, 1400 – 2000 (New York: Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture, 2013)

Madigan, Mary Jean Smith, ‘The Influence of Charles Locke Eastlake on American Furniture Manufacture, 1870 – 1890’, Winterthur Portfolio, 10, (1975), in http://www.jstor.org/stable/1180557 [accessed 16 July 2015]

Mayhew, Edgar de N. and Minor Myers, jr., A Documentary History of American Interiors: From the Colonial Era to 1915 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1980)

Riley, Noël, The Elements of Design: The Development of Design and Stylistic Elements from the Renaissance to the Postmodern Era (London: Mitchell Beazley, Octopus Publishing Group, 2003)

Riley, Noël, World Furniture (London: 1989, Spring Books, first published 1980 by Octopus Books Limited)

Shireman, Candace, ‘The Rise of Christian Heurich and His Mansion’, Washington History: Magazine of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., 5 (1993)

Shireman, Candace , ‘The Rise of Christian Heurich’s Mansion: A Study of the Interior Decoration and Furnishings of the Columbia Historical Society’s Christian Heurich Mansion’ (unpublished master’s thesis, George Washington University, 1989)

Thornton, Peter, ‘Review: German Furniture’, The Burlington Magazine, 112, (1970) in http://www.jstor.org/stable/876406 [accessed 25 July 2015]