The Beer Gardens of Joseph Schnaider (Part One Of The Schnaiders)

Joseph Schnaider (1832-1881) was a man who had beer in his DNA. Born in the Baden area of what is now Germany, he was already working as a brewers apprentice at the age of 15. He became foreman of a large brewery in Strasburg three years later. Attracted by the published charms of America, and seized by a travel bug, he toured France and then headed across the Atlantic, winding up in the friendly Germanic confines of St Louis.

Soon after arriving here, Joseph found employment as foreman of the Philadelphia Brewery on Morgan Street. In 1856, he and Max Feuerbacher built the Green Tree Brewery, initially on Second Street, but in a much expanded form on Sidney Street in 1863. Two years later, he sold his share to Feuerbacher, and built the Chouteau Avenue Brewery on that street, between Mississippi and Armstrong (Now MacKay Place). Like the Green Tree Brewery, the Chouteau site took advantage of a large cave, using it for lagering and cold storage. Adjacent to the brewery, he built a sylvan retreat styled on Germany’s famous Heidelberg Beer Garden and capable of holding up to 10,000 people. As with the similarly popular Uhrig’s Cave, the place was a bit cooler than the surrounding area, attracting summer crowds.

And what a place it was…

According to the Encyclopedia of the History Of St. Louis, beer gardens were common in Germany, but “an innovation in St Louis”. Schnaider’s not only became the most famous resort of its kind in St Louis, but was widely known throughout the country. It became famous during the years immediately following the Civil War for its high-class musical and other entertainments, and its general “good cheer”. The kind of good cheer you might expect on hot summer days in a garden beside a brewery. It featured three music pavilions, numerous shade trees, statuary, flowers and grottos. The brilliantly lit retreat attracted thousands of people on summer evenings.

In 1854, the St. Louis Republican determined that the city consumed 18 million glasses of beer from January through September. By 1881, that had grown to 263 million glasses. In a population of 400,000, local beer consumption was on the order of 658 glasses per person annually. A chart from 1860 lists 39 breweries. The largest at that time were Winkelmeyer and Schiffer’s Union Brewery, at 16,000 barrels annually, Christian Staehlin’s Phoenix Brewery at 15,500, Fritz, Wainwright and Company’s Busch Brewery at 15,000, and Joseph Uhrig’s Camp Spring Brewery at 14,000 barrels¹. Uhrig (Jefferson at Washington Street) and Staehlin (at 18th and Lafayette) also had breweries and caves in this area. It made the Lafayette Square area a popular spot for entertainment. Here is a listing from 1874:

In 1883, the People’s Railway ran from Fourth and Morgan downtown to Lafayette Park and Schnaider’s Garden. In the three-month span from July to September, it carried 778,000 thirsty passengers, an average of 16 people per car. In the early evening the average was about 41 passengers.

As the terminus of the rail line was the entrance to Lafayette Square and Park, Schnaider further capitalized on his strength of location by contracting a light opera company, often featuring the St Louis Grand Orchestra, a group that may have formed the origin of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

1875’s Compton Dry map features Camille Dry’s surreal sense of proportion and detail, depicting Schnaider’s brewery/gardens complex. This site was purchased from the Schnaider family by Roberts, Johnson and Rand to build a shoe factory in 1903, and is now the location of The Lofts at Mississippi, as well as the Mississippi Walk townhouses. Number 2 on this map is the malt house for the brewery, now a dining/drinking/event complex topped by Vin de Set restaurant. That well-revisioned building is all that survives of the original layout.

Schnaider worked hard to change the perception of a German beer garden from a man’s world to a socially acceptable and even aspirational place for the modern woman.

Joseph Schnaider married in 1856, shortly after first arriving in St Louis. He and his wife Elizabeth had seven children. Their oldest son, Joseph M. Schnaider, took over operations upon his father’s death which, interestingly enough, occurred during a visit to Heidelberg, Germany in 1881. His body was brought back to St Louis and buried in Calvary Cemetery.

Now I only tell you all this by way of introduction to Joseph Jr, that is, Joseph M. Schnaider. Another story altogether, and one we’ll explore next week.

Thanks to research sources, including:

Encyclopedia of the History Of St. Louis; Hyde and Conard; Southern History Company: 1899

Lost Caves of St Louis; Hubert and Charlotte Rother; Virginia Publishing Co; 1996

National Park Service. National Register of Historic Places; via MO DNR; 2006

Advertisements from 1870 – 1880 issues St Louis Post-Dispatch.

Landmarks Association

Commercial and Architectural St Louis; Jones and Orear; 1888

St Louis Republican; November 1854

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