The Brewery: History and Timeline
1836: Don Carlos Berry brewed beer in a log cabin that was located on the site of the present 400 Margaret Street.
1857-1897: John S. Bielfeldt Brewing:
John S. Bielfeldt was born January 27, 1834, in the town of Hemme, Holstein, Germany. He emigrated with his parents in 1851 and settled in Blue Island, IL, where they remained one year. On January 26, 1858, he married Miss Crescentia Ladoux, born September 13, 1835, in Canton Berne, Switzerland.
In 1857, John Simon Bielfeldt relocated to Thornton and erected a brewery with a ten barrel kettle. In 1876, he constructed the building with a residence which is on the site at the present time and began a 20 barrel business.
In 1895, he placed a 50 barrel kettle, and in 1896 put up an ice plant. The beer he brewed was known as “J.S. Bielfeldt Lager Beer.” Thornton’s clear spring water was a great infuence in starting the business. A few years later a well was drilled. The grain was ground by horses on a small scale grist mill. His market was the surrounding towns, mostly in Blue Island, Lansing, Thornton and Hegewisch, but Bielfeldt also delivered the beer by horse and wagon as far as Beecher and Eagle Lake, Illinois, and Crown Point, Hessville and Dyer, Indiana.
Mr. Bielfeldt was a Republican, and served one term in the Legislature, the Thirtieth General Assembly of the State of Illinois, but finding it took too much of his time, he declined to serve another term. This was in 1877, and he was on the Committees on Roads, Bridges and License. He later served in many local Township positions.
Bielfeldt's wife gave birth to 10 children. Her death occurred August 14, 1895. Bielfeldt died on December 31, 1899 and is buried along with his family in Homewood Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Homewood, IL.
1897-1920: John S. Bielfeldt Brewing Company:
Upon J.S. Bielfeldt’s death in 1899, the business was turned over to his children. Bottles bearing the name Bielfeldt Brewing Co. have been found in nearby Thorn Creek.
1902: Thorn Creek food, brewery partially damaged.
1902: The brewery was the site of the first whistle for the Volunteer Fire Department.
1904: The brewery was partially destroyed by tornado.
1910: A truck was acquired in 1910 for delivering beer.
1915: No longer needed, the brewery barn was bought and moved to the northeast corner of Williams and Ridge Road.
1918: The brewery was partially destroyed by fire. Carl Ebner, Sr., was added to the management of the Bielfeldt Brewery, and was made its president and manager on December 1, 1918. In the earlier part of his career, Ebner was Brewmaster at Jung Brewery, and later superintendent at Chicago Brewery and North Western Brewing Company. Carl Ebner added a modernly equipped bottling department to the general establishment of the Bielfeldt Brewery.
Officers of the Bielfeldt Brewery were president and manager Carl Ebner Sr., vice president John B. Bielfeldt, vice president & treasurer Paul J. Mueller Jr. and secretary Carl Ebner Jr.
Bielfeldt and Ebner
National Prohibition of alcoholic beverages (beer, wine and distilled spirits) existed in the U.S. between 1920 and 1933. The Bielfeldt family sold the brewery at the onset of Prohibition, probably to Carl Ebner. Ebner is listed in the 1920 Illinois Census as a manufacturer of soda pop.
1922: The brewery was partially destroyed by fire. Some beer making continued in the 1920s despite Prohibition. Revenue agents came in with axes and smashed the vats. It was about this time that the Chicago crime syndicate took control. It was not uncommon to see the notorious Prohibition beer runner and gangster, Joseph “Polack Joe” Soltis, aka “Public Enemy Number 9,” roll up in a black sedan to check on his bootlegging operation. Trucks would pick up the beer during the night for deliveries to Chicago’s speakeasy customers.
Roadhouses (Dutch’s Place, Blue Lantern, Rose Bowl, Red Lantern) were built east of Thornton on Ridge Road. They were disreputable and were raided frequently by federal officers due to suspicions of violating the 18th amendment.
1933-1936: Thornton Brewing Company:
When Prohibition ended in 1933, it was reported that installation of new brewing equipment had begun in the old brewery. Owner John M. Kubina stated that although former “Beer Baron of the South Side” Joe Soltis wanted to own a piece of the brewery he was denied. President and treasurer was John M. Kubina, along with a partner named Henry Detmer. Vice president was Edward B. Kenny, secretary R.W. Bielfeldt and brewmaster was Andrew Marra. Chief engineer was G. Swanson and they had an annual capacity of 25,000 barrels of old Thornton Special beer.
By October 1936 Thornton Brewing Co. filed for bankruptcy listing debts of $20,000. An auction of the property was held in December of 1936, with the two leading bidders being Jacob Silver and Dominick Frederick. Offers went as high as $8100, plus the amount necessary to pay the creditors. Joe Soltis, one-time beer runner of Prohibition days, warned Frederick that if he persisted in his bidding there wouldn’t be any brewery left. Frederick withdrew his bid. Bankruptcy Court Referee Wallace Streeter had Soltis cited for contempt and the brewery property went to Frederick.
1937-1940: Illinois Brewing Company:
In 1937, Dominick Frederick and his brothers joined Mr. J. Capodice to incorporate the Illinois Brewing Company in Thornton, Illinois. Among their many brands were “Old Fashion” Lager Beer, Pennant, Queensville, Export Pale and Muenchener Bohemian Beer. In mid 1940, the brewery contracted with Crown Cork and Seal to produce J spout cans of Pilsner and Frederick’s beer. Later that year, the company name was officially changed to Frederick’s Brewing Co.
1940-1948: Frederick’s Brewing Company:
Frederick’s Brewing was a partnership of James, Frank, Joseph and Dominick Frederick. Brewmaster was Henry Scholl and assistant brewer Ernest Buehler. They operated two bottling lines and had a 75,000 barrel capacity and manufactured Frederick’s Four Crown Special Beer. The beer was shipped by railroad car to army camps throughout the U.S. Boys from Thornton were always surprised to get beer from home. The empty bottles would be shipped back to Thornton to be refilled. Over $400,000 was spent to modernize the one-time log cabin. In the late 1940’s, the brewery employed approximately 65 men but Frederick’s Brewing went bankrupt.
1948-1950: McAvoy Brewing Company:
McAvoy Brewing was originally located on Brewers Row in Chicago but it did not survive Prohibition. The Frederick Brothers acquired the name in 1948. They brewed McAvoy Malt Marrow, American Club Pilsner Beer, and Van Nestor. McAvoy had a 100,000 barrel capacity. The Fredericks were apparently poor businessmen and the brewery again filed for bankruptcy in 1943 but remained in operation until 1949 when they went bankrupt from race track gambling debts.
1951-1957 White Bear Brewing Co., Inc.:
In 1951, the brewery was sold to Ildefonsas “Joe” Sadauskas, an immigrant from Lithuania who was sponsored by Thornton families after the war. The first stock certificate for 200 shares was issued Nov. 8, 1951. Sadauskus produced White Bear Beer from a Lithuanian recipe. It was not very popular with the people of the town.
Sadauskas advertised in Lithuanian newspapers in Chicago. He made his own barrels in a small cooper shop attached to the brewery complex.
In 1957, Sadauskas allegedly refused to pay the crime syndicate for protection and they tried to run him out of business. It was said that they came over and dumped about 140,000 gallons of beer from bottles and kegs into the creek. Other state that he just hadn't paid his taxes. At that point Sadauskas and partner Anthony Stakanas brought in small industrial companies. It was called Thornton Industrial Complex. Beer was never again brewed on the site.
1970s: After his partner died, Sadauskas sold the brewery to a syndicated group. Ed Huelat was one of three owners.
1977: Brewery gutted by fire. Owners were Frank Halagiere of Dolton, Robert Ried of Dolton, and Joseph Genovese of Riverdale.
1980s: Building bought by Gierczyk Development Co.
1980s: Bambino’s Hideaway Restaurant, owners Frank and Debbie Elton.
1980s: Two Dolton businessmen, Butch Sikora and Greg Cooper purchased the brewery from Gierczyk Development Company.
1985-87: Ken & Dick’s Pizza.
1988: Bambino’s Hideaway
1990-92: Became restaurant/bar called The Brewery. It was shut down in August of 1992 in a raid by the Metropolitan Enforcement Group.
1993: Reopened as Dan D Jac’s.
1997: Sold to Warren Salihar who named it Widow McCleary’s Bar & Restaurant which had a fictitious history.
2000: Still called Widow McCleary’s Bar & Restaurant, new owners.
2014: Steve Soltis, Andrew Howell and business partner Jake Weiss, the building’s owner, got to work changing the former brewery into a distillery. It was called Soltis Family Spirits.
2017: Soltis Family Spirits open for business in December of 2017.
2018: Soltis Family Spirits was short-lived, with Steve Soltis pulling out of the business in early 2018. Andrew Howell, his brother Jon, and Jake Weiss continued distilling whiskey, rum and gin with plans to add additional brands of spirits to their product lineup. Their tasting room cocktail bar is called “The Well,” after the natural spring water used for their products.
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