Established in 1866 after Francis F. L’Engle purchased and subdivided the former LaVilla plantation, the Town of LaVilla quickly became Jacksonville’s largest suburb when L’Engle started selling and leasing property to United States Colored Troops and their formerly enslaved families. By 1870, 70% of LaVilla was comprised of African-Americans, many of whom worked in Jacksonville’s booming hotel, lumber, port, building, cigar, ice house, railroad industries and a brewery. That’s right, a brewery.
Situated in the heart of the multicultural community’s business district was the Eggenweiler & Company brewery. Located on West Bay Street between Hawk (Jefferson) and Bridge streets, Eggenweiler produced lager beers that were then distributed locally in bottles and kegs by a sole agent, Damiani & Company. However, Eggenweiler’s locally produced brews would not last long. Eggenweiler was one of thousands of very small breweries operating across the country by the end of Civil War.
Bergner & Engel Brewing Company rail car. Courtesy of University of Michigan
At the time, even the largest brewers rarely operated plants above the 12,000 barrel a year range. Transportation and innovation rapidly transformed the beer industry. Between 1865 and 1893, over 150,000 miles of new railroad track were laid, connecting larger brewing cities with smaller communities across the country. Locally, the majority of railroads entering the city were constructed in LaVilla between 1857 and 1903. As transportation costs dropped, the radius of what could be profitably shipped expanded. This gave rise to the growth of 19th century shipping brewers who began establishing beer depots at major railheads. The Bergner & Engel Brewing Company was one of the first brewers to use refrigerated cars to transport beer.
About 1846-47, Philadelphia became the first place in this country where lager beer was made. The Bergner & Engel brewery was established in the same city by Charles W. Bergner in 1849. In 1870, Charles Engel entered into partnership with Gustavus Bergner, who had taken over for Charles Bergner, uniting the brewery of Engel. In 1879 the firm was incorporated as the Bergner & Engel Brewing Company. Owning forty refrigerating rail cars, one half of the brewer’s 200,000 annual barrels of beer was consumed in markets along the Atlantic coast where the company established beer depots. Then the third-largest brewery in the nation, by 1887 Bergner & Engel opened their LaVilla beer depot as a warehouse filled with ice and designed to store beer until it could be distributed locally.
The Bergner & Engel Brewing Company beer depot in LaVilla. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia
A frame building with a three-story ice house and single level bottling operation, Bergner & Engel’s beer depot was situated in a block of LaVilla dominated with rows of frame saloons, billard halls, restaurants and African-American housing along unchannelized section of Hogans Creek and the F.C. & P railroad. This block would eventually be destroyed by fire, leading to Bergner & Engel rebuilding the LaVilla beer depot as a brick structure in 1891. By 1897, St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association had taken over operations. The first American brewer to use pasteurization, allowing beer to shipped longer distances without spoiling, Anheuser-Bush made significant investments in the expanding beer depot. With the combination of artificial refrigeration, refrigerated railcars and rail-side icehouses, Budweiser became the first national beer brand.