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L. Schlather Brewing Company, Cleveland, Ohio

Excerpt from the book, Breweries of Cleveland, by Carl H. Miller. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Leonard Schlather's brewery -- which eventually became part of the Cleveland & Sandusky Brewing Company -- enjoyed success much like that of Carl Ernst Gehring's over the years. Schlather started his brewery during the same year as Gehring (1857) and only a few blocks away, on York (West 28th) Street. But this was not the extent of Gehring and Schlather's association. The two had been schoolmates back in the old country, both hailing from Württemburg, Germany. And it was side-by-side with Gehring at the old Hughes ale brewery in the Flats that Schlather was first employed in Cleveland. The two were said to have sustained "a warm personal friendship" throughout their years in Cleveland.

The alleged circumstances under which Leonard Schlather emigrated to America comprise one of those stories which, though possibly quite accurate, possess the unique flavor of family lore. In 1853, Frederick and Christian Schlather, two of Leonard's older brothers, had decided to make the long journey to America. As the story goes, just at the time of their departure, the boys' mother became excessively grief-stricken over losing her two eldest sons to the voyage. Christian, who was described as "not very strong," became distraught at the sight of his mother's dismay, refusing to make the trip. As sailing arrangements had already been made, it was quickly decided that the boys' younger brother, Leonard, would take Christian's place. Without any preparation, save for the packed belongings of his brother, nineteen-year-old Leonard Schlather set sail for America.

Schlather first located in Altoona, Pennsylvania where relatives on his mother's side of the family were involved in brewing. He was offered work at the brewery, and it was here that Schlather gained his first exposure to the brewing industry, "acquiring a thorough knowledge of the business, theoretical and practical, mechanical and commercial." Quite possibly at the encouragement of Gehring, Schlather came to Cleveland in 1856 and became a brewer at the Hughes ale brewery.

Schlather commenced to brew his own beer in 1857 in much the same, small way that most early brewers began. His first accommodation was a two-story frame building on York Street near Bridge Avenue, in which Schlather assembled a modest brewery. Indicating its level of sophistication is the fact that the brew kettle had a meager capacity of just four barrels. By 1861, however, improving business warranted the purchase of a parcel of land on the northeast corner of York Street and Carroll Avenue, just half a block south of the original location. Expansion of the brewery was soon under way. It was said that Schlather himself cut and hauled much of the necessary timber from Rocky River, Ohio, where -- somewhat coincidentally -- he would later own a lavish summer home situated on a large estate.

In 1878, Schlather undertook a major reconstruction of his brewery, the original frame buildings being replaced with stylish new brick and concrete structures. The brewery was designed by local architect Andrew Mitermiler, who designed a multitude of Cleveland's brewing plants over the years. Clearly impressed by the "elegant new brewery," editors of Western Brewer magazine featured the completed project in one of their editions. The editors declared that, "the world cannot but be pleased to see such evidences of the material progress of our ancient art, and such a noble monument to Gambrinus as Mr. Schlather has created." A congressman and friend of Schlather once wrote of the complex, "I always pass by the brewery, which occupies a square bound by York, Carroll and Bridge sts., the whole being a magnificent specimen of architecture and massive as a castle of old, with a feeling of awe."

In 1879, the new brewery employed about 50 men and produced over 27,000 barrels of beer, the largest output of any Cleveland brewery during that year. Routine enlargement continued throughout the following years and the brewery grew to be a dominant presence in the neighborhood. Expansion had made it necessary for Schlather to acquire additional parcels of land along Bridge and Carroll Avenues, upon which were erected various support buildings, such as keg washing facilities, storage of delivery wagons, and stables for the delivery horses. Interestingly, Carroll street was one of the first in Cleveland to be brick paved. Undoubtedly, this was no coincidence. A muddy thoroughfare and the tremendous weight of a fully loaded beer wagon often spelled disaster.

Schlather resided at or near his brewery for much of its existence. In 1881, after expansion of the brewery had overtaken the small frame dwelling in which Schlather and his family lived, a finely-appointed Italianate-style house was built on the northwest corner of York and Carroll, just opposite the brewhouse. The home stood for nearly a century, greatly outlasting most of the brewery buildings. It fell victim to a fire in the 1970s.

However, Schlather's summer home in the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River, Ohio gained particular notoriety. Beginning with the purchase of a modest 3 acres of land in 1872, Schlather built a beautiful estate which eventually grew to claim a total of 97 acres overlooking the scenic Rocky River Valley. Schlather and his second wife, Sophia, were avid travelers and as the years passed, the Rocky River estate evolved into somewhat of a monument to their frequent trips abroad. The grounds featured an exotic Japanese rock garden, complete with arched Moongate bridges. The residence itself was decorated throughout with antique furniture from France, a number of genuine oriental rugs, and a collection of valuable paintings by European artists. (Although most of the art was presumably acquired during trips abroad, it was rumored that one particular painting in the collection was the prize of a bidding war between Schlather and John D. Rockefeller at an art auction.) Despite it being customary for large estates to be christened with a name which conveyed the beauty and serenity of the place, Schlather's estate bore no special title. When questioned on the subject, Leonard Schlather modestly commented, "No, I haven't any other name for my country place than Schlather's Farm. They hadn't got the farm-naming habit when I bought the place, almost forty years ago, and it's been just a plain farm ever since." Throughout much of the late nineteenth century, Schlather and his wife spent their summers enjoying the seclusion of their Rocky River estate.

In the meantime, Schlather's brewery had enjoyed continuous growth. The company was incorporated in 1884 as The L. Schlather Brewing Company, with a capitalization of $500,000. The annual output amounted to about 50,000 barrels of lager beer, the primary varieties of which were Pilsener and Kulmbacher styles. By the mid-1890s, production averaged between 70,000 and 80,000 barrels per year, and advertisements for Schlather's beer indicated at least five different varieties: Standard Lager, Select Export, Pilsener, Kulmbacher, and Munich, all manufactured under the supervision of long-time brewmaster John Schneider.

Primogeniture -- the right of inheritance of the eldest son -- was a widely-observed tradition in brewing during the 1890s and early 1900s. Many of the old-time immigrant brewers had grown old and decided to bequeath the product of their life's work on to their offspring; their male offspring. If the old-time brewer, however, happened not be blessed with a male child, he found himself facing a bit of a dilemma as he approached his later years. Leonard Schlather, the proud father of five lovely daughters, was one of those unfortunate early brewers who was left with no one to pass the reins when the time came for his retirement. Schlather's son-in-law, Mars E. Wagar, spent several years as the brewery's secretary and treasurer, and it appeared as though he might ultimately inherit management of the brewery. He was from a prominent family of local pioneers who settled in the western suburbs of Cleveland. A writer for the Cleveland Press once wrote that, "In M. E. Wagar, L. Schlather found an individual who, while not a great genius or the profoundest thinker, was extremely popular, a frank man, steadfast as an anchor, a student of men." Having become involved in other affairs, Wagar severed his connections with the brewery in 1898, a move which was reportedly the cause of "much comment."

Desirous of retirement, and with no alternative in sight, the aging Schlather sold his brewery to the Cleveland & Sandusky Brewing Company in 1902 for a rumored $1.5 million. Schlather had been brewing about 90,000 barrels annually, and it was reported that the plant boasted a capacity of 150,000 barrels. Thus, the Cleveland & Sandusky company stood to enjoy a significant boost in total production with the acquisition of the Schlather brewery. However, officials for the combine noted that Schlather's control of more than sixty saloon properties in Cleveland and elsewhere -- which the combine would inherit as part of the deal -- was also a major factor in the purchase. Among the most valuable of the outlets was the Casino Cafe, which Schlather himself established in 1889. Located on Superior Avenue just off Public Square, the Casino was an exclusive restaurant and saloon catering to Cleveland's social elite. Among the attractions were a large palm garden, a finely appointed billiard room, and live musical entertainment. The saloon's lavish interior featured a number of enormous murals depicting the consumption of beer in ancient times, and carrying German rhymes such as "Hopfen und Malz Gott erhalts" (Hops and Malt May God Preserve). The focal point of the saloon's interior was a dramatic circular oak staircase, featuring an abundance of intricately hand-carved ornamentation.

Although Schlather's desire to withdraw from active business life was the reason given for his retirement, he achieved that goal only partially. Upon the acquisition of his brewery by the Cleveland & Sandusky Brewing Company, he was elected to that company's board of directors, a post which he held well into his later years. However, Schlather's many pursuits over the years went far beyond the brewing industry. He had been a director of the Immigrant Protection Society, a co-founder of the old Sheriff Street Market House, an active member of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, and life member of the Western Reserve Historical Society. His involvement in local banking, too, was extensive well into "retirement." He served as vice president of the People's Savings Bank, and as a director of the Union National Bank of Cleveland and the Society for Savings. After a long and active life, Schlather died in 1918 at his home across from the brewery. Just one year later, the brewery produced its last barrel of beer, the victim of statewide prohibition.

Read more about the Schlather brewery and family in the book, Breweries of Cleveland, by Carl H. Miller.

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