E.R. Hantzsch by Tim Wolter
Directly across the street from the Eau Claire Public Library there is a drive up bank facility. It's not all that busy a place, downtown Eau Claire has suffered the fate of many urban cores in our shopping mall economy. But that same site was much livelier in the years just prior to the Civil War, when it was occupied by an establishment called The Sign of the Two Barrels, run by E. Robert Hantzsch.
A native of Germany, Hantzsch came to Eau Claire in 1859. He built his saloon on the corner of Farwell and Eau Claire Streets. Early advertisements list an amazing array of items for sale including many varieties of whiskey, brandy, gin, rum and wines; 900 boxes of cigars, cheese, sardines, oysters, herrings, candies, almonds, raisins, glassware to supply hotels and saloons, decanters, flasks, liquor and water tumblers, beer mugs, drainers and strap bottles.....
Hantzsch clearly believed in diversification, which probably encouraged him to add a distillery in 1861 on a nearby site; and a brewery in later years.
1862 was an anxious time for residents of small towns all across the Midwest. Many of the able bodied men were away at war, and frightening rumors of Indian depredations came filtering in from the Minnesota frontier. In August of that year there was an Indian panic in Eau Claire, with the fear being that the local Chippewa would rise up in sympathy with their Sioux brethren. Of course, the Chippewa actually hated the Sioux and had no such intentions, but the nature of panic is irrational.
On the basis of military training he had received back in Germany young Hantzsch was appointed "Colonel" of the East Side volunteer militia. It was a motley bunch of troops, those lacking firearms were issued lightening rods with sharpened tips. Fortunately for all concerned there was no action, but there were tense moments. Rumors flew about a war party on the road between Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire. A report arrived from the outlying community of Elk Mound that Indians were burning the crops. And in what seemed an imminent threat, a man claimed to have seen a group of armed braves in the river bottoms just below Eau Claire. This fellow was known to be something of a rascal, so the militia rode out to the site with the man and a rope with which to hang him if the report turned out to be false. No Indians were found, and the prophet of doom had the good sense to leg it out of there when backs were turned.
Readers of the Caddie Woodlawn series of books can find there another account of the Indian Panic of 1862.
Hantzsch's business prospered, perhaps aided by a certain casual attitude towards paying taxes. By 1870 he appears to have been involved in brewing beer. An ad from August of that year announces:
"ALE! ALE! XXX cream and stock brewed by L. Parish and Co. This Company also manufactures POP BEER and their brewery is located on the site of the distillery formerly owned by E.R. Hantzsch, and Ale will be furnished by the bottle, ½ kegs, ¼ kegs or 1/8 kegs. Orders from country and from private families will receive prompt attention."
The business relationship between Hantzsch and Parish was never fully explained, but later ads refer to Hantzsch and Parrish as brewers of XXX Cream Ale.
Hantzsch was a busy fellow in the early 1870's. He excavated a large cave to age his beer, and constructed "Hantzsch's Hall", a two story establishment with a saloon and a stage for entertainments of the day. Ads from the era are scarce, but in 1873 he was still claiming to have connected with his store a "first class Brewery", that produced Pale Ale, Cream Ale and Beer.
But he did not in the end prosper. He seems to have had at least one fire in the early ‘70s, and also got into some kind of tax trouble. By 1880 his brewery is listed as having an output of only 300 barrels per year, and his wife Emily is the proprietor of record.
E.R. himself was said to have moved to Minneapolis, where he died in 1882 at the relatively young age of 46. Sadly, this pioneer and early leader of the community was by that point forgotten to the point that he has no local obituary.