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One of Georgia’s oldest breweries is unveiled with widening of I-75 in Macon

Macon is home to one of Georgia's first breweries

A beer cave built by immigrants in the 1830s in Macon, Georgia, remains mostly undisturbed nearly 200 years later. It was among Georgia's first breweries. Kegs of Lager were shipped to Darien on the Ocmulgee river.
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A beer cave built by immigrants in the 1830s in Macon, Georgia, remains mostly undisturbed nearly 200 years later. It was among Georgia's first breweries. Kegs of Lager were shipped to Darien on the Ocmulgee river.

There on a steep embankment between a blighted cemetery and Interstate 75, a deep, dark hole leads to a cave that is the site of what was likely one of Georgia’s first breweries.

The nearly 200-year-old beer cave is no secret to longtime residents in Macon’s Pleasant Hill neighborhood.

However, it was an unexpected discovery for Georgia Department of Transportation contract workers, which first saw it in September as they were cutting back trees to widen the interstate.

Locals also voiced concern as the cave’s mouth became exposed, visible to travelers on I-75 , GDOT spokeswoman Kimberly Larson said in an email to The Telegraph.

“We are doing background research, mapping in the region and evaluating the find for its National Historic Register significance,” Larson said. “We are also coordinating with appropriate state and federal agencies to ensure the appropriate treatment and protection of this resource.”

The cave is on a 6 acre lot that Norma and Caroline Stevens gifted to the Macon Cemetery Preservation Corporation three years ago.

“We want it preserved,” the corporation’s president, Yolanda Latimore said, adding that she hopes to work with the city and state on such efforts. “We can all do it together in an efficient way.”

GDOT knew about the cave’s existence, but didn’t know about its historical significance, Latimore said.

Back in the late 1830s, the 50 feet deep cave was used to age ale and German lagers crafted by Russell & Peters’ Brewery.

Immigrants Jacob Russell, of Bavaria, and Julius Peters, of Germany, started brewing beer, distilling liquor and fermenting wine before the Civil War and continued during it, according to a 1938 Telegraph article.

Over time, part of its mouth has shifted down, leaving a thin but wide opening that faces the interstate.

Today, discarded clothes, cigar boxes and empty beer cans litter the cave’s inside.

Besides teens and vagrants, others have taken interest in the peculiar structure, too.

Chris Tsavatewa, professor at Middle Georgia State University, is a self-described breweriana collector and amateur historian.

He and three friends, Matt Jennings, Stephen Taylor and Chris Nylund, have been researching the beer cave for their book, “No Rivals, Few Equals,” which is about Macon’s brewing history.

The cavern is beside Vineville Branch, which leads to the Ocmulgee River. Tsvatewa said kegs were shipped down to Darien.

“The significance of this cave not only resides in the industrial history of Macon, but the significance of the time period of which the brewery operated … Jacob Russell was a slave owner and the cave itself reveals thousands of pick marks on the inside that created the cave’s expansion. … it was most likely done with slave labor.”

The cave, for the most part, is undisturbed.

In 1894, the all-black Linwood Cemetery was established just up the embankment.

Among the estimated 4,000 who were buried there are: Jefferson Long, first black person elected to congress; Charles Douglass, builder of Douglass Theatre; Ruth Hartley Mosely, founder of the local women’s center named in her honor; George Vining, a victim of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The closest marker to the cave belongs to Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Rodney M. Davis. He died in Vietnam on Sept. 6, 1967, when he threw himself on an enemy grenade, absorbing the blast with his own body to save his comrades.

Laura Corley: 478-744-4334, @Lauraecor

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