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Hoyt Park Beer Garden Wouldn't Be Tosa's First

Weissbier once flowed with fellowship in what is now Jacobus Park, as Castalia Bottling Works opened its grounds on sunny Sunday afternoons.

If the Friends of Hoyt Park & Pool succeed in bringing a beer garden to the park this summer, it will be at the least the second such experiment in sudsy, outdoor gemütlichkeit in Wauwatosa history.

Go back 101 years, to a day when gentlemen wore boaters or bowlers and neckties to enjoy a Sunday afternoon – Aug. 25, 1912 – of convivial cheer, music and beer in beautiful Castalia Park.

Never heard of it? You would now know it as Jacobus Park. If you are familiar with the place, imagine standing in the area of the playground and wading pool at the east end of the park, but instead of those features there is a bottling plant and brewery in a clearing surrounded by the same bluffs and timber.

The Castalia Bottling Works operated in private Castalia Park from at least 1893 until sometime past 1912, according to what records can be found. During its time, the company bottled mineral water straight from the Castalia Spring in the park, or turned it into flavored soda water or beer.

The company seems to have specialized in weissbier, or wheat beer, a style always popular in Germany but seldom replicated in the United States before the modern microbrewing revolution (all-barley Pilsner-style Bavarian brews were favored by most early Milwaukee brewers).

Castalia bottles are available on e-Bay from time to time and featured by collectors such as Mr. Bottles on its Wisconsin bottlers webpage frequently are noted as weissbier containers.

Hope for success springs eternal

Alas, Castalia had a strong competitor right across the river in Nee-ska-ra Bottling Co., which apparently did a better job of marketing.

In the late 1800s through the 1920s, America and Europe went through something of a "healing waters" craze, with mineral-laden springs being thought to carry every kind of therapeutic effect, inside and out.

At one point, Wauwatosa had two of the total of 42 spring-water bottling operations registered in Wisconsin.

The magnesium-rich waters of Wauwatosa were in great demand, but Nee-ska-ra Spring, located in what was then also the Town of Wauwatosa (now in Milwaukee, underneath MPS Neeskara Elementary School), trumped Castalia.

For a time, Nee-ska-ra Spring bottled water was the only water served at the vaunted Pfister Hotel, and its publicity flyers touted its guaranteed chemical analysis showing beneficial minerals in abundance and absolutely no organic matter.

Nee-ska-ra was in the middle of a farm owned by a highly successful Port of Milwaukee importer and exporter, who must have had the ear of the high and mighty.

Castalia, with water from the same sort of geologic source, perhaps focused more on beer because it couldn't compete with that healthy water moxie.

Owner George Schweickhart Jr. even opened a satellite Castalia Brewery in Watertown.

The trash heap of history

All that's physically left of Castalia Bottling, besides intact collectible bottles offered online, is a midden – that's archaeological talk for a dump – of broken glass eroding out of the bank of the Menomonee River.

Thick shards of "blob bottles," and the metal parts of bottle stoppers, the cork long decomposed, and a few strange bits of glass-embossing history, wash out of the bank with each spring flood.

Castalia Spring – named for the famous Grecian spring at Delphi, where the Oracle dwelled – was capped long ago, and is now just a trickle falling out of a storm sewer a few feet above the Menomonee.

The healing waters craze was followed by a sanitary, municipally treated waters phase that lasts to this day, and the springs of Wauwatosa are now channeled through pipes to the nearest exit, considered unclean.

There is ample historic and archaeological evidence, though, that the springs we knew for awhile as Castalia and Nee-ska-ra were known to Native Americans for thousands of years before as the best and only waters to consume.

Nee-ska-ra – "sweet water" in the Ho-Chunk tongue – was revisited by Indians for 50 years after they had ceded control and left the area, according to local accounts.

Nee-ska-ra and Castalia springs both fed Indian gardens of corn, beans and squash, say historic and archaelogical accounts.

Beer gardens lasted long enough to become parks

All gone. Except for one thing. Like Washington Park and many others in Milwaukee, the east half of Jacobus Park in Wauwatosa probably survives as public ground because of its history as a beer garden, preserving green space as all was developed around them.

Castalia Park was, for a time, platted as a subdivision, one of the last in developed East Tosa, with homes planned for a semi-circular drive that would have surrounded the former footprint of Castalia Bottling Works.

Instead, Milwaukee County bought and added the former site of a spring and garden, and of a bottling and brewing plant, to the public legacy. Although the plant was demolished and the spring plugged, the public field was preserved, and to this day children play on its foundations.

Spencer Hoyt May 22, 2013 at 11:58 AM
Fascinating & thank you for doing the homework on this!
Julie O'Keeffe Henszey May 22, 2013 at 12:33 PM
Yes, Jim, I agree with Spencer. Thank you for your effort in sifting through all the research documents and creating a story. Great local history.
Christine McLaughlin May 22, 2013 at 12:48 PM
Yesterday I drove past the beer garden in Estabrook Park. Hadn't been through there in years, and I was shocked by how the park has deteriorated and how the new biergarten is not in the most suitable place (or to my mind, most suitable building). But Hoyt has a beautiful facility, well located, and the chance to be a rousing success. When you do these things, you have to do them right. And I think the folks in Tosa have what it takes to do that.

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