If you were living in Portland in the 1970’s like me, you might remember the Henry Weinhard commercial about the fictitious Schludwiller Beer: California beer attempting an Oregon border crossing. Or, maybe you know enough history to remember that Henry Weinhard, after immigrating to the U.S. from Germany, eventually settled in Portland where he bought a brewery in 1864, and went on by 1890 to become the largest brewer in the Pacific Northwest. I’m particularly partial to the story about how Weinhard’s beer was so popular back then that he offered to pipe it directly into Portland’s Skidmore Fountain to celebrate its 1887 dedication. Some say that the city council turned down his offer because they were afraid horses would drink out of the fountain and get drunk.
But what I’m thinking most about today is how yet another new-to-me, old Oregon story was offered to me when I least expected it. This one – about Henry – came as Russ and I celebrated our anniversary last weekend. Due to the craziness of our life at the moment – me on crutches, he in the middle of a campaign – we chose the nearby Weinhard Grill on Oregon City’s Main Street. Although it seemed that I disrupted each table’s dinner conversation as we headed to the back of the restaurant, my crutches clunking on the solid, original floor, my efforts were rewarded to learn the grill had my favorite beers on tap. I had a hard time deciding between Hop Valley’s Citrus Mistress and Breakside Brewery’s IPA.
But what I most enjoyed that evening, and what stayed with me after, was the conversation we struck with the restaurant and building owner, Andy Busch. Busch, a 5th generation Oregonian, told us about the history of this Main Street building. We learned that Weinhard owned this building as well, reaching back into the late 1800’s. The Busch family began a furniture store in 1885, still operating today on Main Street in this original Weinhart building, a building opposite our Clackamas County Courthouse. We can thank an Oregon City renewal project for approving a matching grant a few years ago that recreated the building’s original 1895 facade. Today you can see the original Weinhard name on the side of the building, and know that it housed, in those early days, a place to store his brew, operate a tavern and just maybe – no proof on this – brew beer as well. Some imagine this Oregon City building may have been a distribution point for Weinhard beer, arriving by boat and ferry, to small towns further south. Oregon City, capitol of the Oregon Territory in the middle of the 1800’s, is so full of history, and great stories like these of Henry Weinhart. I can’t wait to be surprised another day by another story.