4A. THE TUNNELS
Of the Bavarian Brewery (1880s to Present)
In the last half of the nineteenth century, it was not uncommon for breweries to have underground caverns to ferment their beer, called lager cellars. Once these lager cellars were no longer used for fermentation, beginning in the late 1800s, they were sometimes used for underground access between buildings. In addition, occasionally breweries would have tunnels or underground passageways if their buildings were separated by streets. The Bavarian Brewery had both types of tunnels, which can be identified from Sanborn Insurance Maps from 1909 and 1949. The maps below reflect the overall Bavarian tunnel system and are discussed below.
BAVARIAN'S TUNNEL SYSTEM
There were three separate tunnels connected to at least four different buildings at the Bavarian Brewery for over 50 years, beginning in the early 1900s. They allowed workers to walk between different buildings without the need to worry about the delivery trucks coming back and forth, or the need to wear outerwear during rain or snow when going between buildings. The tunnels may also have been used to easily extend utilities and conduits and possibly transfer beer between buildings, making it easier to repair leaks or provide maintenance than if they were buried underground. Perhaps, the tunnels could have been used to avoid attention during Prohibition, even though this brewery apparently did not engage in beer or alcohol production during that time. These three tunnels, shown on the right, are briefly described below.
Labeled T1 on the Tunnel Map above, this was formerly a lager cellar built below a shed and ice house, probably in the 1860s, which fronted on W. 12th Street. Around 1910, this cellar became a tunnel that provided underground access between the Boiler House and the Mill House. The south entrance to this tunnel was located below the stone foundation of the ice house, which could be accessed from the lower level of the Mill House. The north entrance was reportedly in the Boiler House, but it may have been in the Engine Room structure, which was converted to a Bottling Department after Prohibition.
A former lager cellar & tunnel, built in the 1880s, remains.
The approximate measurements of this tunnel were a height and width of 15 feet, and a length of slightly over 100 feet, extending north to south. It appears this tunnel was used until the brewery closed in 1966. Interestingly, this tunnel, and former lager cellar, still remains. However, the Boiler House and Engineering Room buildings were demolished. This resulted in the closure of the tunnel entrances to those buildings, as shown in the photo above and in the background of this page. However, the remaining access has a metal covering, is accessible through a very narrow opening and it is not currently available for public access. (See below.)
Labeled T2 on the map, this was a relatively narrow tunnel - possibly around 6 feet wide, according to the diagram on the Sanborn Insurance Maps. Its height was unknown, but was probably about 8 feet. It extended east to west about 100 feet from the original Stock House, built about 1903-1905, to the Engine Room, built in 1907. Of course, there would have been staircases in both of these buildings providing access to the tunnel. It is believed this tunnel was used beginning around 1907, possibly until the brewery was closed in 1966.
This was the longest of the three tunnels, measuring about 400 feet, and labeled T3 on the map. It extended south from the Bottling Department (built in 1908) off of W. Pike Street, then turned east for about 50 feet. It then turned south again for nearly 300 feet, running between two buildings used for manufacturing ice, to the Stock House (built in 1903-5). Apparently, there were staircases and entrances in both of these buildings to this tunnel. It is possible that there were also entrances to one or both of the ice plants. But this tunnel was only used beginning around 1908 and before Prohibition. During Prohibition, the Bottling Department building was sold - probably around 1930 - and converted into a dairy. The former ice plants were also sold and the larger one may have been used around 1925 as a warehouse. However, by the 1940s, if not earlier, the former larger ice plant, which was well-insulated, was used an ice cream factory. When the brewery reopened after Prohibition in 1935, it would appear that this tunnel had been closed. It should be noted that the Bottling Department building has been occupied by Glier's Goetta since the mid 1960s. The former ice cream plant had been adjacent to a warehouse, built in 1957. But both the of these buildings were demolished, and are on the site now occupied by the North Wing of the Kenton County Government Building.
The entire Bavarian Brewing Co. tunnel system, encompassing the above-mentioned three underground passageways with a total length of several hundred feet, was only used about for about a decade before Prohibition began in 1919. Once the brewery was reopened after Prohibition, the two southern-most tunnels, T1 and T2, would still have been usable. There are accounts that T1 was definitely used between the Mill House and the Boiler House. It also seems that T2 was used between the Stock House and the former Engine Room, which became the Bottling Department. However, the longest tunnel, T3, was on property that was sold in the 1920s and early 1930s and was no longer part of the brewery property when it reopened in 1935. This tunnel had been closed, either by walling up the inside of the Tunnel like the north side of T1, or walling up the above-ground entrances, or both. It appears all of these tunnels may have remained until about 2017.
What Happened to the Tunnels?
During the construction of the Kenton County Government Center between 2017 an 2019, the developer of the buildings, Turner Construction, reported encountering multiple tunnels. It was necessary for them to excavate a portion of the property where tunnels T2 and T3 were located for the foundation and lower level of the South Wing of the noted government complex. So, it was unfortunately necessary for Turner to demolish these two tunnels. They also became aware of the oldest tunnel and former lager cellar, T1. Since this tunnel was situated west of the former Brew and Mill Houses, and underneath an area designated for surface parking in front of the new North Wing of the government complex, excavation of this area was not needed. Therefore, the former T1 tunnel - which had also been a lager cellar - remains intact as of this writing.
Because the opening to this tunnel is currently narrow and the stairs need repair along with the need for a secure railing, there are safety issues with making this tunnel accessible. (See a photo of this opening on the right.) It may also need lighting, improved ventilation and an above-ground stair entry structure, probably built against the adjacent stone wall on W. 12th Street and integrated with the surrounding hardscape and landscaping. Of course, before doing any repairs on this former lager cellar, it would probably be prudent to determine whether it would only be used for tours, or if it could be used for different purposes.
Left to right, the brewery tunnel entrance being secured by a workman in 2018. A year later the concrete enclosure for the cellar entrance was removed and covered with steel.
Memories of the Tunnels
An individual’s recollection of using one of the tunnels - when they were accompanying their father as a child in the 1950s - is recounted in the Memories of Bavarian's section. On the bottom of this same section, a reference to a Facebook page is provided by a former employee of BrewWorks, a micro-brewery and restaurant located in the renovated Bavarian Brewery that was renovated in the mid 1990s. This page previously showed some photos and a video of the lager cellar (T1), which may become available again. (For more information about the uses of the Bavarian Brewery after it was first renovated, please refer to period 12. Brew Works and Jillian's.
The background photo of this page is of the Bavarian Lager Cellar or Tunnel, referred to as T1 above.