Once Upon a Time

Washington Brewery started as a secondary business

This is the earliest known image of the Washington Brewery. It was located on the southwest corner of Sixth and State. The blacksmith shop can be seen on the southeast corner. The illustration is from the 1859 birds-eye-view of Quincy by L. Gast and Brothers Co., St. Louis. | Illustration courtesy of Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County
Posted: Oct. 22, 2017 12:01 am Updated: Oct. 22, 2017 12:09 am

Part one of two parts

German immigrants began settling in Quincy in the early 1830s. The Anton Delabar family is said to be the first German family to locate in the town. They were from Baden. He was a carpenter by trade, and soon after his arrival in 1833 established the city's first sawmill, which was located at Third and Delaware. His partner in the mill was Henry Grimm, who came to Quincy from Alsace with his wife, Rosina Ruff, in 1835.

A year after Delabar founded the mill, he built a brewery on Kentucky Street between Fourth and Fifth, operating both businesses simultaneously. It was common at the time for people to take on a second endeavor as a source of income. Economic times were uncertain, and additional income from brewing might work as a hedge against times of slow building or simply to add income.

The brewery burned the same year it was built and later rebuilt at Front and Spring streets. William Gasser, who with his wife came from Baden in 1837, was taken as a partner in the replacement brewery. Grimm's brother-in law, Casper Ruff, built the next brewery in Quincy a few years later.

Casper Ruff, like his brother-in-law Grimm, was born in the small border town of Weiler, Alsace. Alsace was then a German-speaking province of France. When he became of age, he apprenticed as a blacksmith with a large ironworks in the nearby German town of Schoenau. After his apprenticeship, he returned to Weiler and built a blacksmith shop of his own, where he constructed a large triphammer used to work and shape the iron. His oldest son, Henry, while on a trip to Weiler in 1919, was shown the still-working hammer that had been built by his father 90 years earlier.

Casper Ruff came to America with his father, Ludwig, and the rest of the family in 1837. They arrived in Quincy in July of that year, and he immediately returned to blacksmithing, locating his shop on the southwest corner of Sixth and State. Casper and his wife had three sons, Henry, John and Casper Jr.

About 1840, he built a brewery across the street from the blacksmith shop on the southeast corner. He named it the Washington Brewery after the first U.S. president. At first, he operated the business in partnership with William Gasser, who previously worked with Delabar. Later, in 1841, Gasser started a brewery on Oak Street between Fourth and Fifth, which he ran until his death two years later.

Brewing in the early days was mostly a cottage industry using primitive utensils that resulted in low output. Most breweries the size of Delabar's and Ruff's were capable of producing only 100 barrels of beer or fewer in a year. The Washington Brewery, like the Delabar Brewery, was a secondary source of income for its owner. Ruff continued his blacksmithing, tending both businesses as required.

Brewing in the country was in a transitional state. It was between the stage of being homemade and becoming a full-time industry. The production of beer had started in the home as a way to process and store grain. The home brewer would sell his excess production of beer in the same way he would sell excess hogs in the form of smoked ham or salted pork.

At this middle stage, his excess might not be enough to provide a reliable living. But soon most brewers would gain expertise and expand into a full-scale business.

All of the upstart breweries such as Delabar's and Ruff's produced mostly ale, which was brewed with the fermentation process beginning from the top down and took about two weeks to complete. In addition to producing ale, Ruff distilled whiskey from brewery byproducts as well as brandy from fruits.

Ruff's second partner was Theodor Brinckwirth, who was born in Westphalia, Germany, and immigrated to America in 1846, settling in Quincy.

Brinckwirth and Ruff sold the Washington Brewery to Valentine Blank and Gustav Thies in 1852. Brinckwirth moved to St. Louis, and purchased the large Lafayette Brewery while Ruff began setting up the Union Brewery at 12th and Adams. Ruff began the Union Brewery with a slow output similar to the output produced at the Washington Brewery. But he would soon be the first in Quincy to produce lager beer. Lager would change many of the breweries in Quincy into substantial businesses.

Lager beer differed from ale in the brewing. While ale was fermented with the yeast from the top down, lager was fermented with the yeast from the bottom up. Ale could be ready for consumption in two weeks. Lager required four to six months in cold storage, which gave it a smoother, more flavorful taste.

This cold fermentation storage process started in Germany in the 1830s. Lager means "to rest cold" in German. Ruff introduced lager to Quincy in 1855 after moving to Twelfth and Adams to take advantage of its cold cellars to produce his beer.

Early German immigrants to Quincy brought with them their knowledge and love for brewing beer. They shifted this knowledge from a homemade commodity into an increasingly sophisticated, more finished product that could be distributed locally. And with time and further development, it was a product that could be exported to other regions.

While Ruff continued his brewing career at the Adams Street location, the Washington Brewery would continue producing beer for another 60 years for numerous owners. Next week's article will continue with additional history of the Washington Brewery.

Dave Dulaney is a local historian and a member of several history-related organizations. He is a speaker, an author and a collector of memorabilia pertaining to local history and steamboats.

The Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County will be hosting Trolley Tours on Saturday, Nov. 4. The 12:30 p.m. tour will cover Quincy breweries. The 4 p.m. tour will highlight Quincy taverns. Call the Historical Society at 217-222-1835 during office hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday to reserve seats on the trolley. There are only 35 tickets for each tour.



Bornmann, Heinrich J. Bornmann's Sketches of Early Germans of Quincy and Adams County, Illinois. Reprinted: Quincy, Ill., 2013. Published by the Great River Genealogical Society.


"Brewing Industry Has Flourished In Quincy Since 1839 But Has Been Made A Thing of the Past By War." Quincy Daily Whig, Dec. 15, 1918, p. 14.


Cray, Marcia Kuhlman. undated, Breweries of Quincy, Illinois: 1834-1950. Self-published, Quincy, Ill.


Directory of the City of Quincy, 1848. Quincy: Dr. J.S. Ware, 1848, p. 75.


"Eighty-two Years of Brewing in Quincy." Quincy Daily Herald, July 14, 1919, p. 6.


Herbst, Roussin, Kious & Russell, St. Louis Breweries, the History of Brewing in the Gateway City, St Louis: Reedy Press, 2015.


Landrum, Carl. "The Ruffs Were Pioneer Brewers." The Quincy Herald-Whig, Feb. 2, 1975.


Morrison's St. Louis City Directory, St. Louis, 1852. p. 32.


One Hundred Years of Brewing, Supplement to the Western Brewer, 1903. Chicago and New York: H.S. Rich and Company, Publishers. 1903. (Reprint by Arno Press, New York, 1974) p. 210-212.


The History of Adams County, Illinois. Chicago: Murray, Williamson and Phelps, 1879.


Quincy City Directory, 1855-56. Quincy: Gibson and Morrison, Republican Office, 1855. p. 52, 78.