The Wurm Brewery was a late nineteenth-century business in Saint Paul’s West End. Sitting in the shadows of the more prominent Christopher Stahlmann Cave and Melchior Funk Breweries, the small establishment carved out a neighborhood niche that kept it operational for more than a quarter of a century.
Then it was gone.
Saint Paul pioneer brewer Conrad (Konrad) Wurm Sr. was born in Bavaria, Germany, on February 15, 1820. In 1853, at age 32, he immigrated to the United States aboard the R.B. Sumner. Also aboard was Johanna Obert (Yobst/Jobst), the woman who would later become his wife.
Their ship landed in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 19, 1853. While there is no evidence Wurm and Obert traveled together, a relationship between the two bloomed after their arrival. The following year, after spending some time in the region, the couple moved together to Saint Louis, Missouri. They were married on November 5, 1854.
Johanna gave birth to their first child, Conrad Jr. in February while living in Missouri. The couple’s second son was born two years later in Illinois. Conrad Sr. and Johanna, with their two boys in tow, arrived in Minnesota in 1860, soon settling in Saint Paul.
That same year Wurm and relative Andrew Winker opened a brewery near present-day Desnoyer Park. It produced two hundred barrels of beer that year, but little else is known about it. Wurm and his wife had two more children while the brewery was in operation between 1860 and 1863, a boy named Adam in 1860 and a girl named Eva in 1862.
Winker and Wurm’s business partnership dissolved in 1862 or 1863. Winker purchased a brewery in Shakopee in 1863, and Wurm opened his establishment the same year.
The Wurm Brewery opened alongside Stewart Street, between Jefferson and Grace, in Saint Paul’s West End. Located near the river bluffs, it was a small 30’ X 30’ hand brewery capable of producing up to three-hundred barrels of beer a year.
Wurm’s reasons for choosing that particular location likely weren’t too different from Christopher Stahlmann’s decision process when he built the nearby Cave Brewery in 1855. Sandstone caves provided free storage and refrigeration, and a deep underground aquifer gave the brewery access to a seemingly unlimited amount of water. Ice from the nearby Mississippi river was in abundance every winter.
Throughout its history, the brewery remained a primarily local operation, mainly among the Bohemian (Czech) residents of the city—many who lived nearby. Tragedy struck in 1877. On May 21, Wurm Sr. died. He was fifty-seven years old. Shortly after his passing, his wife and sons took over the day-to-day operation of the business.
By 1880, the Wurm Brewery employed three men and powered their facility with a four-HP engine. It was a small operation—and remained so until its closing in 1889—never producing more than three hundred barrels of beer in any single year.
The area around the Wurm Brewery continued to change and grow, and over time the business was lost to history. Neither Conrad Wurm Sr. (nor his family) approached the local fame and financial heights of establishments owned by brewing contemporaries like Stahlmann, Yoerg, and Hamm. However, the brewery provides an excellent example of a pioneer-era neighborhood-centric business that seemingly sprung up out of nowhere and remained part of the community for over twenty-five years.
- Brueggeman, Gary. "Beer Capital of the State - St. Paul's Historic Family Breweries." Ramsey County History, February 16, 1981.
- Daily Globe (Saint Paul). "The Wurm Estate." March 5, 1880, 1. https://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/lccn/sn83025287/1880-03-05/ed-1/seq-1.
- Hoverson, Doug. Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
- "Johanna Wurm, June 28, 1823." Tavern Trove. https://www.taverntrove.com/saturday-june-28-1823-johanna-wurm-birthday-1886.html.
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