A series of tragedies littered the timeline of Stillwater's Northwestern Brewery during its more than fifty-year existence. Throughout much of that history, the business remained viable under the watchful eye of brewster Susannah Tepass.
Born Susannah Burkhard on August 10, 1824, in Germany, Tepass emigrated to the United States with her parents in 1847 at the age of twenty-two. The family settled amongst fellow compatriots in Freeport, Illinois. She wed Norbert Kimmick in 1849 before moving north with her husband to Stillwater, Minnesota. Shortly after the couple became settled, Mr. Kimmick set up a distillery in the kitchen of their home on the corner of Third and Chestnut streets. He manufactured about five gallons of whiskey a week in that small space.
In 1852, Kimmick expanded his operation, opening Minnesota's third brewery, after Anthony Yoerg in Saint Paul and John Orth in Saint Anthony, alongside the bluffs in southern Stillwater on South Main Street. In 1854, he took on Francis X. Aiple as his business partner. The two men ran the brewery until Kimmick's death in March 1859. Susannah took over the ownership duties of her departed husband until her marriage to Aiple on January 2, 1860. At that point, her second husband assumed active management of the brewery. The couple had two children, Mary Theresa from Susannah's previous marriage and son, Francis J.R.
Minnesota's population grew significantly between 1850 and 1860, and the lure of finding fortune in the logging industry drew many to the Saint Croix Valley and the city of Stillwater. In 1865 brewery facilities were expanded to accommodate the increased demand for their product. Sadly, a fire destroyed the complex in May 1868. Undaunted, Mr. Aiple immediately rebuilt, and by early November, work was nearly done. On November 7, while installing water pipes on the roof of his family's new two-story home, Aiple fell. Initially considered severe but not life-threatening, his injuries resulted in his death on November 10, 1868.
Susannah, once again a widow, oversaw operations at the brewery after her second husband's death. At first, she attempted to rent out the brewery space and sell the hops and barley on hand, but found no suitable taker. Mr. Aiple had accumulated a great deal of property during his life, and Susannah was now a Stillwater resident of significant financial means. She not only owned the brewery and the grounds on which it stood, but counted the Minnesota House, and property in Oak Park amongst her holdings.
On December 14, 1869, a little more than a year after the death of her second husband, Susannah Aiple married Herman Tepass. Mr. Tepass soon took over control of the brewery operations. However, Susannah was not pushed into the background when her husband began his new role. While she was no longer a part of the day-to-day management of the brewery, Susannah was recognized publicly as one of its owners. She remained in charge of the other real estate ventures the couple held and was consulted by Stillwater's leaders about ways to improve city infrastructure near the brewery.
In the latter years of her life, while Mr. Tepass ran the brewery, Susannah, now a prominent citizen in Stillwater, became intimately engaged in a series of goings-on within the city. She was involved with the local German Catholic Church, purchasing a communion rail for the organization and later helping to supervise a benefit festival. Susannah sat alongside some of the city's elite citizens as part of the Saint Croix Valley's old settlers' association. She also served as second vice-president on the Stillwater City Hospital Board.
Mr. and Mrs. Tepass handed over the brewery operation to their son Frank J.R. Aiple and son-in-law Carl Piper in 1887. The duo ran the brewery as Aiple & Piper. A couple of years later, on June 18, 1889, Susannah Tepass passed away after a three-month illness. She was survived by her third husband and her two children.
Tepass came to Stillwater with little to her name. However, over the course of her life, she came to be recognized as a city leader and an essential part of its history.
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