When the oldest citizens were boys, and even before, there were summer gardens and other popular resorts in Reading and vicinity. Before the law was enforced prohibiting the selling of strong liquors on Sunday, there were “summer gardens” in connection with some of the hotels and saloons, and these were often crowded on Sundays, as well as during the week. Bands of music were an attraction at many of these places.
A short-lived brewery was at the home of Sebastian Schmitt at 1022 Chestnut Street. Little is known of this venture other than the fact it existed for certain in 1887.
A stone’s throw from the Schmitt residence was the Nagle-Felix brewery, at 931-937 Chestnut. George Yerger, who bought the premises in 1793, erected a distillery there, and whisky was manufactured for many years. In 1828 Peter Nagle, Jr. purchased the property.
Peter’s son, Augustus, was put in charge of the place, which functioned mainly as a distillery, but strong beer also was produced. After Augustus moved from Reading to Yellow House around 1840, John Borrel was hired as brewmaster. Borrel later ran a brewery of his own beyond the southeast corner of Seventh and Penn.
In 1845, or soon thereafter, Nicholas A. Felix took charge of the Nagle Brewery. He christened it the “Spring Garden Brewery” to call attention to the fact his beverage was produced using the superior natural spring situated at the corner of Tenth and Chestnut. The basin where the water wells up from the earth is about 24 by 14 feet and 10 feet deep. Southern Junior High School occupies the site today.
Spring Garden brewery and saloon was for a long time a very popular resort, especially in the evenings, when the place was often crowded. A band of music was sometimes an attraction.
In olden times men gathered in a large room in the one-story brewery building and sat around tables, discussed the news of the day and drank the beer from pewter mugs having lids. The beer was sold at 3 cents a pint.
During his twenty-nine years at the helm, Felix made many improvements at the site which included, in addition to the brewery itself, a malt-house, two ice houses, a wagon shed and stable. The plant complex was furnished with a large engine, a boiler, and all appliances needed for making beer.
Below: The photo, labeled “the pipe wagon,” shows A. I. Brownback of the business office and driver Sam Seiders.
By the time Felix died in 1874, he had rebuilt the brewery and developed the business extensively.
Between 1874 and 1879 the place was conducted by managers of his estate. Thereafter, son-in-law Dr. William P. Deppen leased the business and improved it to the point it became one of the leading establishments of its kind in the state. Lager, porter, and ale were the specialties.
Dr. Deppen, a Berks native, graduated from the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania in 1876. After practicing in the Wernersville area for about three years, he moved to Reading to assume control of the brewery.
An account penned in 1881 noted that because of his medical training, “Dr. Deppen is able to produce a singularly pure, clear and palatable beverage whose quality is simply unsurpassed by the output of any other brewery in the country.” A modest claim, to be sure.
A newspaper report of January 1882 noted that between 30 and 40 teams were engaged in delivering ice to the premises steadily. This gives some indication of the extent of Deppen’s operation.
Below: Deppen’s Spring Garden Brewery is shown much as it appeared in 1888. At this time, when lager beer was the primary product, about 30 men worked here. Notice the summer garden along the corner with its bandstand and flowing spring, which later was enclosed in a frame, pavilion-like structure.
In 1901 the Deppen Brewing Co. passed into the hands of Isaac and William K. Eckert, two members of a family long associated with the iron and banking interests of the city. Incidentally, William Eckert, son of Isaac, married Mary Barbey, a daughter of brewer John Barbey.
Below: Deppen’s Spring Garden Brewery Kettle Room.
During the remainder of its existence, the Deppen Brewing Co. changed hands several more times. In 1908 a new plant was erected near the southeast corner of Third and Buttonwood streets, at a cost of some $60,000.
Southern Middle School (formerly Southern Junior High School) occupies the site today.