Since 1987, an effort has been underway to manage the growth and development of the Brewery District. In 1991, Columbus City Council passed a 6 month moratorium on demolitions for this area. The moratorium allowed the City’s Development Department Planning Division staff to work with the community to develop a plan.
In the early 1800s, immigrants settled on pastures and farmlands in the area known as South Columbus. Utilizing their skills as stone masons, brewers and other trades, these immigrants established a community that would eventually be known as German Village and the Brewery District.
Louis Hoster was the first brewer among the German immigrants. In 1836, a year after arriving in Columbus, Hoster opened the first brewery in the area, the City Brewery. Over the next 3 decades, 5 more breweries would locate in the area, including the Schlee Bavarian (1849) and Capitol Breweries (1859).
With the Scioto River the Columbus Feeder Canal, and a spring-fed ravine (which originally bisected the Brewery District) in close proximity, the setting was ideal for the brewery industry. Water was readily available as an ingredient for the production of beer as well as a transportation route for the breweries’ products. The canal, 11 miles long, 40' wide, and 4' deep, opened in 1831, connecting Columbus to Lockbourne and eventually, to the Ohio River. The canal was abandoned in 1912.
The homes of the working class developed immediately around the breweries and their industries that dominated the riverfront. As the transportation network permitted, the wealthier households moved farther south, away from the city and its industries. Initially, the homes resembled the working class homes left in Germany: brick, 1-1/2 stories, with gables facing the street. Built on limestone foundations, the homes were simply adorned with stone lintels and rectangular tall windows. Later, the Italianate style became a very popular form of architecture for housing, commercial establishments, and industrial buildings. Excellent examples remain in the Brewery District displaying carved stone lintels, rectangular or round arched windows and doors, bracketed cornices, hood moldings. Few interior architectural elements, such as pressed tin ceilings and plank flooring have been preserved in renovation efforts.
The breweries flourished during the Civil War. With the 1870s came the Columbus, Hocking Valley and Toledo Railroad. The railroad enabled higher quality raw materials to be shipped in and expanded the market area. Breweries, adapting to technology, were rebuilt and modernized with new insulating materials and new methods for refrigeration and production. The new complexes contained buildings for almost every facet of production: malt houses, brewing buildings, bottling plants, keg warehouses and horse stables. The combination of this modernization and the depression occurring between 1873 and 1878, forced the closure or consolidation of several smaller breweries which were unable to compete. In 1877, 5 breweries operated in what is now called the Brewery District.
By 1904, excess capacity and market deterioration forced the breweries to consolidate into the Columbus Brewing Company. The market’s deterioration can be attributed to several factors. First, the Temperance Movement, which began in Worthington, Ohio in 1827, gathered steam as it rolled into the 20th Century. In 1906, Ohio passed a State Law enabling townships to vote themselves dry. Two years later, 57 of Ohio’s 88 counties were dry. Markets in surrounding states were similarly affected as the Movement progressed nationwide. The final straw for the breweries came in 1919 with the passage of a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting the manufacturing, transportation, or sale of alcohol. The City Brewery closed in 1923, and its buildings were sold. Over the next 70 years, the various brewery buildings would be used for a variety of purposes, including manufacturing and warehousing.
King Gambrinus is the statue in the Brewery District. Sometimes referred to as the Drunken King, he was located for many years above the entrance of the August Wagner Brewery at 605 S. Front St.. August Wagner Brewery was just one of 29 breweries on the south side of Columbus.
August Wagner, who was native of Bavaria, first came to Columbus in 1900 as the brewmaster for the L. Hoster Brewing Company. In 1905 the Gambrinus brewery was built and Wagner became president and general manager of the brewery.
By 1919 August Wagner had purchased all of the stock of the company and became the owner. After that he made many changes to the brewery and finally in 1938, he changed the name to August Wagner Breweries, Inc. Not wanting to forget the roots of his success, he chose the old Gambrinus statue as his company symbol. The name Gambrinus was in reference to and old Bavarian King.
After the brewery closed, the building was demolished, but the "drunken king" was saved thanks to The Columbus Dispatch that paid to have to statue preserved.