The most recent history of the Roopsburg brewery can be found via the link below, published by Robbin Degeratu. Many thanks to Ms. Degeratu for compiling this history together.
The Story of Roopsburg Brewery
Written by: Diana Roberts Gruendler
As I write this, I am looking out the third floor window of the home we affectionately refer to as the Spring Creek House. My room with a view frames a spectacular panoramic outlook of intense green lawns, evergreen trees higher than our three-story house, and the ever present stream known as Spring Creek. Our story begins and ends with the Creek, and like all good stories it makes twists and turns and tells us how the stream gave way to the Village of Roopsburg. To tell our story we must first pay tribute to Spring Creek – to ignore it would be like describing the beauty of our valley without acknowledging the Appalachian Mountains – the mountains that give our valley its dimension and definition. Spring Creek gives that same definition to Benner Township and the Village of Roopsburg – it is that permanent force, which attracted so many people to our region. Even today, it is the long-lasting energy that continues to attract visitors and residents to our area. The waters of the stream are tireless and ongoing–like the early residents of the Township her resolve is not diminished by freezing winters or the long hot dry summers. Spring Creek is the one constant we all share; the running waters of the creek connect us to our rich heritage.
In 1795, 208 years ago, Daniel Turner was the first settler on the site of the present Spring Creek House property. One could say that he was one of the founding fathers of what was to become Roopsburg Village and in 1853 Benner Township. As an industrialist, he chose the site due impart to the profusion of water from Spring Creek as well a·s the abundance of natural resources. During a six-year period, he established the· site as an early example of an industrial area. He erected a forge mill, sawmill, and gristmill. His drive may have been part of his demise. By 1801, Turner’s enterprises failed. From 1801-1807 the property sold a number of times and remained abandoned until 1825 when Jacob Roop purchased it. He became the first permanent resident of the area; giving it the name of Roopsburg. Roop built a house and a gunsmith shop down the creek from what was Turner’s original settlement. The gunsmith shop has remained on ·the same site since its construction in 1825 and for the last 77 years has been the home of Louise Houser Perts. By trade, Jacob Roop was an attorney. Like Turner, be too valued the crystal clear water of Spring Creek. He noted that his creek had a seemingly endless supply of water, but yet the growing community did not have an endless supply of beer. Roop wisely decided to address this need, and in an early act of supply and demand he established the second brewery to operate in Centre County. In 1819, the first brewery was established on Bald Eagle Creek, which burned down shortly after its
construction. Consequently, the Roopsburg Brewery founded in 1826 became the first successful brewery in Centre County in the 19th Century. Roopsburg Brewery was in continuous operation until 1902, a period of 76 years. The success of the brewery is an important claim to fame for Benner Township, as well as an historical fact that has help to shape the amazing and somewhat checkered past of the Spring Creek House and property.
What makes a good beer a great beer is the water–Spring Creek was the continuing source of that special ingredient that made the beer of Roopsburg highly successful. Jacob Roop ran what he called the Spring Creek Brewery from 1826- 1833. In June 1833, Jacob Roop Esq. ran ah advertisement in The Centre Democrat Newspaper informing the public that Spring Creek Brewery was for sale. The notice gives us an insight into what was on the property at this time as well as clarifying the earlier name of the brewery. The sale included all the appurtenances situated on Spring Creek, and Roop noted the excellent location of the brewery – was just one mile from Bellefonte. We also learn the sale included an excellent dwelling house and a good lot. We are told that the property was in goo-d order, and the article went on to state “. .. and worthy the attention of-persons who wish to engage in such business. There has always been demand for all the beer he was able to make.” We know that from 1827-1831 Roop was annually assessed $200 to $300 for the brewery. There appears to be no record of an assessment after the 1831 date. In 1840, Jacob Roop expanded his holdings -in the area and purchased the land across the creek, which was adjunct to the Spring Creek House site. By this date, the area was Roopsburg and was a village in its own right. Roopsburg was an expansive village spanning from approximately three miles up creek from the current site, and continuing past the Roopsburg School (refer to the map for the parameters of the village).
In 1844, Roop sold his esta-te, including Spring·Creek Brewery, to Joshua. and Michael Fishburn. After three short years, which would be 1847, the Fishbum’s were unable to pay their debt to Jacob Roop and the entire property, which included 100 acres of land, the dwelling house and brewery were sold at a sheriff’s sale. The successful buyer was Henry Brockerhoff.
To say that the lure of Spring Creek bas attracted a fascinating group of characters would be an understatement. Like the Siren’s in Homer’s Odyssey the song of Spring Creek seems to have lured many a person to her shores- arriving from faraway destinations to seek their fortunate some were successful others found their demise, but the one thing they all had in common was a desire to seek their fortune at Spring Creek in Roopsburg Village. Henry Brockerhoff arrived at Spring Creek via the Battle of Waterloo.
The legends regarding the arrival of Henry Brockerhoff to Benner Township are as interesting as the man is. What we do know of the life of Henry Brockerhoff is that he was born on June 11, 1794, at Ober Castle opposite Dilsseldorf in the Province of Alsace, on the Rhine River. He went to school at Dilsseldorf until the age of sixteen and then on to attend commercial college at Aix-la-Chapelle. He graduated in a year at the age of 17. By some historical accounts he became a friend of Napoleon Bonaparte during his time in college. That friendship between the men developed into one of trusted political ·allies – landing Brockerhoff the coveted position of Napoleon’s private secretary – a position he held up until the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815.
During the Battle of Waterloo he leaves the position of private secretary and fills the position of Roll Officer. Historical accounts note that Napoleon’s brother and aides came to the United States after the Battle of Waterloo. We know that Napoleon’s brother went to New Jersey and his trusted secretary Henry Brockerhoff made his way to Centre County. The obituary of Brockerhoff in the Democratic Watchman October 11, 1878 stated, “After the fall of Napoleon, young Brockerhoff sailed for the United States, and commenced business in Philadelphia as a peddler.-” Brockerhoff worked in Philadelphia and then it is believed that he went to McKee’s Falls in Union County. During this period of time he continued to work in the mercantile business. In 1825, Brockerhoff arrives in the developing community of Bellefonte. Upon his arrival, he began to purchase property and became involved in local politics. Given the ten years between Waterloo and Centre County it appears that Brockerhoff was involved in business adventures that provided him with a degree of financial success. By the time that Brockerhoff purchases the brewery in 1847 the Spring Creek Brewery had been a successful operation for 21 years. On November 14, 1849, two years after the purchase of the brewery, Brockerhoff married Margaret Mullen. He was 55 and it is believed that his wife was 32 years younger making Margaret 23 at the time of their marriage. A new chapter in the life of Henry Brockerhoff begins with the purchase of the Roopsburg Brewery and his marriage one of respected business leader and prominent member of the community.
In 1853, during the time of Brockerhoff s sole ownership of the Brewery, Benner Township was established. The Brewery was an essential part of the developing community by providing jobs for the expanding Roopsburg Village in Benner Township. At this point it appears that the name of the brewery took on the name of the village that it helped to launch. Brockerhoff personally ran the brewery until 1857. As we know Brockerhoff was from the Rhine Valley, and it is believed that he recruited, a master brewer Lewis Haas from the Bavarian area to serve as the brewmeister of the Roopsburg Brewery. In 1857, Brockerhoff sold Lewis Haas a 50% interest in the Roopsburg Brewery. One could conjecture that the recruitment of Haas was not only a good move for the expansion of the business, but also provided additional cash for Brockerhoff to expand his holdings as well as serving to increase his profits as a partner in the brewery.
As Brockerhoff takes on his new and expanding role in the Township; so does the value of the iron produced in the area increase in importance. We see that a convergence of resources, producers, and opportunities begins to take form. The crisis of the looming Civil War creates a demand for additional infrastructures as well as a need. for the pure iron called Juniata. The Roopsburg Village already has in place – forges, experienced iron masters, and established communities with workers, schools and churches. The reality of a pending war makes the peaceful and gentle waters of Spring Creek a new source of war material. Benner Township a community of only seven years takes on new importance as a major player in the war effort. Along with the need for iron the pending war brings to the forefront the magnitude of the need to expand the railroad. The achievement of fmishing the rail link from Bellefonte (with stops in Benner Township) to the main line in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh was accomplished. This need for iron, the expansion of the rail system, and the business and political leadership of men like Henry Brockerhoff created a boom economy in Benner Township. The 1860 census (the start of the Civil War) listed the population of Benner Township as 1,193 – Bellefonte Borough; 1,477 and Spring Township, 1,466.· With this expansion of the population new markets for Roopsburg Brewery emerged.
Haas increased the production of the brewery as well as the existing facilities. It was during this time frame that the existence of the beer vaults on the property is first mentioned. When Jacob Roop opened Spring Creek Brewery in 1826 documents discuss the development of facilities in general terms. At the first offer of the Spring Creek property in 1833 Jacob Roop refers to the appurtenances – the trappings of the brewery, which would imply that they had the necessary storage and aging facilities to make and store the kegs of beer. It appears that in 1857, Haas as part of his expansion of the business completed the beer vaults as we know them today. The vaults were dug into the ground approximately 35 feet to the north of the house. The vault is comprised of two sections, and is built from native limestone. The dramatic entrance into the beer vault is a relieved round arch which faces the ,side of the house and is approximately 7 feet by 4 feet with an arched ceiling. As you enter the vault you come to the first room, which is perpendicular to the entrance hall of the vault. This room is the larger of the two, sections and measures 36 feet by 20 feet by 13 feet. The ceiling is arched giving one a sense _ that you are in a medieval monastery. Along the side of the first room are two elevated floors. The side flooring is raised approximately one foot and is three and one half feet in width. As one proceeds through the first room you enter the rear of the vault and the entrance to the second room. The vault is approximately ten feet above the floor of the first, and measures 32 feet by 12 feet by 12 feet. It does not have raised floors and the rear wall is solid rock without the limestone facing. As a master brewer Haas was well qualified to supervise the completion of the beer vaults – they continue to stand as” a testament to the skilled craftsmen of the day, in addition to the expertise of Haas as a master brewer and earl industrial architect.
The development of the vaults was necessary to meet the growing demand of the market. The construction of the beer vaults was labor intensive and costly thus a major capital improvement. It is important to consider the significance of this investment by Brockerhoff and Haas. By building the vaults on the existing Spring Creek site they reaffrrmed the value of being located in Benner Township – if one was going to relocate this was the time to do it – rather Haas and his partner Brockerhoff invested in the development of the fledging Township and maintained their relationship to Roopsburg Village. The location by Spring Creek was so coveted by Haas he proceeded to build a large house – also referred to as a mansion next to the vaults. The Roopsburg Brewery was to have more than a dwelling house on its property–instead Spring Creek would stand witness to the construction of what was to be called the Haas House of Roopsburg.
The style of the house was unlike the prevailing design of other significant homes in Centre County. The house mansion is a basic Georgian – the most common construction of the day- with the following marked departures; the mansard roof, dormer – window detailing, and the exterior wall surface treatment known as German siding. The unique architectural styling of the house allowed Haas to demonstrate to the community that he was very prosperous – an acceptable social statement that one of means could make at the time. Fashionable details showed ones prosperity. To this day the house remains a five-bay Georgian style mansion with three round dormers piercing the mansard roof. The lot is graded from the back yard to the front so the rear facade is two stories; the first floor is underground. The house is a frame structure built on an uncoursed limestone foundation. There are three shed dormers on the roof at the rear of the house. The windows on the second floor as well as the dormer windows are six-over-four. The windows on the front side of the first floor facade are four-over four. The handmade panes of the windows remain intact. The German siding is accomplished by using clapboard as the building material of the house cut to replicate raised brick or squared blocks. The front door contains four molded panels with a transom (casement) above, and unfluted pilasters. The porch that overlooks Spring Creek is concrete with unfluted square columns based upon a square stone foundation. Connected to the north side of the house is the original summer kitchen. Historical pictures of the house clearly show that another room was located on top of it. Haas was interested in what was the state of the art technology for the day. Unlike the standard practice of building fireplaces to heat the house he installed an extensive system of wood, burning stoves.
Spring Creek House is one of the few remaining grand homes of 19th Century Benner Township. Looking up from the creek at the front of the home one can envision the carriage porch, which flanked the south side of the structure.· In addition, the original stairway of the house was in the center of the home spiraling three stories high- half of the original staircase remains. The existing stairway connects the second and third floors of the house. This impressive walnut staircase and banister was imported by Haas from Germany. In spite of the threat of an ominous war the house was completed in 1860 and the beer industry continued to flourish.
By the beginning of the Civil War Haas was viewed as one of the most skilled brewers in Pennsylvania, his lager beer was marketed over a wide geographic area. As the beer became acknowledged throughout the state so the reputation of Benner Township began to spread.The boom to the Township continued with Brockerhoff constructing in 1862 a four story gristmill across the creek from the Haas House and Roopsburg Brewery. In 1872, Haas is able to purchase the remaining half of Brockerhoff’ s interest in the business. Again, the ownership of the brewery changes hands. For the last ten years of his life Lewis Haas was the sole owner of Roopsburg Brewery. Upon his death in 1882 the Haas family inherited the brewery, the property, and the house. Unfortunately, the Haas family was not skilled in the art of beer making nor did they possess the business sense that was needed to adapt to the changing market.
Four years passed before the brewery would again be producing the famous Roopsburg lager beer. On March 20, 1896, the locale newspaper portent the revival of Roospburg Brewery, “Their beer will soon be on the market, Peter Jackson, Louis Doll, Richard Dettling, and John Brown are the four men who are busy as, nailers improving the old Haas brewery at Roopsburg, and brewing the finest, purest beer ever turned out at that place.” After five months the group led by Louis Doll was ready to sell their brew. By August 17, 1896 the newspaper reported, “Tomorrow the first brew beer of the Roopsburg brewery will be put on the market. After having been closed for years the place was given a license at the last term of court and now will supply beer as it did in day’s gone bye. The Roopsburg beer was very good in former days and if it comes up to its old time standard now it will be assured of success.” The final documentation that attests to the continuance of the brewery was an article dated December 24, 1897, which stated, “It is reported that Louis Doll is going to retire from the management of the Roopsburg brewery. This doesn’t mean that Louis has gotten rich already, but he expects to move to York. Peter Jacobs will succeed him.” The management team of Jackson, Dettling, Brown and Jacobs kept the brewery in business until 1902 however, the ownership of the brewery and the property stayed within the Haas family. This becomes an important turning point for the brewery and for the Village of Roopsburg. Since 1826, the brewery and the village it spawns were to a great degree one and the same. The vision of Jacob Roop had not only created a brewery, but a thriving community. In 1902, the son of Lewis Haas, Robert applied for a brewer’s license, but was denied a license due to his “personal deporture.” Unable to secure a license to run the brewery the Haas family sold the estate to Emil Joseph, Sigmund Joseph, and Herman Holz in 1902.
For the next 12 years the house remained uninhabited. It is rumored that the owners only wanted the property so that they could have use of the vaults to store liquor. By 1914, Emil Joseph was the only survivor of the original three partners that had purchased the house in 1902. In 1914, Emil Joseph sold the Roopsburg house and property to Miss Mary Kane.
Village of Roopsburg was a thriving community in Benner Township. But after the Civil War prohibition again becomes a major issue. In 1873, the “Women’s War” broke out across the nation- and Centre County was no exception. The Centre County region had a significant population of Mennonites who were very active in the temperance movement. A new sense of women power was taking hold- joined by encircled arms the women would march from their church meetings to saloons demanding that the saloonkeepers close their business. Their immediate success of prohibiting the sale of alcohol was short lived and few establishments permanently closed their doors. However, the relentless work of these women led to the forming of the Anti-Saloon League (ASL). Over the next nineteen years the ASL gained a great deal of power. Organizations such as this and the Temperance League became powerful political and social groups in the area of Benner Township.
In 1894, the Roopsburg property was put up for sale by the Haas family. The description of the property and notice of sale was placed in the April 20th edition of the Keystone Gazette, “There is in all about three acres of land on which is conveniently located a large brewing and malt house in which is a large brewing kettle of 20 barrels’ capacity and the other appurtenances. A large vault for storing a vast amount of this product is conveniently located and in excellent condition and are frame structures. On this property there is a large barn which has ample accommodations for a number of teams also sufficient space for storing hay and feed. The mansion house is a two-storyframe building and is in good condition, has all the advantages of water and is a very desirable place to live. Another house of frame is also located on this property. Within a radius of 25 miles, there is not a single brewery in the field.” The ensnare of having a successful brewery had its own set of problems in 1894 and by 1900 the prohibition movement took on momentum. In 1911, an editorial in The Times-State College stated, “The brewers and distillers retain their strong grip on Pennsylvani,a but this condition of affairs will not always last. Sooner or later there will be a revolution.”
The saga of the Haas family does not end with the demise of the brewery. Little is known of two of the three Haas children. One daughter was married to Richard Dettling who reopened· the brewery in 1896 and lived in Bellefonte, the son Robert was rumored to have financial problems and we know he was denied a liquor license also it appears that he did not marry. The remaining daughter Marie Haas, known as Mollie, was a woman who inspired urban legends.
There appears to be two accounts of the demise of Mollie Haas and what led to it. One account that has been passed down by generations of Benner Township residents tells a tale of Mollie burning herself to death while living in the Roopsburg Mansion. The story goes that Mollie was a young woman, who was prohibited from marrying the love of her life by her overbearing parents. In an act of love deprived female desperation Mollie burns herself at the stake – or in this case the·stake was the front porch post of the gunsmith shop in full view of her aged mother. The other account as told in the Keystone Gazette, August 4, 1916, reports the following:
“Two terrible tragedies marked the past week in Centre County; one a suicide in which Miss Mollie Haas, of Roopsburg, burned herself to death, the other resulting in the death of Luella, the four-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. Howard Musser, of State College, as the result of burns sustained while at play. Spectacular and terrible was method of death chosen by Miss Haas, for many years a well known resident of Roopsburg. Despondent as the result of illness and tired of the incessant struggles of life, the woman, while temporarily deranged last Friday afternoon brought her life to a close. Many friends deeply sympathize with her family in the sad ordeal and a feeling of general pity is expressed for the unfortunate woman whose life was snuffed out in the horrible manner she died. About four o’clock Friday afternoon Miss Haas went to an out kitchen at her home near Roopsburg, placed a woolen hood over her head and down her shoulders, and then thoroughly saturated the hood and all her clothing with kerosene. She then applied a match and walked to the front porch, where her mother, a woman eighty seven years old, was sitting. With a single exclamation, “Mother, Mother!” Miss Hass stood supporting herself by one of the porch posts in front of her aged mother until she dropped to the floor, charred and dead. The aged woman, unable to save her daughter, called to a neighbor lady who fainted at the terrible sight. Practically all the clothing but the shoes was burned from the body of the unfortunate woman, who was dead when picked up. Marie Haas, perhaps better known as Mollie Haas, was a daughter of the late Lewis and Mrs. Katherine Andres Haas, and was born at Roopsburg January 15, 1859, thus being 57 years, 6 months, and 13 days old. Her . father, the late Lewis Haas, for ye¥s conducted the old Roopsburg Brewery and was widely known and well-to-do. His daughter, Marie, the unfortunate victim of Friday’s tragedy was a noted beauty when a young lady. She leaves her aged mother, one sister Mrs. Richard Dettling, of Bellefonte, and a brother, Robert Haas, at home.”
The article in the Keystone (la zette is an excellent example of the sensational journalistic writing style of the day. We learn from the obituary that Mollie was not a young woman, rather was 57 years of age. The account of her suicide provides the reader with the morbid details of her death, and value laden descriptions of Monie, and the suicide. We also learn that in death as will as life her father is described as a prominent and well to do figure of the time. The prominent position of the family in the community allowed Mollie to be buried in, a Catholic cemetery. Based upon the date of her suicide Mollie was not living in the Haas House at the time of her death – Miss Mary Kane had purchased the property four years earlier. Mollie Haas, her mother, and her brother Robert were living in what had once been the gunsmith shop. The current occupant of the gunsmith house, Louise Houser Perts, tells the story that as a newly wed she asked her husband to remove the scorched pillar from the porch of their home. This post was the last remaining evidence that confirmed the spot of Mollie’s suicide. Given the accounts of her life it seems certain that Mollie was a desperate woman seeking help. Marie “Mollie” Haas has not been forgotten and the story of her lif and death are celebrated Benner Township folklore. Numerous accounts abound that Mollie is an active ghost that resides in the Haas House- a happier time in her life.
The end of the Roopsburg Brewery in 1902 did not diminish the important roll that alcohol will continue to play in life of the community. By January 1919, the revolution that The Times-Stat e College foretold took place with the ratification of the 18th Amendment – the Prohibition Act or Volstead Act. By this date Miss Mary Kane had owned the Roopsburg property for five years. The collision of these two events–prohibition and the ownership of the house – change Roopsburg from a home of distinction to a “house of ill repute” or what was commonly known as a brothel.
Mary Kane also made Roopsburg a successful business enterprise. To say that she put Benner Township on the map would not be an overstatement. The house and property were a perfect fit for her business ventures–her clients are rumored to be from all over the state and from all walks of life – including political leaders, police, and prominent men of the community. In addition, to the brothel the vaults were used to hide illegal alcohol. Mary Kane also deserves credit for her innovation and expansion of the vaults. She discovered that by making a small hole in the top of the vaults one could easily pull through the prohibited moonshine–a very creative and convenient manner of delivering goods to the customers. Many stories were added to the canon of local Roopsburg folklore during this time. Given the nature of the business it is not hard to believe that many crimes occurred at the house and that they were “hushed up” because prominent local figures were allegedly involved. The documented crimes that did occur on the property to date have never been solved. These crimes include an alleged suicide, two murders, one of which involved a homosexual relationship. Mary Kane owned the house up until the time of her death in 1944. In the 30 years that she owned the Roopsburg property Madame Kane wrote her very own special version of what life can be along the serene beauty of Spring Creek.
The property was sold to James Bird after the death of Mary Kane. The Bird’s did little to change the property and again restored the Roopsburg Mansion to that of a family home. The ownership of the home again changed in the 1980s when it was purchased by Mr. Breadon. Under his ownership the exterior of the house was restored and the first level of the house was renovated. To a large degree· the house remains as it was in 1860. The next owners were Cindy and Dennis Robinson.
In August 2002, the next chapter in the life of the Spring Creek House began. The new occupants are my sister, Patricia House, my husband R. Michael Gruendler and me. The home is being filled with period antiques and we plan to continue the restoration of the house and grounds. It also seemed fitting to return the house back to its original name and like Jacob Roop honor the stream that we all have come to love.
As in the past Spring Creek continues to give definition to Benner Township ·- the stream provides a connection to our past – it helps us to understand why so many would risk so much to come here. For over 200 years settlers have been attracted to this special place along the creek and we too were lured here for the same reasons–the splendor of the creek, the magnificence of the landscape, and the view from the window.