Bleemel Flour and Feed
Kodak EasyShare Z730, 2008

I used to pass this building by sometimes in the late 1980s while I lived in Terre Haute. It contained an auto-repair shop then. What a dump it was. I remember it being painted yellow, which you could see only through the black grime that coated it.

This whole part of town was grimy then. It looked to me like some sort of industry had been here around this intersection of Poplar Avenue and Ninth Street. But that was long ago and no great use of the buildings had since been found.

The auto shop went out and by the early 1990s, and the building was been refreshed with a coat of paint and the words “E. Bleemel Flour and Feed” painted in the space above the shop windows. The first floor had become an antique shop; E. Bleemel, I learned, built this building and operated his business out of it for many years.

When I visited Terre Haute on this autumn day in 2008, the building had received an even better exterior refresh. I couldn’t tell for sure what it was being used for, but I could see that the building next door was now M. Mogger’s Pub. I was pleased to see this old building continuing to look good.

But I didn’t know its history. In the 1980s there was no Google to research this dingy part of town. But there is now, and what I learned is fascinating.

This building was built in 1837, which is mighty, mighty old for any structure in Indiana. It’s rare to find buildings built before about 1850 here.

This part of town has a rich history in beer — several breweries operated here, the oldest of which opened in 1837 as well. Ernest Bleemel was one of the brewers, and he operated his brewery out of this building for some time before selling it to Matthias Mogger in 1848. That’s the M. Mogger for which the pub is named. Mergers and acquisitions continued and in time the brewery became the Terre Haute Brewing Company. By the early 1900s it was the seventh largest brewery in the United States, and its Champagne Velvet was one of Indiana’s most popular beers.

I’m not sure when Champagne Velvet went out of production — sometime after the 1950s and before I arrived in Terre Haute in 1985. Locals still remembered CV, as they sometimes called it, fondly. The whole Terre Haute beer industry faded away during these years, leaving this part of town to decay.

It was in about 1990 when a new owner took over the Bleemel building and found what is believed to be the original Champagne Velvet recipe in it. A fellow named Mike Rowe (not the one of Dirty Jobs fame) bought the recipe and started brewing it out of another former brewery building on the opposite corner from the Bleemel building. Long story short, the Upland Brewing Company of Bloomington brews it now. I can buy it at the liquor store nearest my home. It’s a light, crisp, American pilsener that packs a stronger alcoholic punch than most beers of its genre.

Even more fascinatingly, it was said for a long time that a series of tunnels connected the various brewery buildings here. The last surviving Terre Haute Brewing Company employees confirmed their existence in about 1990, and then in the early 2000s a crew from the electric company found one of the tunnels while digging across the street from the Bleemel building. Workers described it as 12 to 14 feet wide and 8 feet tall in the center. One worker explored the tunnel for about 25 feet before coming to a place where it had been blocked off.

Since I made this photograph, M. Mogger’s has expanded into the Bleemel building. The owners have refreshed the exterior two more times; if you drive by today, you’ll find the building painted bright blue, and the building next door painted brick red.

There are plenty of things I wish I had photographed before, and the Bleemel Building is in the top ten. I just didn’t document the built environment with my camera until the mid 2000s. Perhaps someday photographs from the past will emerge, among them images from the 1980s. I’d love to compare them to my memories.

Epilogue: About ten years ago, the fellow who regularly cut my hair and I were talking about our pasts and we were delighted to find we both had Terre Haute as part of our stories. It turns out he had an apartment upstairs in the Bleemel building while he attended Indiana State University in the 1970s. He remembered the auto shop and the general deteriorated condition of the building and its immediate environment. Sadly, he had no photographs of the place.

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20 responses to “Uncovering a beer-soaked history”

  1. 100 Country Trek Avatar

    Those breweries are in the 1800’ this area. We have breweries here in Canada. Thanks Anita

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Beer is universal!

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    I’d check and see if anyone owns that name Champagne Velvet! I’d register it if they don’t, thats a killer name!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      A terrific name indeed! The actual beer is in the same class as Budweiser and Coors, but a bit more flavorful and a little more alcoholic.

  3. Andy Umbo Avatar
    1. Andy Umbo Avatar
      Andy Umbo

      …should have read deeper instead of scanned….

  4. Rush Rox Avatar

    Gimme a CV!

    I remember when I was a kid in the ’70s, empty Champagne Velvet cans were a ubiquitous feature along roadsides in my part of Indiana (Tippecanoe and surrounding counties). Then, a couple years ago, I stumbled upon a twelver of CV at Walmart! Without hesitation, I snatched it up. Not bad, but I’m not sure if I would ever buy it again. Maybe, maybe not. As legacy labels go, it’s somewhere in between Schlitz (no!) and Stroh’s (yes!), and not even close to Pabst Blue Ribbon (the actual king of beers!!). [Not trying to start a beer comment war here; just having some fun…]

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      PBR!! I find it to be kind of rough. CV is head and shoulders better to me!

  5. adventurepdx Avatar

    I’m not a big lager person, but I particularly like the “Pre-Prohibition Lagers” that sometimes pop up. They indeed are more flavorful and usually more potent (that current CV is 5.5% ABV, pretty strong for a lager) than the Budweisers and PBRs of America. The brewery in Red Wing, MN has one on tap that came from a long-shuttered local brewery, the recipe being from 1896. I get one when I’m out that way.

    I often wonder if Prohibition was more of a windfall than a crisis for the breweries that could ride it out, like Anheuser-Busch. By the time the 18th Amendment was repealed I’m sure people don’t really remember what beer (at least legal beer) tasted like, so these companies could water down recipes and use adjuncts and fillers, saving them money.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I remember seeing a history of Bud labels and noticing when they added rice to the brew. I wonder what it tasted like before.

  6. Khürt Williams Avatar

    According to the Upland Brewing website, the ABV of Champagne Velvet is 5.5% which is only slightly higher than a typical Pilsner range of 4% to 5%. Based on the description alone, it seems it was a generic American lager.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, pretty much. A little less sweet than Bud but not as crisp as Miller High Life.

  7. sonny rosenberg Avatar

    Interesting story and I find the tunnel part particularly so. It made me remember taking shortcuts through the underground in Chicago when I was a bike messenger there.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Nice. I guess there are some tunnels in Downtown Indianapolis, too. There are tours.

  8. Marty Jones Avatar
    Marty Jones

    Inside Moggers you can go downstairs and see part of the underground area that led to a tunnel. It’s open to all visitors.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh nice. I wonder why the articles I found about the tunnels don’t say so.

  9. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    Great story. Like you I wish I had captured more of the mundane and everyday surroundings of my life over the years. Blink and it’s gone, or changed!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes. It’s amazing when you stumble upon photos of places like this from long ago.

  10. J P Avatar

    Perfect timing, we were just at Upland for dinner last week and Marianne had a CV. It seems like back in the early days of the midwestern US, wherever there were German immigrants, there were breweries. There were lots of smaller brewers who didn’t make it into the 1980s, sadly.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      And thank heavens for the Germans! Yes, consolidation in the industry was about complete by the 80s. At least today we have plenty of new small breweries.

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