McClellan and Roscoe
Today several local breweries produce a wide choice of brews, but back in the late 1800s, Marin had only one source for local beer: the San Rafael Brewery.
Located on Greenwood Avenue west of the Gerstle Estate in what was then called Short's Addition, the San Rafael Brewery was started in about 1871 by A.J. McClellan and Rufus A. Roscoe. On opening day, in community outreach, they extended an invitation to the public to freely sample their product.
McClellan and Roscoe advertised “beer, in kegs and bottles at wholesale,” and took orders at the San Rafael Brewery Depot, H. Berl & Co., opposite the Marin Hotel, located at 1222 Fourth Street. Besides beer, they advertised yeast for family use.
The early years of the San Rafael Brewery saw frequent changes in ownership. Roscoe sold to McClellan, who then sold to Gustave Lombard, who owned the brewery for just a few months, dying shortly after his purchase in July 1872.
Boyen and Goerl
Next came partners Henry Boyen and Fritz Goerl. These fellow German immigrants operated the brewery together for 10 years. Henry Boyen was born in Hanover, Germany in 1842 and went to sea as a cabin boy at age 12. He traveled to many ports worldwide, until he landed in San Francisco and stayed, working in various breweries. He purchased half of the San Rafael Brewery with Goerl in 1872.
Goerl was born in Germany in 1841. According to Fritz Goerl's 92-year-old grandson Conrad H. Goerl, Fritz Goerl made beer in Russian-owned Alaska prior to settling in Marin.
In 1882 Boyen sold his share of the brewery to Louis Graeber (Graber) and opened a bar on B Street between Third and Fourth Streets. The Graeber partnership didn't last long, and Goerl continued the business alone for another 17 years.
Beer, Water and Yerba Santa
At various times the San Rafael Brewery advertised steam beer, both lager and ale, in bottles and kegs. Springs in the hillside property provided water to the brewery. According to Robert Lethbridge's The Old Company, water mains laid from Clark Street to Greenwood Avenue reached the brewery in 1875.
Goerl family members recall that when the supply of hops ran low, the brewers substituted the plant Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum, a shrub used for many purposes by the Miwok Indians and given the name Yerba Santa, meaning 'holy plant' by the Spanish explorers.
During Boyen and Goerl's ownership, customers placed orders at the San Rafael Brewery Depot, located at Gieske's Grocery on 2nd and B streets. The owners proclaimed that the “Best Beer on the Coast and Fine Old Porter” could be had from the San Rafael Brewery.
The brewers celebrated success, as noted by the Marin Journal on May 1, 1879, with
“An old fashioned barbacue (sic)...last Sunday, attended by about 150 of our old residents. The fatted calf was done to a turn, and tender as a mushroom and the concomitants were all that appetite could suggest.”
The Marin Journal reported on Sept. 2, 1880, that
“Boyen & Goerl have completed their large new barn...and as its capacious loft has a floor as nice as a parlor, it was meet to dedicate it with a merry dance. So Tuesday evening, a large number of ladies and gents assembled, and the structure and grounds were illuminated with oriental lanterns, the Tamalpais Band made the place vocal with music. Boyen & Goerl were omnipresent, making all comfortable by their hearty hospitality, and the guests enjoyed their evening to the full.”
On May 17, 1888, the Marin Journal wrote that
“Last Saturday evening a large army of friends of Fritz and Frau Goerl, headed by the San Rafael Brass Band, marched over to the Brewery, bent on celebrating the tenth anniversary of the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Goerl. We hear of some surprises that are at least fishy, but this may be accepted as genuine, since the happy ten-year lovers were actually found in bed. Corporal Gieske however persuaded them to get up and dress, and join the celebration, and the festivities were continued through the night, affording a world of amusement to the family and their volunteer guests.”
Fairfax resident Conrad H. Goerl says that his grandparents operated a beer garden on the property where customers could enjoy beer and food in the shade of a grape arbor. Beer wagons delivered throughout Marin and even to towns in the Sierras.
Some in San Rafael took offense at output produced by the brewery operations. In June 9, 1881, Elisha Dubois, a butcher who owned property in the neighborhood, complained to the San Rafael Board of Trustees of the “nuisance in Short's addition due to the wash from the brewery and closets.” The complaint was referred to the Committee on Sewage and Health.
On Feb. 23, 1882 the Marin Journal reported on the Board of Trustees Meeting. Mr. Wood, committee chair said that “the privies on the creek are worse than the brewery; that they should be required to deposit in cesspools, and the brewery to build a tank to hold their discharge.” The Board referred the issue to the Health Committee to put together an ordinance to prevent the pollution.
Fritz Goerl married German immigrant Josephine Weitninger of Alameda in 1878. A daughter, Elizabeth, died in early childhood. They had three sons: George, Jacob and Conrad. The Goerls were good friends with Richard and Bertha Schmidt, who also had three boys: Bernhard (Ben), Carl and Max.
Richard Schmidt had come to the California in 1874 to join his brother Max Schmidt, founder of the Schmidt Lithography Company, once the west coast's largest printing company. The company printed artful labels for fruits and vegetables, along with maps and other printing products.
From the mid- to late-1890s to 1905, the Richard Schmidts rented the Goerl house, an Eastlake Victorian house located on the hill next door to the brewery. A smaller dwelling to the rear of the brewery lot was at various times occupied by the Goerl family and possibly the Boyens. The close friendship between the Goerl and Schmidt families is evident in photographs of family members at play.
Also often present in surviving photographs is Jacob Blum, who drove the brewery delivery wagon. The brewery advertised on its letterhead, “Best Quality Beer Delivered in Any Part of the County.” At one point, Jacob Blum also owned Blum's Bar on the northwest corner of Fourth Street and Lincoln Avenue.
Marin's Most Popular Man
From January to March of 1891, the Sausalito News ran a Marin's Most Popular Man contest. Readers sent in their votes to the newspaper, with apparently no constraints on ballot stuffing. The newspaper published weekly stats on the votes garnered by each contestant. The man with the most votes won a golden-headed cane, which was displayed at various times in the windows of Miller's Drugstore and Smith and Son's drugstore and, according to the News, attracted considerable attention.
On Feb. 20, 1891, the News published a letter from “A Subscriber in East Oakland.”
“Enclosed please find four votes (from an Oakland friend) for Fritz Goerl, the popular brewer of San Rafael. Don't you forget it, Mr. Editor, Fritz is the most popular man in Marin county, and makes the most popular beer, and I'm going to help make him the most popular man in the county for the “gold-headed cane prize” of the News. You will shortly hear from me with a budget of votes. Look out for squalls!”
The subscriber followed through. Way behind at the start, on May 1, Fritz Goerl was awarded the gold-headed cane. Runners up were Archibald B. Murray and Henry Harrison of San Rafael, inventors of railway equipment, including a patent for a ventilating and warming a railway car. In 1893 Henry Harrison was Marin County sheriff and tax collector, positions not noted for popularity. With the success of its first contest, the News proceeded to run a contest for the most popular man in Sausalito.
Goerl branched into the saloon business in 1895, when he applied with a partner named Petersen, possibly fellow German immigrant and soda maker , for a license to sell liquors at the northwest corner of Fourth and A streets.
In 1896, the Board of Supervisors brought charges against Goerl and several other saloon keepers for selling liquor to minors. Goerl was charged with selling a boy a keg of beer. “[The boy] was in the habit of buying it for his uncle, sometimes coming with his uncle, and sometimes without him,” reported the Sausalito News on Jan. 11, 1896. Goerl's former partner son, attorney E.H. Boyen, was able to get the charges dismissed.
But troubles continued for Goerl. The San Francisco Call reported on Jan. 5, 1897
“an internal revenue officer swooped down on Goerl's brewery today for an infraction of law in neglecting to put stamps upon beer kegs. Goerl stands high here as a man of probity, and his friends really believe his story that the omission was the unintentional fault of workmen, but it threatens to go hard with him, because it is said that this is the second time his men have been careless.”
The Marin Journal reported that the revenue officers found beer kegs that lacked the internal revenue stamps delivered by Goerl's brewery in Brickwedel's saloon. The government seized the brewery, but released it to Goerl when he gave a bond for $2501.50.
Goerl extricated himself from that case only to face the same charges in Sept. 1899. The Marin Journal reported that Special Revenue Agent B.M. Thomas found a driver for the San Rafael Brewery, John Pachner, removing revenue stamps from barrels. Pachner was arrested and the brewery was again seized by the government.
Goerl explained that Pachner was picking up a barrel of beer that was unfit to drink from a Fourth Street saloon and replacing it with a new one. Pachner transferred the revenue stamp from one barrel to the other not realizing that this action was illegal.
Throughout these troubles, local media vouched for Goerl's integrity. The Sausalito News remarked on Jan. 9, 1897, “It is hoped that Fritz can show it was an oversight, which we think must have been the case.” The Marin Journal reported that Goerl “is well known here, bears an (sic) good reputation and has conducted business here successfully since 1872.”
In the end, Goerl and Pachner were relieved of the charges in Jan. 1900 when Goerl compromised with the government by paying a $1000 penalty and $1309 for the evaded taxes.
In 1905 Goerl retired, selling the brewery to a group of English brewers: Claude H. Huckle, Thomas H. Chapman, and Elbert J. Fryman. Goerl aimed to settle down and enjoy his retirement, but a tragic accident intervened.
Just a few months after the sale, on March 16, 1906, as Goerl and his wife were driving down the street near the brewery, his horse sped out of control and took a turn too quickly. The buggy collided with a eucalyptus tree, and both Goerl and his wife Josephine were thrown from the vehicle. Seeing the accident, son George summoned an ambulance which took the couple home. Goerl had internal injuries and a fractured skull. He died within hours.
Josephine lived many more years in St. Helena and in Alameda. She managed the family's real estate and other business affairs and with son George operated the Palace Brewery on Central Avenue in Alameda. She died at the age of 72 on Jan. 28, 1932.
The onset of Prohibition in 1920 brought an end to beer brewing at the San Rafael Brewery. Newer homes have been built on much of the old brewery property, but the Goerl house that had been rented by the Schmidts still stands today on Greenwood Avenue, renovated with attention to historic detail by its present owners.
Several of the photographs were provided by the . If you are interested in purchasing these photographs or others from their collection please call 415-382.0770x3 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other resources were provided by the Anne T. Kent California Room of the Marin County Library.