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Saturday, June 24, 2017

The "One Of Lancaster's Premier Breweries" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Searching the archives at LancasterHistory.org trying to find a few photographs of the Rieker Brewery in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Back in the 60s, 70s and 80s my family lived in an area of Lancaster County known as Grandview Heights.  We lived in a semi-detached three-story brick home that had been built in the 1920s.  There were semi-detached homes one block to the north which backed up to the rear of our home.  Living in one of those houses was the Rieker family; Dave, Mary Ann, Matt and Jennifer.  Our children played with the Rieker children and I got to know Dave quite well during those years while raising our families.  Dave and I played in a table-top APBA baseball league using cards developed by a game company in Lancaster.  
A 1926 Photograph showing the Rieker Brewery in Lancaster.
It was at this time that I saw a few photographs and old souvenirs from the Rieker Brewing Company in Dave's home.  We never talked much about the brewery antiques he had accumulated or the company that had begun in the early 1900s in downtown Lancaster by his Great-great-grandfather, but I always wondered about the old beer bottles that were part of his collection.  Over the years we have both moved to different locations and Dave's wife passed and we lost touch with each other.  
1927-28 photo of Rieker Brewery at 554 West King St.
Found out recently that he moved to another town and I once again wondered about his past and the founding of the Rieker Brewery.  So, I did some online research and found a few photos and some information from one of Lancaster's, as well as our nation's premier breweries.  Frank A. Rieker emigrated from Wurttenberg, Germany to America in 1860 at the age of 20.  
Rieker Brewery #2 in Lancaster, PA.
He settled in the city of Lancaster in the predom- inantly German "Cabbage Hill" section and, with his son Frank Jr., built one of the most technologically advanced breweries in the city.  Frank Sr. eventually returned to Germany while his son lost control of the brewery when Prohibition arrived.  The Rieker Brewery struggled on a few years after Prohibition ended, but eventually shut its doors in 1938 and the buildings were demolished in 1941.  
A 1925 interior view of Rieker Brewery.
Then, as I dug deeper, I found that another of Dave's relatives, Chad Rieker who is a fifth or sixth generation descendant of Frank Sr., recently opened the Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant along the Harrisburg Pike, about a mile from the old Rieker brewery in downtown Lancaster.  Chad was born and raised in Lancaster and is proud of his brewing heritage.  He is the head brewer at Iron Hill at present.  Rieker beers that are brewed today are popular from Boston to Washington, D.C.  Chad confirmed the notorious "fire hose" story from the Prohibition era and told of the dwarfs that were hired by Rieker's that ran fire hoses through city tunnels to pipe beer to local speakeasies.  
Rieker Brewery #3 in Lancaster, PA.
He said that occurred after unsavory elements gained control of the business from Frank Jr.  Today, advertising and items from the pre-Prohibition Rieker Brewery are very collectible.  Rieker Brewery was in an active brewing city which was listed as having 40 breweries.  Therefore items from Lancaster, PA are more collectible as well as move valuable.
The Rieker Brewery parade wagon.
 Before Prohibition, the county's breweries produced over 200,000 barrels of beer annually with Rieker Brewery brewing 40,000 of those barrels.  After Prohibition ended in 1933, one by one the breweries began to close until only one, the Wacker Brewery, remained.  That one closed in July of 1956 and the remaining unpackaged beer was poured into the sewer, beginning a 39-year interruption of Lancaster's glorious brewing tradition.  Eventually Lancaster Malt Brewing began in 1995.  There are quite a few craft breweries that now call Lancaster home, but not with the production that existed in Lancaster's heyday brewing years.  As for my friend Dave, I wonder if he still has his collection of Frank A. Rieker Brewery memorabilia.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. PS - Remember to click on photos to enlarge them.

 Rieker Brewery Postcard
Pack of playing cards from the Rieker Brewery.
A framed poster from the Rieker Brewery. 
Another poster from the Rieker Brewery
My final photo shows the outfield fence of a local ballyard with an advertisement on the fence.

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