An oft-repeated story told of a tunnel that ran from the basement of the Carl F. Hanneman home in Mauston under Winsor Street to the property of Dr. J. Samuel Hess Jr. A new book refutes the old tunnel story, but shows how the Hanneman home was originally part of the Mauston Brewery complex.
A book by Mauston resident Richard D. Rossin Jr. tells a fascinating story of the Mauston Brewery, which produced fine German suds at 451 Winsor Street from 1868 to 1916. The brewery operated where the former Hess home now stands, up the hill from the Lemonweir River. The home at 22 Morris Street was built by then brewery owner Charles F. Miler around 1893.
There have been many variants of the tunnel story. One tale said that the tunnel was used during Prohibition to secretly move moonshine from the old brewery across the street for distribution. Another was that the tunnel was used by Charles Miller to get to work in bad weather.
The late Juneau County historian Merton Eberlein, who lived at 27 Morris Street, once wrote that the tunnel story was a myth. “My home has been on the corner of Winsor and Morris since 1904 and I believe I am capable of saying, ‘It ain’t so,’ ” the book quotes Eberlein as saying. “If a tunnel existed, I certainly would have been aware of it, as I knew every nook and cranny of both the Hanneman home and the old brewery.” Eberlein and his father both worked in the brewery.
Rossin recounts visiting the Hanneman home in the 1970s and asking Ruby Hanneman to show him where the tunnel was. She led him into the pantry on the south side of the kitchen and showed him a trap door that led down to a large cistern.
Many of Carl and Ruby Hanneman’s grandchildren might remember a different location for the entrance to the tunnel. On the west side of the kitchen was a doorway and staircase that led to the basement of the home. On the north wall of the basement was a large archway, similar to those found in the basement under the Hess home. The arch had been bricked over at some point. The bricks that filled in the archway did not match those of the arch, or the large limestone blocks that made up the foundation.
Eberlein said the tunnel would have been impossible, since a ridge of hard blue sandstone ran down the center under Winsor Street. When city water was installed around 1915, three contractors tried to blast through the rock along the street with no luck, Eberlein wrote.
There is an explanation for the archway, even if it wasn’t the tunnel of family lore. Charles Miller might have had his own brew cellar, similar to those built underneath the brewery. The book has photographs of the brew cellars that still exist under the old Hess home, which was built on the brewery foundation in 1928. A brew cellar would not have extended anywhere near Winsor Street, yet would have been big enough to hold Miller’s own personal stock of beer or other beverages.
Such a feature would not have been unheard of for the owner of a brewery. We know there is a large cistern built under the south side of the property. There was also a well drilled just to the left of the back porch, according to a hand-drawn property map left behind by Charles Miller’s widow, Frederica Miller Sheridan. She said the well was 22 feet deep. A stone was placed over the well casing when it was decommissioned. “When Miller had it built, he had all the best materials put in the house, even the cellar,” Mrs. Miller wrote.
According to Eberlein, the Millers drew water from the cistern via a pump to use in their laundry, which was located in what was later the pantry. A butlery was located just off the kitchen, used for serving the table in the dining room. The huge stone blocks used to build the basement were hewn at the quarry at Lemonweir Mills.
According to plat maps detailed in the book, there was once a bottling house located northeast of the Miller home. The bottling house had to be located across the street from the brewery, as brewery regulations prohibited bottling operations on brewery property. So beer was put in barrels, taxed, and then moved to the bottling works near the Miller house.
Myrtle Price bought the Miller house in 1932 and made extensive changes to the inside. Carl Hanneman rented the home from Mrs. Price for 11 years until her death in 1947. He continued making rent payments to her estate before purchasing the home in the 1950s. Mrs. Price was the widow of Clinton G. Price, the Juneau County district attorney who was assassinated in their home in April 1930.
The old Hanneman home is again for sale, with a listing price of $117,000. The Carl F. Hanneman estate sold the home for $18,000 in the early 1980s. The house has been completely renovated with maplewood floors, a new kitchen and a permanent addition where the back porch had been.
Rossin’s book is a fascinating piece of Mauston history, with significant references to the Hanneman family. The book costs $15 including shipping. You can send payment to: Richard D. Rossin Jr., P.O. Box 34, Mauston, WI 53948. Rossin can also be reached by e-mail.
— This post has been updated with additional images.
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