1800’s Beer Cave Unearthed in Small-Town Iowa
When digging around for archeological discoveries in the state of Iowa, it's not exactly uncommon to find arrowheads, bones from bison or cattle, or -- if you're near the Coralville/Iowa City area -- finding some prehistoric fossils and limestone bedrock from the Devonian Period.
Most people aren't searching for old beer caves when they dig up the Iowa soil.
But then again, most people aren't Chuck Johnson, an electrical superintendent in the Winterset area.
This is what he told KCCI about his and his crew's find:
We were boring in these power lines underground, and they just ran into some rock. They started digging it up and figured they hit a rock shelf.
Spoiler alert: It wasn't a rock shelf.
The crew was digging just east of Highway 169 on property that is now a farm equipment supplier when they discovered a 19th-century earthen beer cooler.
But what was it doing there?
According to locals, the existence of an 1800s beer cooler was known of around the area, but the folks in the area weren't sure of its location. Ultimately, the discovery came a short distance away from the still-standing stone building that was Madison County's first brewery.
As KCCI discovered, "A local business directory from 1869 shows the brewery was already in operation, though the year of its founding is uncertain."
Upon its rediscovery, Johnson was surprised about how intact it has remained for over 150 years:
When we poked our head in and saw the arched ceiling — there isn't a flaw in it. It's just like it was brand new.
Jared McDonald from the Madison County Historical Society had this to say about the plans to preserve the find:
Any time you find something from the 1860s, it's really exciting. We'll do something, either a marker or—I don't if we'll exhume it and have tours of it, but we'll definitely have a mark and a plaque for it.
For now, the beer cave remains filled with water, and the plan is to wait until the fall when the water recedes to take a full digital scan.
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