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The Eagle Brewery And Saloon

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Chelsea Rose/SOULA
Tiah Edmunson-Morton (left) and archaeologist Bridget Weiner excavate at the site of a former Eagle Brewery building.

There is at least one saloon at the center of most stories about the American West, so when the Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology (SOULA) was asked to dig into the history of one of our region’s—and state’s—oldest breweries, we jumped at the chance!

Established in the 1850s, portions of the Eagle Brewery and Saloon survive today as part of Jacksonville’s National Landmark District. Owners Ken Gregg and Frank De Luca take their stewardship of this historical site seriously, and as such, have asked SOULA to help locate and define the subsurface archaeological deposits on the property so that they can be considered as part of any future development at the site.

Uncovering the hidden roles of 19th century women in places like Jacksonville is an exciting opportunity to update many of the tired tropes of the Wild West.

While investigating one of the earliest breweries in the state is already intriguing, the story got even better when we stumbled upon the research of Tiah Edmunson-Morton of the Oregon State University Hops and Brewing Archives. We spoke with Tiah on a recent episode of Underground History about her research for a book on the role of women in Oregon’s early breweries, including the Eagle Brewery’s own Fredericka Wetterer who had a hand in keeping the business up and running for years.

Uncovering the hidden roles of 19th century women in places like Jacksonville is an exciting opportunity to update many of the tired tropes of the Wild West. In general, scholars have a lot of work to do to unpack the gender stereotypes of the past (and present) and explore the complex identities of its people. Archaeology can play a leading role in those efforts. Over the decade plus I have been working in the Jacksonville area, I have seen the erasure of Native women in the documentary record, as well as the assumption that any women present must have been there at, and for, the pleasure of men. And I have barely scratched the surface of these untold stories. Therefore, it is my pleasure when I get to bust these myths and highlight the actual roles of women as wives, homesteaders, entrepreneurs, businesswomen, and as meaningful participants in their communities.

Fredricka Sage married Joseph Wetterer, owner of the Eagle Brewery and Saloon, in the early 1860s. Both were German immigrants, and together they had seven children, five of whom survived to adulthood. Joseph died in 1879, leaving Fredericka the executrix of his estate. The brewery went into foreclosure in 1881 and was subsequently purchased by Fredericka’s father and returned to her. Fredericka ran the brewery and side distilling business throughout this period and continued to do so after she married William Heeley in 1883. The brewery was closed by the turn of the century, perhaps as one of the many casualties associated with the decline of Jacksonville after it was bypassed by the railroad. Heeley died in 1906, and Fredericka died in 1917. Her children continued to live on the property into the mid-20th century and are remembered by long time Jacksonville residents, along with the dilapidated structures and pits associated with the early brewery.

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Chelsea Rose/SOULA
A barrel hoop uncovered during the excavations at the Eagle Brewery and Saloon.

While the archaeological investigation of the property is ongoing, the beer bottles, barrel straps, and structural materials found to date can provide clues about the historical brewing operations, and the buttons and suspender clips, food bones, and tableware will shed light on those who worked and lived there. In addition, we hope to further explore Fredericka’s role in the business, how entwined the running of the brewery and household were, and the economic standing of the family over time. While Tiah continues to dig through the archives, we hope the material culture recovered at the site can help provide the intimate details of daily life not documented in newspapers, business and probate records, or the census population schedules.

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An 1888 Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the property and associated buildings.

Tiah’s research has uncovered 137 breweries listing women as full or part owners in Oregon since 1984, and these women follow the dozens more that helped establish and maintain the brewing industry in the state since its beginning. You can about one of these women in Tiah’s recent publication, “Maybe You’ve Heard of Her Husband? Finding Louisa Weinhard” (published in the summer 2021 issue of the Oregon Historical Quarterly and available free online), and you can follow Tiah’s ongoing research into Fredericka and Oregon’s other brewing women (and lots more!) on her blog: thebrewstorian.tumblr.com. Cheers!