Unearthing the Underground History of St. Louis, Missouri
Armed with yeast imported from the old world and a new technology for making lagers, German immigrant, Adam Lemp, founded one of America's biggest and most profitable breweries on a limestone bluff near the Mississippi River in the 1860s. Beneath his mini-city of brick buildings, an extensive network of karstic caves provided spring water and natural refrigeration, a key to the lager-making process. The fabulously successful, eccentric, and later suicide-riddled Lemp family embraced cave life, electrifying the dank passages 14 years before the rest of St. Louis and beautifully bricking over large parts of the caverns for lagering rooms, tunnels, a theater, a ballroom, and even a spring-fed swimming pool. Dozens of other breweries sprang up in the area (including Anheuser-Busch), making use of the subterranean spaces for storage and biergartens. Around this time, parts of the caves were also used as a stop on the underground railroad, with an outlet to the Mississippi allowing freedom-seekers to escape to the Illinois side. When prohibition hit, the brewery closed and the family's fortunes plummeted. In the ensuing years, the caves—with openings all over the south side of the city—were briefly used as speakeasies, hiding places, and a 1950s tourist attraction that was closed when I-55 blasted through. While underground raves and haunted houses have been held in the caves relatively recently, exploring them these days requires insider access to the entry points in the former brewery, a penchant for trespassing, or patience to hold out for infrequent official tours (like those held by the Landmark Association of St. Louis for its members).