Julius Lehrkind
Julius Lehrkind with family Photo Courtesy of the Pioneer Museum

Julius Lehrkind, founder of the original Bozeman Brewery, fled Germany when he was 17 years old.

He stowed away on a ship bound for New York City in 1860 in order to dodge a military draft.

"When he first landed in New York harbor he couldn't speak English," said Tom Lehrkind, Julius' great-grandson.

"He was helped by the kindness of strangers," said Tom, 69. "He did a good part of his first year there begging."

Having completed a brewmaster apprenticeship in Germany, Julius eventually found work in a Philadelphia brewery, according to Gallatin County Historical Society records.

He branched out on his own after inheriting a portion of his father's fortune, possibly earned from steel production, Tom said.

Julius moved to Davenport, Iowa, a predominantly German settlement where he and his brother Fred, who had come to America with him, opened their own brewery. There, Julius married Emelie Lamback and had six children.

In 1892, Fred and his wife died. Julius and Emelie took their four orphaned children into their home and reared them as their own, according to newspaper accounts.

Then, with a full house and a booming brewery, Julius' business was shut down.

The county went dry. Iowans started enacting Prohibition laws early, giving counties the option to ban alcohol and then endorsing Prohibition statewide four years before the federal government.

Julius sold the Davenport brewery and packed up his family, some brewery workers and brewing equipment in three special railroad cars.

"The family legend is that he got on the train ... going west ... and every time the train would stop he'd get off and taste the water," Tom said. "In those days, the quality of your water really determined the quality of your beer."

In Bozeman, the water was just right. And, a colony of Dutch farmers that settled near Manhattan were producing large amounts of barley.

Julius bought the local Spieth and Krug Brewery, at 240 E. Main, where John Bozeman's Bistro was located before moving to its current home at 125 W. Main.

Julius had the massive, four-story, Genuine Lager Bozeman Brewery built in the 800 block of North Wallace Avenue, near the Northern Pacific Railroad station, in 1895. The building was the largest in Bozeman until construction of the Montana State University Fieldhouse in 1957.

The walls of the brewery were 18-inches thick. The brewery had an attached malting house and three wells were built beneath the building, one 200-feet deep.

About 12,000 square feet of the brewery was lined with cork-line refrigeration rooms. Beer would be aged in the rooms for about six months prior to sale. Draft horses pulled wagons, in the same style as the Budweiser Clydesdales, delivering Bozeman Brewery beer to customers statewide.

"The first beer, they called Bozeman Beer," said Carl Lehrkind III, Tom's older brother.

During the 1860s, lager breweries surpassed ale breweries in number and production in the United States. Lagers are made at colder temperatures than ales. Worldwide, lager production doubled between 1880 and 1890, and tripled by 1900.

The Bozeman Brewery churned out 40,000 barrels of lager beer a year.

Business was so good, so Lehrkind opened other breweries, one in Silesia and another in Red Lodge, where the beer was called "Montana Bud" because of the red, white and blue label, similar to Budweiser. Lehrkind also owned saloons and operated an ice company.

"He was a tremendously hard worker," Tom said.

He was charitable, too. When people came looking for work or food, Tom said Julius helped them. He remembered how people had helped him in New York.

"He never would turn anybody away from his backdoor there down on Wallace because he had been in that position at one time," Tom said.

Julius stood about 5-feet, 8-inches tall and weighed about 300 pounds, Carl said.

"He was a huge man," he said. "As the story goes, there was a trapeze in his bedroom that helped him get out of bed."

"He was up at 4 or 5 a.m. in the morning and would have breakfast and go to work," Tom said. "Then, he would come back at 8 or 9 a.m. and have a second breakfast."

Julius spoke with a heavy German accent and is said to have lost one eye in a fight, Tom said.

Julius built his three-story home, complete with a Queen Anne-style turret, next door to the brewery in 1897. The family compound eventually grew to include homes belonging to his son Edwin and his nephew Henry.

Today, Julius' house, at 719 North Wallace Avenue, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and operated as a bed and breakfast. Though, the property is for sale. With five bedrooms and five bathrooms in the main house and five bedrooms and seven bathrooms in the adjacent carriage house, the Lehrkind Mansion is listed for $1.275 million.

The same year Julius built his house, his wife Emelie died. Two years later, in 1899, he married his former wife's niece, Lina, and together they had one child.

When Prohibition hit Montana in 1919, the brewery closed.

The passage of prohibition was said to have broken Julius' heart. He died in 1922 at age of 79.

"He loved his home and his family and in his quiet unpretentious way, he was most generous and charitable to the needy," states a newspaper account of his death.

During Prohibition, the Lehrkind family diverted their energies to the growing soft-drink business. The family got a contract with Coca-Cola in 1914 and Carl Lehrkind, Julius grandson, had a one-story bottling plant constructed across the street from the brewery.

Upon the repeal of Prohibition in 1932, Julius' son Edwin brought a brewmaster from Butte, named Ottman, into the partnership, and revived the brewery business for a short time under the label of "Old Faithful." The business was eventually forced to close again due to economic factors.

After the brewery stopped producing beer, the building was used for a number of businesses including an ice plant, warehouse, frozen food distributor, Kessler Creamery and a music recording studio.

In 2007, an out-of-state developer got permission to tear down most of the brewery building and build a residential-office project, including 39 condominiums, in its place. The company had planned to use the original brick façade as part of the new building's design.

Then, the economy crashed and the project stalled. All that remains of the brewery building today is one crumbling, four-story brick wall held upright by steel braces.

The bottling plant still stands today, though, Lehrkind's Coca-Cola bottling company moved to 1715 North Rouse Ave., in 1979.

"It's a good steady business now," Tom said.

Lehrkind's legacy lives on in new ways.

Carl's son, Carl Lehrkind IV, who runs Lehrkind's Coca-Cola with his father, had twins last August. One of them is named Carl Lehrkind V.

The other is Julius Michael Lehrkind, named after his great-great-great grandfather.

Amanda Ricker can be reached at aricker@dailychronicle.com or 582-2628.