September 18, 2014

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Workmen excavating for a sewer project discover long-forgotten brewery cellars

AMHERST — A 1954 newspaper article found in the files at the Amherst Historical Society by a local historian sets the scene “the old cellars are still there. One wonders what people will say years from now if they ever uncover these cellars and try to determine what they were used for.”

Mysterious and tempting, like a time capsule preserved for decades and unearthed before its time.

From both a historical and structural standpoint, the discovery of two buried cellars behind Town Hall has been a significant find, according to those involved.

Discovered in March while contractors were working on a storm sewer improvement project for the city, the cellars were part of a brewery owned by William Braun, according to Matt Nahorn, a volunteer with the Amherst Historical Society, who began researching the history of the cellars after they were discovered.

Nahorn learned that Braun emigrated from Germany with his parents in 1852 and settled in Amherst around 1860.

“He owned property behind Town Hall, which is where he built his brew house,” Nahorn said. “The brewery was just behind his house by a natural spring.”

Braun’s house has since been restored by the Timko family and turned into the Five Corners Bed & Breakfast.

Around the time the cellars were discovered, Nahorn had been working to restore the archways around the old spring for the Timko family.

“People would come from all over to gather water from the old spring,” Nahorn said. Braun himself used it for his brews.

By the late 1800s, Braun closed his brewery, demolished it, and sold part of the property to the railroad, but the cellars remained.

They were left unsealed until the Great Depression years, when people became concerned that someone could fall in them, according to Nahorn.

The cellars were sealed and basically forgotten.

The area around the spring was forgotten for a while as well. It was cleaned up in the early part of the 20th century and a stone archway was built around it, but after years of neglect, it fell into disrepair again.

Nahorn hopes to stop the cycle of neglect after the city completes its work on the storm sewers sometime in late summer.

He would love the chance to explore the cellars and even see them open to the public, but for now, that is just a dream.

Although significant historically, it has been determined that the cellars need to be sealed again for safety reasons.

Aaron Appell, project manager with Bramhall Engineering in Avon, said he has had other finds on the job over the years, old foundations and old bridges.

“Nothing of this significance though,” he said, “nothing this unique. It was such a large structure that was buried.”

Each of the two cellars measures 48 feet long by 15 feet wide.

Call it human nature, but as soon as they were discovered, people wanted in.

Contractors, city officials, even Appell had to see what was down there, and they weren’t disappointed.

“It’s pretty amazing what they were able to do in the 1800s,” Appell said. “They knew what they were doing when they built it. It’s amazing considering they didn’t have the equipment and tools we do nowadays.”

Perhaps in another 80 or 100 years, the cellars will be unearthed again, leaving people to wonder why they were buried and what they might have been used for.

Contact Christina Jolliffe at 329-7155 or ctnews@chroniclet.com.