The earliest recorded brewery in Springfield was started in 1840 by James Busher.
Busher and his brother John emigrated from their native England and settled in Springfield in 1839. The brothers were tanners by trade, or at least worked in the leather business. John Busher’s biographical sketch in the 1881 History of Sangamon County states he built a tannery in Springfield in 1842 and a brewery with his brother James in the same year. The brewery was in production by May of 1841.
Various qualities of ale and beer were available for purchase at Busher’s establishment, which he called the Springfield Brewery. Fresh yeast was also kept on hand at John Busher’s leather store in downtown Springfield. James Busher advertised cash for porter and champagne bottles, which he no doubt used to bottle his beer for sale.
The brewery was on the west end of Jefferson Street, and Busher also had a depot “across from the Journal office,” according to newspaper advertisements in the 1850s. The operation also sold “Persian sherbet, root beer, &C.”
The Busher brewery operated throughout the 1840s. Cornmeal, a sideline product of the brewery’s steam mill, was offered for sale by 1847. A brief note in the paper in 1849 states the brewery was destroyed by a fire on the morning of Nov. 20, 1849. The estimated loss was $3,000.
In January 1852, a man named George Shilling advertised that the old Springfield Brewery was again in operation with ale and beer for sale by the gallon or barrel. Shilling apparently failed in this business.
The buildings on the Busher property are shown on the 1854 city map of Springfield, but not identified as a brewery, apparently because of the prohibition law in the city at the time. According to the 1855 city directory, Busher was back in business as a brewer and he continued to be listed in city directories until 1860-1861.
A fire apparently destroyed the brewery again in the early 1860s. James Busher was noted in the 1860 census as having $10,000 worth of real estate and $5,000 worth of personal property. However, he died on Aug. 15, 1863 in England, leaving an estate valued at only $2,500.
Among the estate’s receipts was a note claiming the executor was paid for removing personal property from the wreckage of the brewery, which had been destroyed in a fire. It is unlikely the fire mentioned in the note was the one that took place in 1849. Among the items inventoried in the estate were several related to the brewery, including a mash tub, beer trough, hundreds of barrels, ice chests, and a beer pump. The brewery property was sold in 1865 as a result of partitioning the estate.
Contributor: Curtis Mann
More information: Much more information on Springfield’s brewing history is available in The Industrial Archaeology of Breweries: Archaeological Investigations at the Mid-Nineteenth Century Kun-Rudolph Brewery, Fever River Research’s 1993 study of 19th-century brewery caverns discovered along North Walnut Street.
Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society.