Vintage photo of the building after its conversion to a house

The building that houses Waldmann was constructed in the fall of 1857 — six months before Minnesota became a state, nearly four years before the American Civil War began, and at a time when less than 10,000 people lived in Saint Paul. It is the oldest surviving commercial building in the Twin Cities. Its rich history and distinctive limestone construction merited designation as an official Saint Paul Heritage Preservation Site in 2015.

 

The building isn’t just old — it’s an old lager beer saloon. German lager beer took America by storm in the 1850s. First introduced here in 1848, lager beer became immediately popular with Americans — and frontier Minnesotans — who had never seen any thing like it before. By the time Anton Waldmann’s saloon was built, Saint Paul had twelve breweries, ten of which brewed only lagers. Because Temperance supporters thought lager contained less alcohol (it doesn’t), city ordinances granted favorable treatment to lager saloons.

 

German lager saloons were very special places. Unlike Yankee whisky bars, lager saloons served beer almost exclusively, and frequently offered hearty foods, music, family entertainment, and sometimes even political debates. Respectable women and children were always welcome.

 

Waldmann stays true to these traditions today. Re-opened in 2017 for the first time in 154 years, our building still offers wood stoves, virgin pinewood floors, hand-blown window glass, a large collection of 19th century steamboat chairs, whale oil lamps (burning paraffin), and many period maps, photographs and other memorabilia. And don’t forget to take a selfie with Bismark the Bison upstairs!  Prosit.

Anton Waldmann was born on December 4, 1823 in Kleinostheim, Germany near Aschaffenburg in Lower Franconia, a northern part of Bavaria. The son of farmers Johann and Anna Maria (nee Herzog) Waldmann, Anton was actually christened “Leonhard” at birth. He was the second oldest of five siblings, including an older sister Barbara who was denied an emigration permit and later committed suicide, a younger brother Michael who married and moved to Fuerth/Odenwald, a second younger brother Johann who died at the age of 29 in Kleinostheim, and younger twin sisters Margaretha and Eva, only the latter of which survived into adulthood. Anton was trained as a shoemaker in Klienostheim—which suggests he had no expectation of inheriting land from his father, who was likely a tenant farmer.

 

Anton Waldmann

Perhaps for this reason, in May of 1853, Anton emigrated to the United States. He met and married his wife Wilhelmine (“Mina”) Porth, who was born in Mirow, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany in 1826, somewhere in the U.S. While their path to the Upper Midwest is unclear, the couple arrived in St. Paul before the fall of 1856, by which time Anton was already profitably engaged selling fuel wood to steamboats from a warehouse on the Upper Levee. The steamboat trade was approaching an all-time high, with 759 steamboats landing in St. Paul that year, and 965 landings in 1857—both record years that would end with the financial Panic of 1857.

 

Original stencil for an Anton Waldmann keg found on premises

On March 23, 1858, Anton petitioned the Common Council of St. Paul for a liquor license to run his lager beer saloon. It was a time when Temperance proponents had gained influence over the Council and other key offices, ultimately pressuring the City Marshall and his deputies to clamp down on the dozens of unlicensed saloons operating throughout the City. Waldmann himself seems to have been caught in the crackdown, since records indicate he was required to pay for a license extending back six months—suggesting that he had opened his saloon sometime in October of 1857 without a license. Waldmann dutifully renewed his license in April of 1859. The following year, the Minnesota Legislature passed a law prohibiting cities and counties from imposing licensing fees or taxes on the manufacture or sale of lager beer in Minnesota. While this so-called “Lager Beer Act” was repealed in 1862, Waldmann never bothered to apply for another liquor license—by the following year he had opened a flour and feed store on Third near Eagle Street.

 

Waldmann’s saloon was short-lived (1857-1863), but it must have been profitable. In October of 1859, at a time when the rest of the country had barely recovered from the Panic of 1857, and liquid currency was especially hard to come by in the Yankee economy of Minnesota, Waldmann was sufficiently cash-flush to loan $500 to Christoph and Henry Stahlmann, fellow Bavarians who would later become the region’s most successful lager beer brewers. In exchange, Waldmann received a mortgage on the four lots comprising the core of the Stahlmann’s brewery operations, which later became the center of Schmidt Brewery’s complex of buildings along West 7th Street.

 

H. Wellge’s hand-drawn 1883 bird’s eye view of Saint Paul, showing Waldmann on Forbes (now renamed Smith)

A steep rise in grain prices during and following the Civil War allowed Waldmann’s flour and feed business to prosper through the 1870s, moving to 66 Fort Street (later renumbered 114 Fort) in 1867, and partnering with Alonzo Eaton beginning in 1876. But by the mid-1870s Waldmann also must have sensed greater opportunities from passive rental income. Gradually he began developing the unused portions of his property immediately to the south of his old saloon building. In 1872, he built the large Italianate Revival house at 457 Smith (extant), near the corner of today’s Smith and Goodrich Avenues, and moved with his wife to this more fashionable house. Two years later, he built a smaller house in between, adding still another unit to the south by 1880 that created a side-by-side duplex (449-451 Smith, razed). When the property belonging to Waldmann’s neighbor immediately to the west was foreclosed in 1879, Waldmann purchased his property, which included a small one-story house facing the alley immediately to the west of the old saloon building (moved to 447 Smith in 1892, then to 41 Douglas in 2015). In all, this gave Waldmann four rentable units by 1880, and enough passive income to support himself and Mina without engaging in any other business.

 

By the 1880s Waldmann’s health was in decline. Tellingly, the city directories list no occupation for him after 1878. In May of 1881 he made out his will, stating his age as “about 57 years.” Shortly thereafter the Waldmanns moved from their larger house at 457 Smith back to their old saloon building and first home, selling their larger home in April of 1883. This may have been in preparation for the final chapter of their Waldmanns’ life—their move back to Germany. In April 1885, in the midst of a nationwide depression following the recent crash of the New York Stock Exchange, the Waldmanns sold the last of their real estate to Thomas Manning, a Canadian real estate investor who owned numerous rental properties throughout the City. Anton and Mina then boarded a steamship to Germany. Anton died in June 1886 in Edenkoben, Rhineland-Palatinate, at the age of 62. Mina died thirteen years later (November 1899) in the same village. They never had children, and left no known relatives in the United States.

 

During the couple’s three decades in the United States, they managed four separate trades, successfully navigating barriers of language, culture and a tumultuous economy. At the end of it all, Anton’s (Leonhard’s) death certificate described him only as a “shoemaker” and a “Catholic;” Mina’s described her only as the latter. Yet the couple left one thing:  a humble yet extraordinarily sturdy limestone saloon building, which served as their home, their livelihood and ultimately perhaps as their greatest claim on history.

After Thomas Manning’s purchase of Waldmanns’ former saloon property in 1885, Manning significantly obscured the building’s original commercial façade by filling in the glass storefront and central entrance on the first story with limestone masonry and two smaller windows, roughly matching the second story façade. The building subsequently experienced six decades of renters and other absentee owner-landlords as a remodeled house, and its prior history as a saloon was long forgotten.

 

John and Margaret Rafter rented the house from approximately 1898 to 1917, raising five children there. John was an Irish stone worker and later St. Paul policeman based at the Rondo Avenue station.

 

Wellie Vierow, a German widow, occupied the house with her three adult children from 1917 through the 1920s. At the time of the 1930 federal census, John and Margaret Miller occupied the house with their divorced son and five-year-old grandson. John was sixty-two years old and worked as a janitor at a meat packing plant; the family paid $16 per month rent. The house was finally purchased by John and Francis Dreyling in 1947. Dreyling was a carpenter and the couple raised three boys in the house, one of whom was tragically killed in a hunting accident. After John Dreyling died in 1988, Francis remained in the house until 2008 when it was purchased for restoration by Tom and Ann Schroeder.

Tom Schroeder and a talented and dedicated team of volunteer and professional historians, archeologists, architects (led by John Yust, AIA), restoration specialists and carpenter/contractors began restoration of the building in 2012, following several years of research and exploration.  As a result of Tom’s historical research and with the assistance of historians Jim Sazevich and Bob Frame, the property was officially designated as a Heritage Preservation Site by the City of Saint Paul in 2015. At the same time, the City Council adopted a new Historic Use Variance (HUV) process that permitted the building to be used for its original purpose—as a German lager beer saloon—notwithstanding its residential zoning.  In all, between the historic designation and the HUV process, 11 hearings were held before the Zoning, Planning and Heritage Preservation Commissions as well as two public hearings before the City Council, yielding final approval in March 2016.

 

Established in 1857, reestablished in 2017, Waldmann is once again open for business

The physical restoration incorporated the use of natural cement chemically matched to the original masonry mortar, period hand-blown glass, preservation of most of the interior trimwork and even the reuse of original square-cut nails salvaged from the site. A team of archeologists and careful exploration of the site aided the understanding of the saloon’s original use and configuration, locating both the saloon’s original well and outhouse.  Interior finishes include the region’s largest collection of pre-Civil War whale oil lamps, period captains’ and steamboat chairs, early maps and other engravings, displays of artifacts found on the site (including Waldmann’s original trade-stencil) and portraits of both Anton Waldmann and the saloon’s master stonemason, Jacob Amos.