Pekin, a town full of history, has many unique buildings lining Court Street. Walking along the main street through the heart of town, looking at the ornate buildings, one might feel transported to a time long ago.

Away from the main thoroughfare, there are also other historic gems — buildings that have stood the test of time with quality craftsmanship. 

The American Brewery is one such building.

The brownish-red brick building is tucked away next to the railroad tracks and a quiet wooded area, close to the Illinois River at 100 Caroline St. How the building looks today is different from what was originally constructed there.

Randy Price, of Pekin, who owns the building and uses it as a warehouse for his business Enviro-Safe Refrigerants Inc., said, “It originally went across Caroline Street and it was all connected. I have pictures where they took the middle of the building out to put the street in. … It was taking up that whole block area down there.”

The book “A Pictorial History - Pekin” from G. Bradley Publishing, St. Louis, Mo., sheds more light into its history: “This American Brewing Company, located at 100-130 Caroline Street, was known as ‘brewers and bottlers of 20th-century fine bottled beer and health tonic.’ In 1860, a Mr. Saxon started a brewery located at Caroline and Front streets. It later became known as the Pekin Brewery. In 1870, August Winkel purchased the Pekin Brewery and, in 1874, changed the name to Winkel Brewing Company.

“In 1900, Winkel Brewing was taken over by a Chicago group and renamed the American Brewing Company. In 1901, Carl Herget and John Nolte bought American Brewing with Herget named president and Nolte as general manager. After the onset of Prohibition, the brewery closed in 1919, and unlike others, did not reopen after Prohibition was repealed in 1933.”

Over time, the brewery has undergone several architectural changes. For example, a fire in 1870 claimed the warehouse portion of the building, and it was rebuilt in 1941.

Other changes include the types of businesses it has housed and ownership. 

When Price purchased the old brewery in 1996 for $32,000 from attorney Jerry Hall, he delved into its history. He said he saw old photographs of his building with teepees set up next to it.

“It blew my mind,” he said. “I had the original part of the building, the back part, dated about 1900. The article the (Pekin) Times did had it at 1860.”

Absent from the building are three-story boilers that were deconstructed after Price purchased the 16,000-square-foot building. These boilers dated to 1902 and said “Pekin Boiler Works” on them. Price specifically remembers taking them down because it was on 9/11, a date most people remember precisely what they were doing. He saved the boiler fronts.

“We’re talking three-story boilers. These are huge,” Price said. “These massive boilers were down at that chimney end, down at the boiler end. Those boilers at that end of town used to heat the homes at that end of town.”

Price said many people likely do not realize this fact about Pekin, which was something to brag about in the early 1900s. 

“If you came to Pekin, they were always bragging that they had gas light, and you could build a home and instead of (having) your own furnaces, since they had all these brewery plants, what they did is, they would make steam and would end up basically piping the steam to all the houses down at that lower end on Second (Street),” Price said. 

The downfall of the brewery was Prohibition, which began in 1920. Then, World War II came and the business climate changed to accommodate the needs of the time. Murphy & Walsh, Inc bought the building for making steel burial vaults and other items. 

“They were making any kind of tanks — fuel tanks, heavy tanks. ... They made burial vaults and all kinds of stuff for the war,” Price said.

When Price purchased the building and explored its basement, he found the original warranty deeds for the steel burial vaults.

“They guaranteed that for 100 years you’d stay dry,” he said.

Another unique find Price has in his collection are old bottles — one that is brown glass sans its cork topper (cork was used to seal the bottles in the earlier days) — and one of clear glass with the words “The American Brewery Co. of Pekin, Pekin, Illinois” printed on it. Price said he thinks the brown bottle was manufactured about 1901. He is not certain of the date of the clear glass bottle.

“The very first bottles they made, they might have only did it only one or two years, and it was molding (due to the cork). So this is one of the first bottles we found that was in one of the old brewery tunnels,” Price said.

Finding relics such as these is exciting for Price. He said he gets “a feeling of nostalgia” and that it’s “fun to find history.”

Bottling came into play again at the old brewery when Price initially converted it into a bottling facility for his business Enviro-Safe, which produces refrigerants. 

In March 2013, there was a major setback for the business when there was an accidental explosion there due to a contractor opening a capped gas line, which led to the building filling up with gas, Price said. 

Significant damage occurred to the old brewery.

“It blew all the windows out, and it had a huge cupola in the middle and it lifted the cupola. It had a small hole in the roof,” Price said.

One of the reasons Price purchases old structures is his appreciation of their quality and craftsmanship. Even after the explosion, he said the building was still sturdy. Work was done to fix the damage and preserve the old brewery well into the future.