Highland News Leader

A Thought to Remember: Highland’s first distillery was started in 1844

Highland’s first distillery was started by Jacob Eggen and his partner Ludwig Gruetli in 1844.

I don’t have information on Gruetli, but I have a folder full for Eggen, as he became the first president, later called mayor, of the city of Highland in 1865.

“Jacob Eggen (1803-1890) of Boltigen, near Aarau, Canton Bern, Switzerland, had a great education, played the piano and was a baker by trade. Eggen came to ‘New Switzerland’ in November of 1833 and became one of the farm hands of Dr. Kaspar Koepfli.”

Koepfli owned the land known as the Ed Lorenz farm, according to the 1937 Centennial book. It is where Basler Electric is today and the farm to the west, where Maurice Knebel lives.

“At the Koepflis, Eggen became the ‘cheese maker’ and from March 2, 1834 to Sept. 15 produced 5,120 pounds of cheese.

“Jacob Eggen, in 1834 or 1835, had purchased these 40 acres of land in Looking Glass Prairie (now called Helvetia Township), and in 1837, they became the west side of Highland. They were just west of Chestnut Street and between Broadway and to the north. (Today, this is Klaus Service Center, Highland Red D Mix, Highland Food Pantry and my son Luke’s, Highland Recycling & Shredding.)

“In 1867, north of this area was the St. Louis, Vandalia & Terra Haute Railroad. (Later, this became the Pennsylvania Railroad and today it’s CSX. On the south side, it would include where Michael’s Restaurant and hotel; the new Windows On Broadway, formerly the 4-5-6 Co.; Casey’s General Store; and probably to the next street to the west.)

“In the fall of 1835, Eggen and Mr. Labhardt started a pottery on two acres of land in Saline Township, then called ‘New Switzerland,’ that was given to him because of the clay content by Dr. Koepfli. They produced pots for the White Lead Co. of St. Louis and tile stoves for home heating. He also built a home, for his office, on this land, and in February 1836, he married Rosa Koepfli, the daughter of Dr. Koepfli.

(Eggen’s daughter, Bertha Eggen, was born in July 1838, and in 1857, she married Martin Schott Sr., the son of Gerhard Schott of the Highland Brewery.)

“About this time, he also started a brick yard on the property he owned in Helvetia Township, just west of what became Highland.

“In 1844, Eggen and Ludwig Gruetli started their distillery on Eggen’s 40 acres in Helvetia Township.

“A short time later, they took in Heinrich (Henry) Hermann and George Ruegger as partners.

“The Mexican War had started in 1845, and three militia companies were raised in Highland. Eggen had also been in the Swiss artillery before coming to Highland, and he became the captain of the artillery. In 1848, he became the major of the Eighth Regiment.”

For a number of years, Jacob Eggen gathered the material to make the first complete map of New Switzerland. Eggen’s map contained Highland and three other sections, including to the south 10 sections wide, which in 1872, became the northern part of Helvetia Township. The four sections above became Saline Township in 1872. These 80 sections are shown on Jacob Eggen’s August 1847 map, which listed the name of each farmer who owned land in that section and also the homes. It also highlighted lighted the hills, streams and roads. Eggen’s map is reproduced on the back side of the front cover and on Page 1, of the Sesquicentennial book of 1987.

“In April 1848, Eggen was ill and sold his share in the distillery to his former partners, Hermann and Ruegger. They, in 1849, sold to Anton Mueller and John Jacob Spindler Sr. (Mueller will be in my next column about the Sodawater Works.)

“Eggen’s wife, Rosa, and daughter, Bertha, returned from Switzerland in 1849, and Rosa died of cholera on July 22, 1849.

“After Eggen became well again, he started a bakery and ran the bakery until he retired from business. On Oct. 13, 1850, Eggen married Louisa E. Richter Kinne, and they has a daughter, Rosa E. Eggen.

“In 1865, Eggen became the first president (later called mayor) of the newly incorporated city of Highland, and after that, he became the police magistrate. He devoted much of his spare time to the farmers association and was working to establish a library.

“His daughter, Rosa Emilie Eggen, in 1878, married John S. Hoerner, the editor and owner of the Highland Union newspaper, who wrote the long obituary of Jacob Eggen in 1890.”

Now, back to the distillery that Eggen had started.

“Anton Mueller and John Jacob Spindler were running the distillery until after the Civil War. At the close of the war, the revenue tax on the manufacture of whiskey was greatly advanced, but the revenue act was not retroactive and did not apply to whiskey that had already been made. Of course, the selling price per gallon advanced immediately after the revenue act was passed.

“The Highland distillers were fortunate in that they had a very big supply on hand and were the happy possessors of several thousand gallons of good whiskey, which they had accumulated during the war years.

“They also owned the output of another big still in the country and sold out all of their non-taxable good whiskey at several times its former price, making a huge profit.”

Then, they quit the distillery business.

But they became partners again in the 1866 in the Mueller, Hermann & Co. mill at Eighth & Chestnut. By 1867, this mill became Henry Hermann & Co. In the early 1870s, John Jacob Spindler Sr. sold his interest in the mill and built his three-story store building, just east of the F. Ryhiner & Co. Bank, on Main Street.

“Another distillery was started in Highland in 1869 by August J. Pagan,” according to Page 17 of Brief History of the City of Highland, “It was a fruit distillery with a capacity of 500 gallons of apple, peach or grape brandies in 24 hours.

“Pagan, a few years previously, had put out a 13-acre vineyard, with a large apple and peach orchard, south of his distillery.

“His brandy casks were stored in his 45,000-gallon, arched stone and brick cellar. His orchard and distillery was at 13th and Walnut, extending south to Willow Creek and east for two blocks. His land is thoroughly tiled and drained, rendering it more productive. He also has a hydraulic press for his fruits, with his vineyard and orchard producing 10,000 gallons of wine and brandy each year. He was delivering to St. Louis and also selling his crops locally.”

“August J. Pagan and his two older sisters, Maria and Susan, had arrived in Highland in 1858, as their sister, Karoline Pagan (Mrs. Gottfried Melchoir), Suppiger’s husband, had died in Highland, leaving three sons under the age of 5.

“They lived with Karoline Suppiger. Her sister, Maria Anna Pagan, in 1862, married William Dietz Sr., and they moved to rural Marine.”

(Shirley Ims Gilomen Dietz said they lived north of Marine and are in the 1912 History of Madison County.)

“August J. Pagan, in 1888, married Helena Bosenbury Bauer; they had no children. They built the brick house, now painted white at the southeast corner of 13th and Walnut. August died in 1913.”

My column of 1975 tells about August and his connection with Helvetia Milk Condensing Co. and a condensed version follows.

August J. Pagan, by 1884, was taking his wine casks to the famed Green Tree Hotel in St. Louis, where he met John Meyenberg of Switzerland, who had some patents on the evaporation of milk. Legend has it that Meyenberg came to Highland perched on the wagon seat of Pagan’s wine wagon. Meyenberg and his associates went on to start Helvetia Milk Condensing Co. in 1885, and the rest is history.

(Quotes from the 1893 Brief History of the City of Highland, Centennial History of Highland, my columns of 1975, Shirley Dietz and my files.)