Three years ago a group of Rockford natives made the decision to share their passion for fine beer and food with others in the form of a brewpub. Our home is the historic Prairie Street Brewhouse, an important part of Rockford’s history and currently coming back to life as a mixed-use development. Home to the original Rockford Brewing Company, this building was one of the first breweries in the nation, pumping out over 75,000 barrels a year and its peak. Our shiny new 15-barrel brewery is the backdrop to Rockford’s newest destination for handcrafted beer and food. We are proud and excited to bring this wonderful piece of Rockford history back to life and look forward to exceeding expectations.
The story begins about over a century and a half ago…
Jonathan Peacock was born in 1819 in Markington, England. He came to America in 1847 and acquired a job with Diversey and Lill Brewery in Chicago. In 1849 he moved to Rockford, Illinois where with 200 dollars he bought a small Greek revival home on Prairie Street next to the Rock River and started Rockford Brewery. Possessed with more determination than Money, Jonathan ground malt in a hand-turned coffee mill, brewed mash in a washtub and delivered his ale by wheelbarrow.
He soon grew out of the small factory, and in 1857 he constructed a brewhouse and bottling plant on two acres of land at 200 Prairie Street on the Rock River. This sight was ideal with artesian wells located on the property to supply fresh water and the Rock River to provide an abundant source of ice. Blocks were cut from the river during the winter and were stored in the brewery’s cellar for use during the summer. There was also direct access to the Chicago and Northwestern Railway line for easy transportation of the beer.
Jonathan started brewing only cream and stock ales, but tastes changed and in the 1860’s he introduced his first lager. One of the lagers ‘Nikolob’ was the favorite, with the slogan of, “You’ll find good cheer in Nikolob, the beer that made Milwaukee Jealous.”
Jonathan died in 1895 at the age of 76. His two sons, Edwin and Frank took over running the Brewery. They expanded the company by investing $35,000 on space and equipment. Both brothers died (Edwin in 1899 and Frank in 1897) of tuberculosis. Frank’s widow, Louisa, ran the company briefly, but in 1899 she sold the company to John V. Petritz.
John v. Petritz was born in Croatia in 1852 and immigrated to the United States in 1852. He spent some time in Montana where he made his money operating hotels and saloons. He came to Rockford and purchased Rockford Brewery in 1899. He added machinery and erected a five-story, brick-and-stone factory to house the rechristened Rockford Brewing Company. They continued to manufacture Nikolob as their flagship brand. By 1909, Petritz was turning out 75,000 barrels a year.
In March 1917 a law was passed banning all sales of intoxicating beverages in Winnebago County. Petritz conspired with two beer distributors to circumvent the law. Federal authorities soon got wind of the conspiracy and put a stop to it. In 1919 Rockford Brewing Company was turned into Rockford Storage Warehouses.
Prohibition was repealed in 1933 and John G. Petritz revived his father’s brewery. But Nikolob never flowed again. Instead, customers drank Petritz Beer: “Extra Fine Since ’49”. The beer was brewed in Chicago and shipped to Rockford for aging and bottling.
An employee, Edward M. Fox, bought the company a year later and set up the first cold storage locker system in Rockford. Samuel Hirsch acquired the brewery from Fox in 1937 and changed its name to Rock River Brewing Company. Hirsch’s brands included Coronet Old Vat and Grand Prize. In 1939 Rock River Brewing Company ceased production.
The Stormont family bought the Brewhouse in 1945 and turned it into a storage warehouse and laundry business until 2000 when Loyd and Diane Koch purchased the building with the intent of developing it into a mixed use facility. After 14 years this dream is almost a reality. The Brewhouse development will be completed by 2015.