Today is the birthday of C.L. Centlivre (September 27, 1827-January 13, 1894). Centlivre was born in France, and settle in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he founded the C.L. Centlivre Brewing Company with his brother, Frank. It was also known as the French Brewery and much later as the Old Crown Brewery.
Charles Louis Centlivre was born in Dannemarie, Haut-Rhin, France, September 27, 1827. He was trained as a cooper (profession) and initially came to America in 1847, having settled in New Orleans, Louisiana. After a cholera epidemic he returned to France, returning to America via New York City with his father and two brothers. After living in Massillon, Ohio and working as a cooper in Louisville, Ohio, he founded a brewery in McGregor, Iowa in 1850 and operated it until he came to Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1862 and founded the C. L. Centlivre Brewing Company with his brother, Frank. He died in 1894 at the age of 67.
A statute of Centlivre that used to be on the brewery but
now resides above a Fort Wayne restaurant.
CHARLES LOUIS CENTLIVRE was french, Monsieur Centlivre (His surname has been anglicized to rhyme with “river”) was born in 1827 in Lutran, a small town in the northeast of France about nine miles from the German border and 90 miles south of the 349-year-old Kronenbourg Brewery in Strasbourg. When he was 12, his family father, stepmother, five siblings and a stepbrother-moved to neighboring Valdieu, where he apparently apprenticed as a cooper.
Charles, along with his sister Celestine and stepbrother Henri Tonkeul sailed from France and arrived in the Port of New Orleans on December 24, 1850. Charles and Henri would soon relocate to Louisville, OH near Canton (now home of the NFL Hall of Fame), where they reportedly met up with other relatives, and where Charles found work as a cooper. In 1854 they were joined by Charles’ father, stepmother and younger siblings. It was here that Centlivre wed Marie Houma ire, a young French woman who spoke no English. The newlyweds had met by accident on a train reroute to Louisville. Marie had boarded the wrong train; she was supposed to be heading to Louisville, Kentucky’ Late in 1854 or early 1855, Charles and Marie moved to McGregor, Iowa, where he purchased some land. McGregor, located on the Mississippi, was becoming a hub where grain from Iowa and Minnesota was transported across the river and sent on to Milwaukee via railroad; by the 1870s it had become the busiest shipping port west of Chicago. A number of family members also moved to Iowa, including Centlivre’s brothers Francois and Denis, sister Celestine and his father Louis. Marie gave birth to their first two children, Amelia and Louis, in Iowa. Charles met Christian Magnus, a German emigrant and brewer, while in Dubuque County, Iowa. Magnus helped Centlivre start a brewery in Twin Springs, Iowa about 1857 and served as its foreman until 1858. Magnus was known to age beer in caves, which may be how Centlivre learned to lager beer. Also while in Twin Springs, Centlivre declared his intent to become a United States citizen. More than a brewer, Charles L. Centlivre was an entrepreneur, and while in Fort Wayne, Indiana, possibly to visit his stepbrother Henri Tonkeul, (Tonkel Road still exists in Fort Wayne), he saw a greater business potential than existed in Iowa. Fort Wayne had a large German population, a total population at the time of about 10,000, rail service connecting Fort Wayne to Chicago and Pittsburgh and three rivers from which to draw water and ice for brewing. In February 1862 he purchased 320 acres in Fort Wayne from Rufus French.
THE FRENCH BREWERY
It was here that Charles, his father, and his brother Frank literally built a primitive Brewhouse with their own hands. Located next to the St. Mary’s river on Lima Plank Road, now known as Spy Run Avenue, the French Brewery opened on September 27, 1862. By 1864 all the Centlivre property in Iowa would be sold. Charles’ brother Denis relocated to southwestern Wisconsin and established the Platteville Brewery in the town of the same name. In Fort Wayne, the French Brewery grew in both size and popularity, and the Centlivre’s continued to purchase land there to expand the brewery and other ventures. A malting plant was installed at the brewery in 1868. In 1869 Louis Centlivre had a deed drawn up that granted his son 80 additional acres of land and all the buildings and stock contained thereon. For nine years the Centlivre family, which numbered as many as nine, lived in a section of the brewery until a family home was built in 1871. With the 1871 Chicago fire and the destruction of many Chicago breweries, Charles saw an opportunity to recruit Peter Nussbaum as Brewmaster at the French Brewery. Nussbaum, who had learned his craft in Luxembourg, accepted the position. Until his arrival, the only products of the French Brewery were French Lager and Excelsior. Nussbaum added XX Brand, Bohemian, Munchener, and Kaiser to the brewery’s menu. Centlivre Special and Nickel Plate replaced the latter two. Nussbaum served as a Brewmaster for the Centlivre brewery for 37 years and worked for three generations of the family. Less than half a mile south of the brewery is Nussbaum Street, where “Herr Nussbaum” lived. Centlivre was continually improving his brewing facilities. He erected a new bottling plant, one of the first in the area, in 1876. Two years later, the brewery received Fort Wayne’s first artificial refrigeration units. The French Brewery produced approximately 500 barrels of beer in its first year of operation. By 1880, popularity and expansion ramped that number up to 20,000 barrels annually. In the late 1870s and early 1880s the Centlivre family turned 28 acres along Spy Run Ave. into Centlivre Park, a place for families to gather and enjoy picnics, sports and music. Rowboats could be rented for $1.00 a day, and, of course, Centlivre Beer was available for a modest price.
The Centlivre’s had a strong interest in boating. Charles’ son Joseph rowed competitively until he developed typhoid after his skiff was swamped during a race in the Detroit River. Joseph died in September 1882; just four years later Marie Centlivre passed after a brief illness. By the mid- 1880s Charles Centlivre was preparing his remaining sons to run the brewery. Charles F. was a delivery clerk and then superintendent of the bottling works; Louis Alphonse worked as the brewery manager. Daughter Amelia’s husband, John Reuss, became the French Brewery’s corporate secretary and treasurer. In spring 1887 construction of the C. L. Centlivre Street Railway Co. began. Two rail cars would replace the old horse-drawn trolleys that took people to Centlivre Park. The line also played a role in the brewery’s business, as it carried beer deliveries to the Nickel Plate Railroad station and saloons downtown. Later that year the family celebrated another milestone. On August 6, Charles Louis Centlivre, now 60 years old, became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Also, Hoosier Beer has some additional information about the brewery’s history.
Here’s another short account from Field Tripper:
In 1862 a French immigrant, Charles L. Centlivre, established one of Fort Wayne’s most well-known industries on the west bank of the St. Joseph River, just north of where the State Street Bridge crosses the river. Known initially as the “French Brewery,” Centlivre’s enterprise, along with the Berghoff Brewery on the east side of town, made Fort Wayne a leading beer producer in the Midwest by the end of the nineteenth century. Employees of the brewery honored the founder by placing a statue of Charles Centlivre on top of the factory building. The brewery ceased operations in 1974, and the business-related buildings were subsequently razed. The 1888 Queen Anne–style Charles Centlivre residence that appears in this view could still be seen as of 2000 on Spy Run Avenue north of the intersection with State Street. A used car lot, as of 2000, occupied the site where the brewery once stood.