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  • Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Onlookers, from left, Art Burget, Dan Jobe, Mark Gass and his wife, Helene Gass, talk with one another the tunnel. The crew stopped work and fenced off the area after the tunnel was discovered. Helene Gass said a cousin of hers once lived in the house that was torn down.

  • Mark Gass and his wife, Helene Gass, look at the tunnel on Thursday that was uncovered when an excavation crew tore down a house near the intersection of Thompson and Taylor streets.

  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette What aoppears to be a entry way that was filled in with brick sits at the south end of a tunnel that was uncovered when an excavation crew tore down a house near the intersection of Thompson and Taylor streets earlier in the week. The crew stopped work and fenced off the area after the tunnel was discovered.

  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Helene Gass, left, her husband, Mark Gass, Art Burget and Dan Jobe (teal shirt) stand outside a fence on Thursday, looking at the tunnel that was uncovered when an excavation crew tore down a house near the intersection of Thompson and Taylor streets earlier in the week. The crew stopped work and fenced off the area after the tunnel was discovered.

  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Art Burget, center, and Dan Jobe look at a tunnel on Thursday that was uncovered when an excavation crew tore down a house near the intersection of Thompson and Taylor streets earlier in the week. The crew stopped work and fenced off the area after the tunnel was discovered.

Friday, September 09, 2016 10:02 pm

Digging nets answers to vault riddle

Frank Gray | The Journal Gazette

The mystery of a stone vault discovered when a demolition crew was tearing down a house on Thompson Avenue is gradually being solved.

Workers, who were involved in a blight removal project, didn’t know they had broken into the vault until they had knocked off the top and realized they were actually wrecking an underground room whose sides and top formed a large arch, all carefully constructed from stone.

It turns out a lot of people in the neighborhood knew about the existence of the vault, and people may have had access to it in the last 30 years or so.

Who built it is just now being sorted out.

Apparently it was part of what was known as the Eagle Brewery, which was built around 1865 by a man named John Riedmiller Sr., said Creager Smith, a historic preservation planner with the city. The brewery was a significant operation, with numerous buildings and stone cellars, apparently for storage of beer.

The Eagle Brewery operated until 1878. After that, a warehouse and the cellars were leased by a Toledo brewery that made something called Buckeye Beer. It was the first beer made somewhere else to be shipped to and sold in Fort Wayne.

Eventually, sometime after 1900, the brewery was torn down and the cellars simply buried.

Around that time a house was moved to the site. That was a common practice at the time, Smith said. People were less wasteful, there were no landfills to haul debris to if a house was torn down, and it was possible to buy an existing house and move it for less than it cost to build a new one. And even though this cellar was underneath, it was plenty strong to support the house.

On one side of the cellar is what appears to be a doorway that has been sealed using stone. What lies beyond that is a mystery.

The other side of the cellar has a cinder block wall that is obviously of modern construction. Apparently when paving an alley next to the house in recent decades, workers broke through that part of the cellar. So they sealed one end, filled in the portion under the alley and paved the alley with concrete.

What isn’t clear is exactly how far that cellar goes. According to one source, the brewery had stone cellars that were 22 by 40 feet. But were there two cellars, or even more? And where they are remains a mystery.

What is going to happen to the cellar isn’t for the city to decide. The demolition is being paid for by funds from the state, and the rules are that if anything unusual is found during demolition, work must stop and the state be notified.

An archaeologist with the state will inspect the site, and then the state will decide how to proceed.

fgray@jg.net