A Visit to the Heurich House Museum in Washington DC
In the early 1940’s, German-American Brewer, Christian Heurich, owned more land and employed more people in Washington DC than any entity other than the Federal Government. An amazing accomplishment for a man who came to the United States from the small village of Haina in the Duchy of Saxe-Meiningen in 1866 with only $200 in his pocket. His mansion, now the Heurich House Museum sits just off of Dupont Circle and looks a bit like an imposing German castle from the busy street. Inside the gates, you’ll find one of Washington DC’s secrets, a real German Biergarten, where they serve Senate Beer, made from the original recipes. And you can also tour this amazing mansion.
What makes the Heurich House Museum tour so special? The mansion on a busy DC street is more than just a big house with some old-fashioned furniture. The tour guides for Heurich House tours LOVE what they do, and they all have stories that bring life to the rooms. We saw everything from the basement boiler to the sitz bath upstairs (it was awfully small). And because our guide was also a scholar who studied the letters and lives of the Heurich family, we got fun little details along the way. Washington DC is full of museums, but this special museum is more than just “stuff”, it allows you to see the lives of a German-American family, who despite the two World Wars, kept their German traditions while fully embracing America. It’s a true immigrant success story.
Have a beer or glass of wine in the Biergarten, then tour the museum… and be sure to say hello to Michael! (teehee)
Note- Tours of the Heurich House will resume in February of 2024. Currently, they are pausFor more information on openings.
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Christian Heurich German-American Success Story
Christian Heurich was born in 1842, the third of four children. His parent, who worked as Innkeepers, died when he was 14, so Christian lived a while with his brother before setting off for a two-year apprenticeship in beer brewing in Themar. As a journeyman, he worked in Munich where he learned to make lighter lagers and then walked to Vienna to study brewing techniques. He worked in Graz, Basel, and even Italy…all the while perfecting his trade.
His sister Elizabeth emigrated to Baltimore in 1859, and by 1865, convinced Christian that Americans were looking for the lighter beers that he learned to make. He took his life savings and sailed from Hamburg, finally arriving in Baltimore in 1867 where he found a thriving community of 200,000 Germans. There he got a job with Röst Brewing Company, and started taking English lessons.
By the early 1870s, Heurich and a partner wanted to start something of their own. Washington DC’s population had increased by 130,000 after the Civil War, that’s a LOT of thirsty people. And growth meant development. The pair rented a brewery from Schell Brewing, fitted it with new equipment, and Heurich started brewing the Weissbier he learned in Germany. Eventually, he split with his partner (reasons unknown). For a while, he did everything… from brewing to delivering. But as business grew, he brought over more family to help in the company. Heurich prided himself on the purity of his beer. This lack of additives made his brewery stand apart from the others.
Christian Heurich Brewing Company’s “Maerzen” and “Senate” – Indorsed by Prof. Wiley and Prof. Monroe – Leading Physicians Prescribe It on Account of Its Purity. Headline published in The Evening Star on May 18, 1901, page 8. Retrieved via Newspapers.com.
Heurich’s first wife Amelia, was the widow of George Schell (who leased the brewery to Heurich) and daughter of August Mueller (who farmed a piece of land just off of Dupont Circle). Now he and his wife owned the Brewery and the land for the house. Sadly, Amelia died before the house could be built.
As the brewery grew, so did the status of the Christian Heurich. He began to buy up land in Washington DC, and found himself moving in the higher reaches of Washington society, and the German-American community. He joined clubs and sat on several boards. Then he built a new brewery along the Potomac river. This one also housed an ice plant… that would keep his finances from collapsing during Prohibition.
It was Heurich’s second wife, Mathilde Daetz, another German immigrant, who planned the Heurich house. The mansion used a new building material… concrete…to make a “fireproof” structure. The couple imported German craftsmen who filled the 31 room home with exquisite woodwork and ironwork details…from the chandeliers to the bannisters,
to the fireplace mantles (the fireplaces were non-functioning…due to fear of fire!).
They also brought over female servants from Germany to cook and clean. Sadly, his second wife didn’t get to live in the home she so lovingly planned. Heurich married again (another Amelia… this one the niece of his first wife), and with his children, they settled in.
Although Christian Heurich became an American citizen, the family did hold on to many German traditions, for example, they always set up a Christmas tree. At home they spoke German until the outbreak of WWI, when they switched to English. The Heurich family prided themselves on being American. This and his status in Washingto DC helped shield the family from persecution during the First World War.
After the war, the Prohibition all but wiped out the brewing industry, but fortunately, Heurich was able to fall back to ice making (during these days of Ice Boxes, ice was essential). After Prohibition, the brewery could begin brewing Senate beer again.
In 1940, Heurich celebrated 75 years as a brewer in America. Despite his German roots, the company made a point to brand itself as Patriotic All American, and business boomed during the war years, when thousands of people flooded into Washington DC.
Christian Heurich died in 1945, leaving home and business to his son. Business slowed, and eventually the company closed. The home was donated for use as a museum.
Heurich House Museum in Washington DC
A visit to the Heurich House Museum in Washington DC is a step back in time. Because the family lived in the home for so long… right up until it was donated… most of the original furnishings are still in place. Chairs and sofas are set in conversation groups, as if they are waiting for family and friends to come take their seats.
The kitchen, slightly modernized, with cookbooks open to favorite recipes, looks like the cook just stepped out of the room for a moment (yes, I took some photos… I need to give the cakes a try!).
And in the dining room, Michael sits on the sideboard waiting to be included. Who is Michael? The third Mrs. Heurich, like so many people of the time, was fairly superstitious… 13 at dinner would never do. Should that ever happen, Michael was brought to the table to even the numbers.
Opulent bedrooms, tiny bathrooms, a stunning staircase… all beautiful and amazing….
But in the basement you find what I’m sure is the most interesting room for beer lovers everywhere. Christian Heurich had his own Bierstube in the basement.
A highly carved wooden bar, a large tavern table…
And decorated walls painted with German sayings make a room that most would find quite Gemütlich.
When I visited in November 2023, there was a special exhibition devoted to the people who worked at the house, servants and employees. You could see the old photos, copies of immigration paperwork, and background information about the people. Where they came from, and what they did in the house. Fascinating stuff.
And of course… the Sitz Bath
After touring the Heurich House from the basement to the second floor, you can quench your thirst in the 1921 Biergarten. Authentic Biergarten tables and comfortable Adirondack chairs on the lawn surrounded by flowering greenery create a perfect Oasis in the middle of a busy city. Naturally, you can enjoy beer, brewed from the old Heurich recipes, but you’ll also find wine and craft cocktails on the menu (I was delighted with my cup of Glühwein!) While you are placing your orders, don’t miss the display of Brewery history in the carriage house!
Visit the Heurich House Museum and Biergarten
Tours of the House begin again in February 2024 to celebrate the mansion’s 130 years!
Thursday – Saturday -> Find Tickets Here
Biergarten is Open Wednesday – Friday 4pm to 8pm
Saturday 12 – 8pm
Learn more about Christian Heurich and Brewing in Washington DC
Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C. by Garrett Peck