“Sample Rooms” in Holland’s Directory
Naperville today has an abundance of drinking establishments and it was much the same in 1886. In fact, there were six saloons in the downtown area and one out by the train depot for a population of just over 2,000.
These drinking establishments called themselves “sample rooms” which was a name leftover from when distributors let commercial customers sample stock before purchasing. The sample rooms in Naperville actually catered to folks who wanted to relax with a beer, a cigar, and a game of billiards, both locals and travelers. The Pre-Emption House was listed under “Hotels” and not “Sample Rooms,” but probably travelers could also buy food and drink there, as they had for since its inception.Adam Conrad ran the sample room south of the railway station. Not a lot has been found about him other than the fact that he married Josephine Adams and they are both buried in Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery. One supposes that he particularly catered to folks waiting for a train and perhaps railroad employees.
The in-town sample rooms were run by some more familiar Naperville names. We talked last time about Jacob Keller, who, yes, is related to Ron Keller of the Municipal Band. He started with a sample room, expanded his business with a hotel on Washington Street, and then returned to his original location with a scaled-down hotel and sample room establishment. Mrs. Caroline Fuchs is the only woman who has a sample room listed. She was featured in March for Woman’s History Month. Originally, Caroline’s husband, Fred, ran the saloon, but he died in 1886, apparently just before Holland’s Business Directory was published.
Egermann is a well-known Naperville name. Xavier Egermann immigrated from Germany in 1846 and both he and his son Joseph had their hands in several businesses, including the Naperville Butter and Cheese Factory. Xavier purchased a brewery from Jacob Engelfreidt, which was probably the first in town, and also ran a sample room. The Egermann family sold their brewery in 1872 but continued operating a sample room, located where Naper Nuts and Sweets is today. The Engelfreidts had built a bigger operation, but they sold that one also – to the Stenger family. Barbara Stenger married Joseph Egermann, so it’s hardly surprising that in Holland’s advertisement they feature “Stenger’s Lager Beer.” Barbara and Joseph were the parents of Mary Barbara “Matie” Egermann who was the long-time librarian at Nichols Library. It is Matie’s library that is depicted in the diorama kids love to look at in the lobby.
August Clementz, Thomas Costello, Xavier Schwein, and Otto Sieber may be less familiar names today, but they all were long-time Naperville residents back in 1886 when they were proprietors of sample rooms with billiard tables. Schwein’s history is the most elusive and all that could be discovered is that he immigrated from France, was married to Antoinett, and was the father of five children.
Clementz and Sieber became sample room proprietors after retiring from other professions. Clementz was a tinsmith and worked in the hardware business, mainly in Naperville, but also for a brief period in Prophetstown. Sieber was a stonemason. After training his sons Hultrich and Henry in the trade, he let them continue that business while he retired to be a saloon host.
Beyond being buried in Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery, little could be found about Thomas Costello. He must have been quite the upstanding citizen, however, as Holland’s Directory made a big deal out of the fact that his “business place is a model of its kind, wherein, we are well advised may be found at all (legal) times the best beverages in the market, while order and system are very pronounced.”
John Ruchty seems to have spent less time in Naperville, although at one time he also ran the Pre-Emption House, according to The Du Page County Guide. He was also a Frink and Walker stage driver in his early career after immigrating from Switzerland. In mid-life, he married Margaret, a widow with ten children, and they moved to Fullersburg to run a tavern there.
Improved bottling and distributing techniques meant that saloons could offer more than just beer that was brewed locally. The late 1880s was a boom time for breweries and competition started heating up which prompted exclusive brewery partnerships. As you can see from the ads, Costello advertises Schlitz, Sieber sells Brand’s, and Fuchs features Blatz. Egermann proudly serves the local brew, Stenger’s, because of his family connections.
In bigger cities, breweries purchased buildings, decorated and outfitted them, and installed managers that sold their products exclusively. Even with this emphasis on specialty beer, this doesn’t seem to be the case in Naperville and the sample rooms appear to be owner-operated. The Encyclopedia of Chicago has a great essay on city saloons.
Unfortunately, none of the featured beers are being made today. Stenger stopped brewing in 1893 and Blatz in 1959. Schlitz didn’t quite make the new millennium, ceasing operations in 1999. Brand’s Beer survived Prohibition but shut down by 1935. Brand’s might be a less familiar name, but their brewery building was still visible on Elston Avenue in Chicago, at least until recently. It’s awful hard to tell from Google Maps. Although Caroline Fuchs ran her own establishment and one surmises that wives may have assisted the other owners, it’s hard to tell if women frequented these sample rooms. That research will have to wait for another day!