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Centlivre Brewery ca. 1940
By Randy Harter
Fort Wayne Reader
Charles Lewis Centlivre founded the French Brewery on Spy Run Avenue between the St. Joe River and the Wabash & Erie Feeder Canal in 1862. Through the years, the company would have several name changes: C. L. Centlivre Brewing Co. 1893-1918; during Prohibition, Centlivre Ice & Storage Co. 1918 – 1933; Centlivre Brewing Corp 1933 – 1961; and finally, Old Crown Brewing Co. 1961 through the company being dissolved in 1973.
Along with his sons Louis A. and Charles F.; his daughter Amelia’s husband John Reuss; and Brewmaster Peter Nussbaum Charles Centlivre built a thriving business that also included a street car line from downtown to the brewery and his beer gardens, Centlivre Park, which was located along Spy Run Creek, the current site of the Centlivre Apartments. At the park, families could gather for picnics, musical performances and sporting events as well as naturally drink a little beer. The park would later serve as the city’s circus grounds for many years, as well as the site of a horse riding academy. His street-car line not only allowed revelers from the city to make the trip north of town down Spy Run Avenue, but also gave steady dependable transportation of the finished beer to the Nickel Plate Railroad station (for which “Little Nick” was made) and the dozens of saloons downtown. Through the years Centlivre made a variety of beers, including during prohibition a near-beer called “That’s It.” Other of the Centlivre/Old Crown brands included: Nickel Plate Special, Old Reliable, Old Crown Ale, Old Crown Bock, Muenchener, Bohemia, Centlivre Tonic, Alps Brau and others.
This image reflects the 1889 rebuilt brewery after a fire in July of that year had leveled much of the original. In 1890, the employees commissioned a nine foot tall statue of C. L. Centlivre which was placed atop the main building. C. L. died four years later at age 67. Don Hall would later purchase the statue, which now stands above the Hall’s Old Gas House restaurant with C.L. pointed wistfully down Spy Run towards his former business and home. The large cast metal C. L. Centlivre lettering that was on the main building is now mounted on the bar wall at Hall’s Triangle Park.
Old Crown (Centlivre) Brewing Co. closed on December 1, 1973 along with the last use of the company’s terms “Lazy-Aged” and “Smoother-ized”. Some of the buildings were quickly removed, with the last of them being razed in 1989. Remnants of the once renowned company include the brick Queen Anne style home of brewmaster Peter Nussbaum, designed by John Riedel at the corner of Spy Run and Nussbaum Avenues, and the frame Queen Anne home of C. L. Centlivre designed by Wing & Mahurin at 2417 Spy Run which faces North Side High School across the river. (Image courtesy Jan Sanner Collection)
Thanks go to Craig Leonard for architectural information. Randy Harter is a Fort Wayne historian, author and the tour guide for Fort Wayne Food Tours.