By Rory Morgan
In much of Europe in 1848-1849, revolution was in the air. Uprisings of the common people against royal governments occurred in France, Italy, Hungary, and Austria, as well as in the smaller principalities and city-states that make up today’s Germany. One of these was the Grand Duchy of Baden, located in southern Germany. (Just across the Rhine River from Baden was the Palatinate, the homeland of a large portion of Easton’s German immigrants.)
Living in the village of Dietlingen in Baden was the family Kuebler, headed by Andreas, a farmer and timber dealer, and his wife Nothpurga. They had eight children, including their son Willibald, born in 1826. For reasons unknown, in 1850, at age 24, Willibald emigrated to the United States. (It’s possible that he had participated in the unrest in Baden and was fleeing his homeland to avoid the punishments
Meanwhile, a type of beer called “lager” (which, roughly translated from German, means “storage”) began to appear in America. It grew in popularity, quenching the thirsts of the ever-growing number of German immigrants in eastern Pennsylvania and displacing the ales that had been the primary product of breweries in the past. The Philadelphia brewing house of Engel & Wolf, located in the Fairmount section of the city, became one of the largest makers of the new beverage. Willibald found employment there; it’s not clear whether he had brewery experience, or perhaps had a friend to grease the way for his hiring.
After a couple of years at Engel & Wolf, Willibald moved from Philadelphia to Easton. It's not known why he moved; however, it was common for ambitious German immigrants to land at Philadelphia, work there for a couple of years, learn a trade or profession, build up some capital, and then relocate to New Jersey or head further north or west in Pennsylvania, to start their own operation.
In 1852, he partnered with another German immigrant, Charles Glanz, to form the brewery business of Glanz & Kuebler. (Glanz is known to Civil War historians as the colonel of Northampton County’s 153rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry regiment, formed in 1863, which fought at Gettysburg and Chancellorsville.)
Glanz & Kuebler initially operated in downtown Easton, at the corner of Church and Bank, at what was commonly called Nightingale’s Corner. In 1855 they built a substantial brewery on South Delaware Drive (then known as Canal Street.) This location allowed the brewery to take advantage of the canal and the river to bring in coal and other commodities necessary for brewing.
Glanz left the business in 1878. Kuebler then formed a partnership with a man named Herman Borman; it operated as Borman & Kuebler. After that partnership dissolved, Willibald operated the brewery on his own, until his death in 1898. He also found time to research improvements to his brewing process; he received a patent in 1893 for a "reversing mechanism."
Willibald and his wife, Easton-native Mary Klusmeyer, were the parents of two daughters: Mary (Mamie) and Catherine (Kate); and three sons: William, Charles and Frank. In addition, Willibald brought a nephew to Easton from Germany; he was also named Willibald Kuebler. The older Willibald sent the younger Willibald to Trach's Academy in Easton and then to a brewing school in upstate New York. The younger man and his wife had several children; the family lived on Nesquehoning Street in South Easton.
Daughter Mamie attended the Moravian Seminary for Young Women in Bethlehem and, in 1899, married a Lafayette College man named Ralph Waldo Shertzinger. In November, 1914, he had a breakdown and became a patient at the Easton Sanitarium (located on the site of today’s Nevin Park Apartments). In January, 1915, while on a walk with his nurse, he took his life by jumping into the Delaware from the Northampton Street bridge. Ralph and Mamie had earlier lived in Peekskill, NY; now a widow, Mamie returned there and stayed for the rest of her life.
Daughter Kate married Easton-native Louis (or Lewis) Spangenberg in 1898. The couple moved to Colorado in the early 1900s; Kate died there of natural causes in 1911. By 1915, Louis returned to Easton with the couple’s only child, Mary. He died in 1939; Mary never married, and died in 1945.
At Willibald’s death, the three sons inherited the brewery business in equal shares. By this time, William, a graduate of the well-known Nazareth Hall Academy, was the most prominent of the three, heading up the brewery operation and active in other business ventures. He married Alice Thume of Easton; they lived in a substantial house at 14th & Bushkill.
Charles and Frank lived together in a house on East Canal Street, adjacent to the brewery. Neither ever married. Charles did many vital behind-the-scenes jobs that kept him out of the public eye; he managed the brewery’s bottling operation and kept the books. Frank’s role in the business is unclear; it appears to have been one with limited responsibilities.
William had bigger ambitions than just running the family brewery. In 1904, he bought, at a cost of $82,000, the 175-room United States Hotel, located at North Third and Spring Garden. He renamed it the Hotel Karldon, an amalgam of Karl and Don(ald), his sons’ names. The purchase not only offered potential profits from the hotel operation, but also the opportunity to make Kuebler beers the house beverage at the busy hotel bar. Year after year, the Kuebler brewery competed with the Seitz brewery to be the top brewer in town; any slight edge that one of them could gain was valuable.
Just as Kuebler brewing competed with Seitz brewing, the Hotel Karldon competed relentlessly with the Hotel Huntington to be the leading hotel in Easton. William had no interest in the myriad of details involved with running a hotel. When he bought the Karldon, he hired George Vincent, the successful manager of the Franklin House hotel on Northampton Street, to run it. Vincent’s skills helped to make the hotel’s 350-seat dining room a popular location for large banquets and conventions - particularly for gatherings related to Lafayette College.
Over time, Vincent became frustrated, according to his friends, by his inability to convince Kuebler that the Karldon needed additional investment to retain its status. He also expressed concerns about his health. In 1919, in his room at the Karldon, Vincent fatally shot himself.
Vincent’s suicide wasn’t the only event to create headlines at the Karldon. In the spring of 1923, the hotel’s head waiter was Jamaica-born Alexander Lovings. He was a relatively new member of the staff, having come from Harrisburg just months before. There was on-going friction between him and 21-year-old Donald Kuebler, William and Alice’s younger son, over Donald’s habit of giving peremptory orders to the dining-room staff.
On the night of May 26, 1923, after entering the hotel with two friends, Donald again started giving orders, leading to a verbal altercation with Lovings. The situation appeared to calm down, and Lovings went to the kitchen. Donald then said that he was going to “get” Lovings, and possibly referred to him with a racial epithet. Despite efforts by his friends to dissuade him, Donald went to the kitchen, carrying a table leg behind his back to use as a club. He approached Lovings, who had somehow become aware of the club. Unknown to Donald, Lovings was carrying a gun; he pulled it and shot Donald, who died within a short time. After a ten-day trial, Lovings was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to six-to-twelve years at hard labor in Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary. He died there of tuberculosis in 1925.
In addition to owning the Karldon and other, the Kueblers held mortgages on a number of hotel and saloon properties in Northampton County and in New Jersey. It’s safe to assume that the owners were strongly encouraged to feature Kuebler beer in their establishments. In 1907, during a hearing involving the transfer of a local liquor license, one witness testified that the Kueblers controlled half of all the licensed establishments in Easton, including, at one point the Mt. Vernon Hotel (now today’s Two Rivers Brewing.) In 1917, the Kuebler-owned Valley Hotel was cited for the "very bad conditions" there by the health officer, who was threatening the license of the establishment. In 1909, William reported that he had lost his wallet, containing $3700, while out "collecting" - most likely mortgage or rent payments.
His interests were not limited to the hotel and beer businesses. He was an investor in the Sterlingworth Railroad Supply Company, located in what is now West Easton. The company’s history included much bickering between management and the directors, including William. Bankruptcy pushed the situation forward in 1907-1908. William was appointed by a court as the receiver, launching litigation that went to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. William navigated his way through the legal wrangling well enough to take over the company. He operated it as the Kuebler Foundry until it went bankrupt in the late 1920s. He then sold it to investors from New York State, who named it the Lehigh Foundry and operated it for many years. It eventually became part of the Victaulic organization. He was also keenly interested in the Northampton National Bank, acting as both a Director and a Vice President of the institution.
Prohibition - the banning of the manufacture or sale of alcoholic beverages - began in 1919 and was disastrous for the brewery industry. Like many breweries, Kuebler struggled to keep the doors open by making soft drinks and “cereal beverages”. It also made illicit beer, getting caught at least once. The business did manage to survive until Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Unfortunately, William had died in 1930. Lacking the vigorous leadership that he could have provided, the company was unable to rebuild its business or finances. It eventually filed for bankruptcy; its reorganization plan, which offered many creditors just 15 cents on the dollar, was rejected by the bankruptcy court. (Further research will be required to determine the final outcome.)
Frank had died in 1931, leaving Charles as the only brother to see legal beer return. In 1936, while sitting in a Northampton County courtroom waiting to be called as a witness in a trial, Charles suddenly died. Soon after, the brewery was sold to Easton’s Mayrosh family. They were already experienced in the brewing industry, having owned the local Bushkill brewery, and were able to keep the Kuebler brand alive until the 1950s, when the growth of national beer brands overwhelmed the market for local and regional brands.
Managing the various Kuebler interests had fallen to William and Alice’s surviving son, Karl. Like his father, he was a graduate of Nazareth Hall. He was an alumnus of Lafayette College and an Army veteran. He appeared to be well-suited for the difficult task, although an incident several years before may have caused concern.
In the summer of 1915, Easton’s Daily Free Press reported that an arrest warrant had been issued for Karl. He was driving at a “a terrific rate of speed” on Dock Street, pursued by an Easton police officer on a motorcycle. The officer collided with another car and was badly injured. The article’s headline described Karl as a well-known “speed fiend”, and noted that he had been charged with speeding in Nazareth a short time before. Karl arrived at his hearing with prominent Easton lawyer Parke Davis at his side. When all was said and done, he was only required to pay the minimum $25 fine.
Karl closed the doors of the Hotel Karldon in 1932. The Depression undoubtedly cost the hotel much business, as everything from banquets to business travel was cut back. He sold the hotel to local businessman Walter Williams, who announced plans to convert it into apartments. However, soon after buying the building, Williams was killed in an automobile accident. The building sat empty for over three years, steadily deteriorating, as his estate tried to resolve its future. In 1935, it was demolished.
At some point, Karl Kuebler and his wife, Mildred (Hover) left Easton, moving to Miami Beach, FL, where Mildred died in the 1950s. Karl lived until 1985, passing away at the age of 90. In a puzzling finale to the Kuebler saga, he left the bulk of his estate, $800,000, to the Miami Metrozoo - which, as far as anyone could determine, he had only visited once.
There are still Kueblers in the Easton/Bethlehem area. They are descended from the nephew who was the second Willlbald Kuebler to arrive here. The foundation for the brewery still exists - now there are plans to possibly build a hotel there. Time marches on.
Thanks to Frank Kuebler for his assistance with this article.