When the hops louse wiped out hops crops in New York State in the 1860s, Wisconsin farmers quickly stepped up cultivation to ensure New York’s brewers had adequate supplies of this important beer flavoring. They grew the vines and built hop houses to dry the flowers. At harvest time, hundreds of young women traveled to hops fields across southern Wisconsin, earning wages for picking, drying, and sorting hops cones. After New York farmers eradicated the louse and Washington State farmers expanded hops cultivation, the Wisconsin bubble burst in 1868. Competition and Wisconsin’s own louse infestation soon halted this brief and profitable hops enterprise.
This hop house, thirty-two feet tall with a pyramidal roof, recalls this brief episode. The walls are made of grout, which the builder raised in layers by erecting wooden forms, into which he dumped rubble larger than the gravel typically used in grout construction and then poured mortar around it. When the mortar hardened, he removed the forms and then repeated the process. The horizontal marks on the walls indicate the successive layers. The building’s first story held a wood-burning stove; the small ventilator openings near the ground on three sides were air intakes. A grille of widely spaced parallel boards separated the stove room from the second-floor drying room. Green hops flowers dried on burlap or cheesecloth, which stretched over this grille. Vertical slats under the eaves on the front of the building created a draft, drawing hot air upward while keeping it from escaping quickly.