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SCHWEIZER HALL

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New life awaits 150-year-old landmark

By Vince Luecke

One of Tell City's oldest buildings has been placed in young hands.

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Chris Cail is already busy investing his time and talent into preserving 150-year-old Schweizer Hall, a two-story brick structure that served as an early gathering spot for the community's founders.

Located in the 300 block of Ninth Street, Schweizer Hall was built in 1859, just a year after the city's founding, and served as a meeting room and social hall for the Swiss Colonization Society.

The group spearheaded the city's start by Swiss and German settlers and continued to use the building until around the turn of the century. According to historical records collected by Cail, the building housed early residents coming to the city and served as an apartment home of sorts for families putting down roots.  

"It's one of the most historically rich buildings in the city. That's why it's so important to save it," Cail said.

Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana worked with the building's longtime owner, Mary Emma Owen, and the Tell City Historical Society on the sale of the structure late last year. Cail and all future owners are  bound by preservation covenants meant to ensure renovations don't alter the historical integrity of the building.  

Cail isn't a novice to restoring historical buildings. He owns William Tell Antiques and Collectibles, located just a couple of doors south of Schweizer Hall, and worked for more than a year to restore that building.

Schweizer Hall is best known for its many years as the community's Coca-Cola bottling plant and still sports the 1920s metal awning and "Coca-Cola Bottling Company" sign.

The sign and roof were damaged by September's windstorm and Cail recently installed a new metal roof to stop the infiltration of rain.

"That was the first big job I faced, stopping water from getting in and making the building stable and secure," he said.

Cail plans to gradually restore the building's exterior and its inside. His plans for Schweizer Hall aren't certain, but he hopes to eventually find a use that makes the building accessible, as it was in its first years, to the public.

After its use by the Swiss Colonization Society, the building became part of a large brewery complex. Sometime around 1880, Charles Becker opened a lager beer brewery. A photo of the brewery shows a  painted-on "Schweitzer Halle" painted on its side.

Several additions were made to the original 32-foot by 40-foot structure over the years.

A Tell City News story from September 1900 reported the building was being overhauled for use as the bottling department of the Tell City Brewing Co., which produced the city's popular Edelweiss beer. The suds kept flowing until Prohibition arrived. The brewery tried producing a non-alcoholic beer but sales were slow.

In 1920, a new local company was formed by A.C. Obrecht, Joseph Einsiedles and Volmar Franz to produce several kinds of bottled soda water. That operation lasted a few years but business didn't always boom and reportedly the plant bottled horseradish in slow times.

In June 1924, Chero-Cola — an early cola soft drink and competitor to Coca-Cola —  began to be bottled in the plant. It wasn't overly popular with customers and was discontinued in 1925. That same year, a Coca-Cola franchise was established. The bottling tradition continued with the construction of a new plant across the street and the old plant was used for storage.

Now, a century and a half after Schweizer Hall was built, a new chapter of history is being written.