Just minutes from downtown Saint Paul, Minnesota sits the crown jewel of urban exploration in the Twin Cities – Hamm's Brewery. I've done a lot of urban exploration*, from drains and caves to abandoned factories and hospitals, but Hamm's Brewery is by far my favorite.
Founded in the 1860s by a German immigrant, Hamm’s Brewery started small with only a few buildings. By 1964 it was the 8th largest brewery in the United States and the site had grown to 33 acres, over 54 buildings and 1.3 million square feet of floor space. At this point, the Hamm family decided to sell the brewery. Unfortunately, this was the beginning of the end for Hamm’s. The brewery changed many hands over the next 30 years and closed as Stroh’s Brewery at the end of 1997.
Since closing, Hamm’s Brewery has been left more or less intact, except for a small amount of redevelopment, a fire in one of the buildings, and one of the storage tank buildings being torn down. This, along with the incredible amount of buildings to explore are what make Hamm’s such a special place.
Taking photos here is somewhat of a challenge for two reasons. First, there isn’t a lot of available light, even during the day. Second, I’m not too keen on bringing any nice camera equipment to a place like this, especially when a quick getaway could be required (this has happened to me here twice, not fun). So, all of these photos are simply snapshots taken with a Fuji Nexia APS film camera.
Pretty much the coolest about Hamm’s is that many of the buildings are connected by underground steam tunnels. They are interesting on their own but also provide a perfect way to get around much of the complex without being seen.
Also underground are the manmade brewery caves for beer storage. Today, they are cold, dank and kinda creepy.
The most beautiful building in the entire complex is the Old Brewhouse with huge windows, decorative metal stairways between it’s six or so floors and several brewery operation control panels.
On one of our trips, we were lucky enough to find the rooftop hospitality room. Decorated like a traditional German Rathskeller (that’s what I’ve been told anyway), many social events were held here. Though this room has been all but destroyed by the elements, it is still beautiful and quite peaceful.
It was surprising to me how peaceful many areas of Hamm’s Brewery are. I suppose it’s a combination of filtered hazy lighting and the unique silence of an abandoned building. Whatever the reason, this peacefulness is my strongest memory of Hamm’s.
There is so much to see at Hamm’s Brewery, surprises are at every corner. Research and development, elevator shafts, roof access, random machinery, holding tanks and so much more is waiting for the intrepid explorer here, mostly left how it was back in 1997.
*As fun and exciting as Hamm’s Brewery and any other urban exploration site is, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind if you absolutely must do this for yourself:
1. Urban exploration is illegal. It is considered trespassing and you can get arrested and sued.
2. Do NOT vandalize or damage while exploring. This is just bad form and will ruin any chance of other explorers enjoying that site. If you can’t gain entry without breaking something, don’t go in.
3. Go with a trusted friend, preferably two. If you get hurt, it’ll be nice to have a friend wait for help with you while your other friend goes to get that help.
4. Be hyper vigilant. Getting caught isn’t your only danger in a place like this. Abandoned structures are typically not maintained, so you run the risk of falling through floors, falling off ladders, and so on. People have died doing this, don’t think that it won’t happen to you.
5. Have a legitimate light source, batteries for that light source and a back up light source. You do NOT want to get lost in a basement (or other pitch-black place) without light.
6. If you do go on your own urban adventure, you alone are responsible for your health and safety. I’m only sharing my experience and am not advocating the practice of urban exploration.