MILLER VALLEY HISTORIC CAVES
Started as Frederick J. Miller’s Plank Road Brewery in 1855, The Miller Brewing Company has become a household name in Milwaukee. However, the cave system you see in front of you predates Frederick J. Miller’s Plank Road Brewery by five years. Charles and Lorenz Best started the Plank Road Brewery on this site in 1850, with cave digging operations beginning that same year.
When the Plank Road Brewery was built, it was several miles outside of the city limits, but its chosen location was no accident. Positioned near a bluff in the Menomonee River Valley with access to clean water springs, river-harvested ice, nearby farms, and the Watertown Plank Road, The Plank Road Brewery had all the ingredients for a profitable operation. The topography of the adjacent bluff allowed for Charles and Lorenz Best to tunnel 62-feet below the soft soil and create a brick-lined cavern system to store beer at cool and consistent temperatures.
In 1855, Frederick J. Miller purchased the Plank Road Brewery. Traffic along the Watertown Plank Road inspired Miller to open a saloon at his Plank Road Brewery shortly after he purchased it from the Best brothers. In 1858, a beer garden was also constructed on the bluff above the brewery. Within 30 years, Miller had expanded the caves considerably, allowing for the storage of 12,000 oak barrels by 1885. During this time, Miller’s Plank Road Brewery also expanded its operations to newly constructed buildings that spread across Watertown Plank Road and further west into the Menomonee Valley.
With the advent of refrigeration technology, the Miller Caves slowly became antiquated and were sealed off in 1908. In 1933, after the end of Prohibition, the brewery changed its name to Miller Brewing Company. It was not until 1951 that the caves were opened back up to be used as a Civil Defense bomb shelter. Tours in the caves were started by Fredrick J. Miller’s grandson, Fred Miller, in 1953. Since then, renovations have been made to preserve the main entrance and central portion of the caves.