December 22, 2016

Worth Brewing Company in Northwood, Iowa

The Oddfellows-Erickson building, now Worth Brewing Company, in downtown Northwood, Iowa, was completed in 1896.

photo by: Worth Brewing Company

The Oddfellows-Erickson building in downtown Northwood, Iowa, was completed in 1896.

Peter Ausenhus stared at the 1896 Oddfellows-Erickson building in downtown Northwood, Iowa, every day for about eight years. The grand two-story brick building was directly across the street from Worth Brewing Company, the brewery he founded in an old bank building in 2007 with his wife, Margaret Bishop.

It was a good view, but after several years of operation, Ausenhus and Bishop were looking to expand their business. As they began searching for a new location for their brewery, they had one major requirement: It had to be in another old building.

“We felt strongly about keeping that historic character we had in our previous space,” says Ausenhus, who has long been involved in the town’s historical society and various local preservation issues.

When Ausenhus got word that the Oddfellows-Erickson building was available, he knew he struck gold.

“After staring at it for so long, I was pretty familiar with it,” he says.

The Italianate-style building was designed by architect J.L. Rood, who also designed the nearby Worth County Courthouse. It was a significantly larger space, complete with a grand ballroom on the second level. And although it had been converted into a maze of offices and apartment units, and parts of the building had been vacant for years, it still had plenty of its original elements.

“We didn’t have to manufacture or fake any character,” Ausenhus says. “It was all there.”

Interior of Worth Brewing Company

photo by: Worth Brewing Company

The brewery's tap room is located at ground level.

The second-story ballroom of Worth Brewing Company, now an event space, has its original tin ceiling.

photo by: Worth Brewing Company

The second-story ballroom, now an event space, has its original tin ceiling.

Work began in May 2015. In their quest to return the building to its original 1896 floor plan, Ausenhus, Bishop, and their construction team removed drop ceilings, interior walls, and partitions that had been added in previous decades. They rebuilt the roof, refinished the hardwood floors, repainted the walls, and added new mechanical systems.

Much of their efforts were focused on saving the building’s historic elements, like the baseboards; the Douglas fir floors; the tin ceiling in the ballroom; and an old peephole and buzzer in an upstairs door. They rewired the 1920s General Electric ceiling fans, and they found the ballroom's original wall trim in the building’s storage area, which had been removed and stowed away by the previous owner.

“We saved everything we possibly could,” Ausenhus says.

Worth Brewing Company’s new location opened in February 2016, with the brewery and the brewery tap room on the first level, and an event space in the second level ballroom, which is used for brewery events and rented out for private functions.

Work on the building is ongoing, particularly on the second level as Ausenhus and Bishop plan to create office space there. But already, the restored space has attracted plenty of attention. It received the 2016 Preservation at its Best, Rural Preservation award from Preservation Iowa in September.

As for the customers? They were relieved that a new, bigger space didn’t take away from the brewery’s atmosphere. Says Ausenhus, “Our customers say it’s still cozy. We think that’s a good thing.”

Location: 835 Central Ave., Northwood, IA 50459

Hours: Wednesday through Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday 5 to 11 p.m.; Saturday noon to 11 p.m.; Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

You’re Having: Ausenhus recommends the Borderline Brown Ale.

Best Yelp Review: “[A] 17-mile bike ride across the state line into Iowa [is] all it took to find Worth Brewing. I don't know if it was due to the hour of being crushed by the wind to get there or just the beer, but the two pints of the wheat were about the best I've had anywhere. It was definitely 'Worth' the trip. Bad puns aside, I'm looking forward to coming back and trying out their other beers.

A historic view of the Oddfellows-Erickson building, now Worth Brewing Company.

photo by: Worth Brewing Company

A historic view of the Oddfellows-Erickson building.

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

URGENT: Contact your Senators asking them to pass the Route 66 National Historic Trail Designation Act before 2019!

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