A Montana Pioneer from Luxembourg



Tracking Luxembourgers in the United States of America: Nick Kessler (1833-1902)

Nic(h)olas Kessler, originally the name was spelled Kesseler, was born on May 26, 1833, in Beaufort, Luxembourg, the youngest of a family of six children. He arrived in New York on January 10, 1854, continued on to Sandusky, Ohio and settled for a while at Detroit, Michigan. Later, he removed to Chicago, Illinois and was active in the feed business. Like many other immigrants, he succumbed to the gold fever and headed west, prospecting in Colorado, before heading to Montana in August of 1863. In Virginia City, Nick started a bakery, restaurant and liquor business. In 1864, he made a trip back to Luxembourg to visit with family and friends. When returning to America, according to a contemporary, he had learned that back in Luxembourg men had to relax and when they relaxed many of them found solace and entertainment with friends over a stein of brew. Rather than continuing panning for gold, in 1865 Nick acquired a brewery at Helena, Montana. Over the years, he grew the Kessler Brewery into one of the most prosperous breweries far and wide. His Lorelei beer was a favorite for many decades. He lived in a log cabin next to his brewery.

In 1866, Kessler established a brickyard nearby, the Kessler Brick & Sewer Pipe Works, later known as the Western Clay Manufacturing Company, producing 25,000 high quality pressed bricks a day. Many buildings, homes, streets, business blocks, schools and sidewalks in and around Helena, Montana were erected using Kessler’s bricks. Exactly 6,672,214 bricks were used in the construction of the gigantic Anaconda Smelter chimney standing 585 feet and 1½ inch tall! When Nick began building his home, he left his log cabin standing, encasing it with a story and a half house. In 1873, Nick married Miss Louise Ebert and the couple was blessed with three offspring, Charles, Fred and Matilde. Mrs. Kessler died in 1880 and her sister raised the three children. Nick never remarried. The Kessler home was remodeled in 1885 and again in 1901 to a three stories mansion, the home of four generations of Kesslers – and it still encased the original log cabin.
The Kessler large brick mansion stood at 2702 Broadwater, on the west side of Helena, Montana. It was destroyed by fire in the summer of 2001. Nick Kessler died on December 11, 1902, a respected citizen and accomplished businessman.
The Kessler Brewery survived prohibition enacted by Constitutional Amendment XVIII, passed on December 18, 1917, and ratified on January 16, 1919.
After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
Amendment XXI, passed on February 20, 1933, ratified on December 5, 1933, ended the U.S. prohibition.
The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

The Kessler Brewery closed in 1958. In 1984, the Kessler beer name was revived by a microbrewery Kessler Brewing Company, located 1439 N. Harris Street, Helena producing award-winning beers. The bottles were decorated with distinctive labels, some reproducing the likeliness of Nick Kessler, the pioneer immigrant from Luxembourg. Sadly, the microbrewery closed in 2000.

What a beautiful world it was once. At least a river of it was. And it was almost mine and my family’s and just a few others’ who wouldn’t steal beer. You could leave beer to cool in the river, and it would be so cold when you got back it wouldn’t foam much. It would be a beer made in the next town if the town were ten thousand or over. So it was either Kessler Beer made in Helena or Highlander Beer made in Missoula that we left to cool in the Blackfoot River. What a wonderful world it was once when all the beer was not made in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, or St. Louis.

A River Runs Through It. Norman McLean
© 1976 The University of Chicago

© 2009 Fausto Gardini. Jacksonville, Florida

A version of this article was published in the Luxembourg News of America, Vol. 37, Number 4, April 2004.