J. Rieger and Co.’s intriguing excavation project

By Paul Thompson
Northeast News

So you’ve recently unearthed a sealed passage in the more than century-old building that houses your distillery, at the site of the former Heim Brewery bottling facility in Kansas City’s East Bottoms. What do you do? If you’re J. Rieger and Co., you find a shovel and start digging.

For the curious folks at the distillery, the excavation began as a labor of intrigue, a topic of running speculation.

“This wall is concrete here, and then there were brick pavers like what you see down here at the base. It was all the way up,” said Lucy Rieger with J. Rieger and Co. “So it looked like somebody covered up a tunnel. We always talked about how one day it would be cool to open it up.”

What could be behind the wall? A post from the J. Rieger and Co. Facebook account on September 26 offers some tongue-in-cheek suggestions from those who work at the distillery. The top suggestions? Treasure, really old beer, scary mob-related things, or White Walkers from the hit HBO show Game of Thrones.

The answer is still a few days of manual labor away. Once the brick wall was taken down, the J. Rieger team saw a concrete wall some 20-25 feet from the opening, along with a mountain of dirt. After some initial digging, they found that the dirt obscured a stairwell leading underneath the facility. The stairwell could lead to a dead end, but there is at least some hope among the dig team that it could also lead to a hidden room underneath the building.

There are historical reasons for believing that there could be more to the tunnel. Heim’s bottling facility was completed in 1901. The original Electric Park was constructed shortly thereafter, right across the street at the current site of Knucklehead’s, a popular bar and music venue.

“We know that they used to pipe beer underground from the brewery to Electric Park, and that was something that people had never seen before,” said Reiger. “(The tunnel) could have been for piping beer or rolling barrels. We don’t really know.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the original Facebook post, J. Rieger and Co. had already reached nearly 25,000 people. Some came up with their own ideas about what could be hidden beneath all that dirt, sparking a thread that had attracted more than 1,000 reactions and nearly 100 shares by the morning of Thursday, September 28.

Rieger expressed surprise at the attention that’s been paid to the J. Rieger and Co. dig operation, but added that she’s happy that the project could help draw attention to the East Bottoms neighborhood. J. Rieger and Co. moved into the former Heim Brewery bottling facility in 2014, and have been outspoken supporters of the East Bottoms ever since.

“We’ve always loved this area. We looked at stuff in the Crossroads, we looked at stuff in the West Bottoms, kind of these areas that are considered cool now.” Rieger said. “They have their own appeal, but we thought that this area was so special and unique, and it had room for us to grow as a company.”

As for the excavation project, Rieger promised that she would keep everyone on social media updated with any breakthroughs. In the meantime, she’s keeping her fingers crossed that the digging will lead to a fun discovery.

“We just want to dig a tunnel and hope it goes somewhere cool,” Rieger said.

A look inside the J. Rieger and Co. distillery in Kansas City’s East Bottoms neighborhood.

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