July 2021

 

On June 17th my cousin David Schlafly and I were pleased to attend a gathering of the Highland, Illinois Chamber of Commerce at McGinley Jeep Chrysler Dodge on Shamrock Boulevard in Highland.  It gave us an opportunity to talk about our plans to open our fourth Schlafly brewpub at 907 Main Street, on the Town Square, in the building that was formerly the home of The First National Bank of Highland.  As I said in my remarks, this was an occasion for David and me to get to know Highland better and for Highland to get to know us better.

I went on to explain that Highland was where the Schlafly family’s American dream began. In 1854.  David’s and my great great grandparents Johan and Helena Schlafly left the tiny Swiss village of Steinhof with their six children in early spring of that year and made their way to the port of Le Havre, France.  There they boarded The Roger Stewart, a sailing vessel whose main purpose was transporting cotton from New Orleans to Europe.  On the return voyage from Le Havre to New Orleans, more than 580 immigrants of several nationalities were crammed into steerage.  One of Johan and Helena’s children died in transit and was presumably buried at sea.

The Roger Stewart arrived in New Orleans in May of 1854, whereupon Johan Schlafly caught cholera.  The family made its way up the Mississippi and settled in Highland (formerly Helvetia), where Johan died two months later,  in August of 1854, leaving his widow Helena with five children and pregnant with a sixth.  As I said at the Chamber of Commerce event, Highland was where the first Schlafly to die in The United States was buried, in St. Joseph Cemetery.  And it was where the first Schlafly  was born in The United States in 1855:  Johan and Helena’s daughter Emma, who was baptized in St. Paul’s Church.  One can only imagine the challenges confronting a young widow with six young children, a widow who spoke no English and who may not have been able to read or write in any language.

Coming home to Highland.

After four years in Highland, Helena moved the family to Carlyle, Illinois in 1858.  This was where David’s and my great grandfather August Schlafly began his career as a serial entrepreneur at an early age without  finishing elementary school.  His various ventures included banking, Mountain Valley Mineral Water, a railroad tie company in Potosi, MO, and a rice plantation in Arkansas.  He moved with his family from Carlyle to St. Louis shortly before the 1904 World’s Fair and died in 1934.  I regret that I was never able to hear his insights about entrepreneurship.  I’m sure one of  the lessons he learned as a young boy was the importance of flexibility.  I’m certain his parents’ business plan in emigrating from Switzerland to The United States did not include the death of the primary breadwinner shortly after their arrival.  But, that was the reality and Helena and her children  had to deal with it. August and his siblings learned at a very early age that their survival depended on their ability to adapt to the circumstances as they were, not how they wished they were or what they had planned.

Although David and I never had the benefit of knowing our great grandfather personally, I think both of us have intuited his wisdom to some degree.  Not surprisingly, during the nadir of the COVID pandemic we were not actively looking for new locations in which to open brewpubs.  Like most other businesses, we were primarily concerned with minimizing our losses as we tried to weather the storm.  Nevertheless, when the possibility of expanding our business into Highland presented itself, David was intrigued.  Like our great grandfather August, he realized that flexibility doesn’t simply mean figuring out how to cope with adverse circumstances.  It also means recognizing promising situations when they arise and figuring out a way to make them work.

And so it is that the Schlafly family is coming back to Highland after 163 years.  As I said to the Chamber of Commerce, it really does feel like a homecoming.  It was in Highland where the European chapter of our family history ended with the death of Johan; and it was there that the American chapter began with the birth of Emma.  I told the group that the uncertainties of construction made it impossible to predict precisely when we would open our new brewpub on the Highland Town Square, though we were hoping to open sometime in the fall.  I also said our intention is to be there a lot longer than the four years the Schlaflys originally lived in Highland.

Tom Schlafly
Chairman – The Saint Louis Brewery