July 12, 2024 Donate

Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Saline

Saline’s Salt Springs Brewery: A Century-Old Sanctuary of Craftsmanship and Community

By Sue Kelch

On June 14, 1899, the cornerstone of the Saline Methodist Episcopal Church was laid.  And by coincidence on June 14, 125 years later, I sat down with one of the managing partners of the Salt Springs Brewery, Ron Schofield, Jr. – which is housed in that former church.

You could say Salt Springs Brewery (Salt) has a following much like a faithful flock, as USA Today in 2023 (and 2022) rated Salt #5 of the top ten brew pubs in the nation. Not bad for a small town in the Midwest, beating out pubs located at the likes of San Diego, CA, Portland, OR and Nashville, TN.

I asked Ron how the idea of Salt came to be. Ron commented, “I had looked at spaces all around town. Some were OK, but weren’t really the best. We got wind before this building was on the market as the owners were looking to retire, so when it opened up it was like OK, we could make this work.”

The “we” Ron mentions are the other managing partners Ed Brosius and Mark Zadvinskis. Ed is the head brewmaster, and Mark brings his business expertise and came on board once the idea of a brew pub was coming to light.

Rose Glass and Brews. Photo by Sue Kelch

I had an opportunity to catch up with Ed, who said he was “an engineer by trade.  I worked in the industry for 37 years or so, and finally, some friends said that my hobby of home brewing was so good that I should start micro-brewing.”

At first, Ed was skeptical, recalling, “How many microbreweries are already around the country?  I said if we can raise the investment, OK, I’ll think about it. Within six months I was no longer an engineer. I was a brewmaster.”

With business plan in place, next was the work that needed to be done to update and convert the structure from the previous business.  Ron states, “I have a degree in architecture and was the general contractor and chief designer for the project.  We repurposed many of the large doors that were once used to separate rooms for classes and built the bar out of it, among other things.”

Looking at the craftsmanship of the building, Ron states, “The congregation was probably largely farmers and craftsmen. When you look at the building you just see craftsmanship everywhere. I understand how these things are put together, so to look and see that these people were doing this work by hand is remarkable.”

June 24, 1923, photo of the congregation. Photo courtesy of the Saline FUMC

By far, the most beautiful and sublime aspect of the dining area is the stained glass windows.  While many churches choose Biblical themes, this church chose an agrarian theme that most likely resonated with the congregation.  Back in the turn of the 20th century, Saline was a rural farming community, and agriculture is deeply connected to the natural world and creation.

Bright flowers, plants and eggs – a common symbol of life – are woven throughout the stained glass, called rose windows.   Taking Keats “Ode to a Grecian Urn” – ‘beauty is truth, truth beauty’ – one step further, Ron quips: “God is truth, truth is beauty, and beauty is the rose.”

I asked Ron if former members of the old church frequent Salt. Ron said they have “guests come in with various stories. They will say, ‘I got married here,’ ‘My parents got married here,’ ‘I was baptized here.’ They all have some stories about their attachment to it. They’re happy when they walk in and see that it’s virtually undisturbed. There are people who have brought us things: a plate with the church on it; one of the former pastors and his story; a collage of photos.”

I spoke with Susie Treber who attended the former Saline Methodist Episcopal church before the congregation moved to the Saline First United Methodist Church. She recalls the layout of the church, and how the choir was where the kitchen is and the pulpit right beside it in the alcove.

Salt Springs Brewery 1899 placard. Photo by Sue Kelch

Susie remarks, “I have never in all of the years since the church moved to North Ann Arbor Street heard a single complaint. Everyone from the congregation loves the businesses that the old church has become.”

Speaking to the building’s early beginnings, Ron needs only point to the mural on the ceiling, showing the hand of God touching harvested hops. “It is the holy trinity of everything here,” he explains. “It pays homage that this was a church, a holy place. It pays homage to God’s creation and the creation that we do here of beer. God made everything we touch. It is the same with the hops.”

125 years later, the menus replaced the hymnals. The organ pipes were switched out with fermenters. The minister, organist, and choir have been replaced with managers Ed, Ron and Mark, executive chef Loren Halprin, and all of the friendly, hard-working staff. And the faithful flock converted to patrons.

But for those who enter, the beauty of the brick and stone architecture, rose stained-glass windows, and the deep sense of community remain timeless.

Note:  At the time of printing there is still a question if Salt will market a commemorative 125th anniversary drink…  But right now, a Mint Methodist or Salty Dog Circuit Rider sounds pretty refreshing to me.

For information on Salt Springs Brewery, view their website www.saltspringsbrewery.com, or call them at 734.295.9191.

For information on the First United Methodist Church (formerly the Methodist Episcopal Church), view their website at www.fumc-saline.org or call them at 734.429.4730.

For more historical information on the Methodist Episcopal Church, get started by visiting https://salinelibrary.org/research-database-by-topic and browse the Saline Area Historical Photos or Saline Historical Newspapers sections.  Also visit www.lib.umich.edu and enter your search.