Jordan’s first female mayor didn’t drink alcohol, which might explain how Gail Andersen logged 99 colorful and controversial years before her death last summer.

“My gramma was a teetotaler, a Christian Scientist and a real pistol,” said her granddaughter, Barbara Kochlin. “She was tiny — maybe 5-foot-2 — there was nothing to her. But she was headstrong with amazing energy and spirit and she did have a temper. She took a swing at just about everybody — except me.”

Before she was thrown out as mayor for misconduct in 1984, Andersen would position herself outside Jordan’s downtown taverns at closing time. “She’d point at and scold people as they left,” Kochlin said.

Now the legacy of the booze-disdaining mayor is wrapped up in — of all things — the long-dormant Jordan Brewery. Built with limestone blocks near hillside cooling caves in the 1860s, the 152-year-old brewery operated until 1949.

Andersen landed a spot for the brewery on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Now her granddaughter is trying to find someone to write its next chapter along Sand Creek, about 35 miles southwest of Minneapolis.

Andersen, a lover of local history who compiled two books on Jordan’s past, purchased the brewery in 1972, and again in 1990, to save it from demolition. A fire gutted the place in 1954 and massive mudslides tore into it during heavy rains in 2014.

Calling Andersen her “idol,” Kochlin, 47, inherited her grandmother’s preservation passion. She renovated five upstairs apartments after the mudslides. She’d like to sell the brewery, along with two historic homes on the property, for $1.35 million — hoping a brewpub or another business will eventually replace the antique store currently leasing space on the ground level.

“It’s our icon with tons of history, a real anchor to the whole city,” said Kathleen Klehr, the executive director of the Scott County Historical Society. “Gail was adamant about saving Jordan history and it would be nice to see the brewery come back.”

Andersen and the brewery both took topsy-turvy rides. Born in Illinois in 1918, she grew up in north Minneapolis, graduated from the University of Minnesota and worked as a freelance writer and once edited the Brooklyn Center Press.

After raising two kids in Brooklyn Park, she was a widow when she won the 1980 Jordan mayor’s race, 858-381, over a garage mechanic who was the acting mayor. The man the mechanic replaced as mayor had resigned after a run-in with, you guessed it, Andersen.

Known around Jordan as the Corncrib Caper, it all started in 1978 when Andersen placed an old wooden corncrib in front of her antique store. She thought it added historic charm. Others considered it an eyesore.

The city told her to move it. Andersen refused. “[B]ecause Andersen is known in town as a feisty, outspoken sort and they feared she would sue them,” the Minneapolis Star reported in 1978, “the crib stayed.”

Until a November night when three men left Geno’s Bar in Jordan and wrecked the crib with a snowplow mounted on a pickup truck. Turned out the three vandals were high-ranking city officials — a planning commissioner, a local fire department honcho and a 37-year-old bank president and sitting mayor.

That scandal sparked Andersen’s successful mayoral campaign. But it wasn’t her first foray into politics. In 1962, she won the village clerk job in Brooklyn Park.

But 22 years later, her mayoral stint ended ugly. She was convicted of two counts of misconduct after accusing a Jordan couple of selling drugs, berating them for receiving public assistance and suggesting they leave town. She was ousted after the conviction.

Some think she purchased the brewery because, if she owned it, no one else could distill spirits or brew beer there. “I think her love of history made her step up,” her granddaughter said.

Jordan, now a city of about 6,000 people, was just a 13-year-old hamlet when the brewery was built in 1866 and ’67 as white settlers usurped Indian tribes pushed on to reservations. An older Jordan brewery from 1861 has long since vanished, making the vine-shrouded limestone relic on S. Broadway Street one of the oldest state breweries on its original footprint.

Ownership changed over the years with the brewery becoming a fish hatchery during Prohibition, when eggs were stored in the cooling caves until beer production resumed. By 1949, the beer making halted and a fire consumed the place five years later.

Andersen was the sole bidder at a tax delinquency auction in 1972. She stepped in again 18 years later when the city was ready to tear it down. Brewer Tim Roets was months away from reopening the place when the mudslides oozed in 2014. He has since moved his taproom to an old library building in town.

Now, four years after the landslides, the state and city have kicked in more than $100,000 to stabilize the hillside. “The caves where they cooled the beer are amazing,” Klehr said. “The place is so tied to the community’s history, I hope it returns.”

 

Curt Brown’s tales about Minnesota’s history appear each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at and podcasts can be found at onminnesotahistory.com mnhistory@startribune.com. His new book looks at 1918 Minnesota, when flu, war and fires converged: tinyurl.com/MN1918.