Written By: Jenna Webster

Clinton residents will soon have a new brewery downtown.

Great Revivalist Brew Lab in Geneseo is expanding its business to Clinton. It recently bought two of the former, historic Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Churches in downtown and will convert them into a restaurant and brewery.

It will be the only brewery in downtown Clinton. The city had a brewery in the early 2000s that has been closed for over a decade.

“We always are looking to spread our love of the craft beer life to other communities that don’t have it,” said Great Revivalist General Manager Rachel Heise. “Clinton is an untapped community right now. And they do not have a brewery and there’s not exactly one really close to them.”

City officials are excited about what the new business will mean for the downtown.

“Breweries are a big thing, people like to travel around from spot to spot,” Mayor Scott Maddasion said. “I think this just gives another reason for people to stop here. And then not only enjoy the wonderful beer and food and things that they’re going to have here, but then see the other things that we have in our community to offer as well.”

“It’s perfect for our downtown culture,” said Grow Clinton President and CEO Andrew Sokolovich. “We’ve seen a lot over the course of probably the last five or six years a resurgence of young individuals moving to our community. And young people want a place to go and communicate with each other and have something to do. A brewery seems to be the focal point for that no matter what community you’re in.”

The city has been working to revitalize downtown Clinton in recent years and bring in businesses to fill the vacant buildings.

“Everything is one step at a time. It didn’t get in this condition overnight. It took 40 years,” said Karen Rowell, the director of the Downtown Clinton Alliance. “All the big box stores moved out. Now you got all these big buildings with no home, no identity… So we have to make sure that we’re just making progress forward.”

By repurposing the Bethel AME Church, Great Revivalist is also saving it from being demolished.

The church was the first African American church in Clinton. Elizabeth Fairfax, a former slave and mother of 11 children, helped raise the $600 needed to build the church by selling books. Duke Slater’s father was one of the pastors. Slater was a first team All-American at the University of Iowa and was the first black linebacker to play in the NFL.

The church was originally at 303-307 South 3rd Street, but in 2007 transitioned operations to the 238 4th Avenue South church in 2007. 

After the COVID-19 pandemic, operations were unable to resume at Bethel AME.

Heise said Great Revivalist is planning on preserving the stained-glass windows and keeping the original copy of an Italian tile fresco. The brewery is also looking to repurpose wood from the pews to make tables.

“This is a win, win,” Rowell said. “It’s a win for Clinton. It’s a win for the brewery. It’s a win to save these two great churches.”

“We’re just excited to revitalize the downtown for Clinton and give everybody something a little extra to do and keep them here in town versus going away,” Heise said. “It has so much potential. I mean, I can’t wait ’till opening day just to see from where we started to the transformation.”

Construction on the churches began last week and Great Revivalist does not have an opening date set yet.

The church building at 238 4th Avenue South will be used for the restaurant and brewery. The 303-307 South 3rd Street location will be repaired and used for storage.