I started Day 2 of my vacation in Cheongju, the capital of Chungcheonbuk-do, to check out the city’s rich modern architectural heritage and finished in Jincheon, where I spent the afternoon at Sewang Brewery, which has been producing fine traditional rice wines in their historic brewery for three generations.
Cheongju, aside from being the home of the Hanhwa Eagles baseball team and the Korean Air Force Academy, is also the provincial capital of Chungcheongbuk-do and a fairly large city of over 600,000 souls. Unlike nearby Daejeon, which is essentially a product of colonial rule, Cheongju has been a regional center for centuries, sitting as it does amidst some of Korea’s finest farmland. The city grew significantly with the opening of the Chungbuk railway line in the 1920s; this development has left behind a pretty significant modern architectural heritage that includes public offices and schools.
Cheongju is a major transportation hub, so getting there shouldn’t present a problem. Most of the modern historic sites are in the old downtown area of Sangdang-gu.
Main Hall, Chungcheongbukdo Provincial Hall
Registered Cultural Property No. 55.
Built in 1937, the Provincial Hall in Munhwa-dong is an imposing brick-and-tile structure with a heavy front porch. Interestingly, it was constructed with a good deal of cooperation and financial support from provincial residents.
The lobby, done up in an quasi-Art Deco fashion like that of Kyungpook National University Medical Center in Daegu, has been well preserved. I really like the Art Deco ornaments on the central staircase.
Former Chungbuk Industrial Promotion Office
Registered Cultural Property No. 352.
Also part of the Provincial Hall complex, this funky little building is actually a year older than the Main Hall. Hmmm, 1930s, curved lines, porthole windows… Streamline Moderne, perhaps?
Uri Yeneungwon House
Registered Cultural Property No. 9.
This exotic bungalow-style residence was built in 1924 as the residence of a Japanese bank manager. After Liberation, it was used for several decades by the YMCA, and for the last 30 years it’s been a kindergarten/arts school. The school is run by a lovely elderly woman who specializes in the marimba — two of her former students, one a student in the music school of a prestigious Seoul university and the other a student at a major Seoul school for the arts, were rehearsing when I visited, so the owner invited me in to listen.
The house is located just behind Jungang Elementary School, a short walk from the Provincial Hall.
Old Cheongju Public Normal School Building
Registered Cultural Property No. 350.
Located on the campus of Juseong Elementary School in Yeong-dong, the Old Cheongju Public Normal School Building was built in 1923 and is the oldest schoolhouse in Chungcheongbukdo. The school itself is even older, having been founded in 1907 as the first modern school in the province.
Now used as the Juseong Educational Museum, it’s architecturally quite interesting, with its unique gabled roof with ornamental windows on the facade.
Classroom, Daeseong Girls Middle School
Registered Cultural Property No. 351.
With its Japanese-style roof, twin-arched entrance and Tuscan-order column, you might think this old schoolhouse was built during the colonial era, but in fact, it’s from 1954, and represents an early post-Liberation Korean attempt at Western-style modern architecture.
Built originally for Cheongju National University, it is now used as a gymnasium by Daeseong Girls Middle School.
Old Main Hall, Cheongju Commercial High School
Registered Cultural Property No. 6.
Cheongju Commercial High School, recently renamed Daeseong High School, has long been one of the most important private higher educational facilities in the province. In the colonial era, it trained a lot of the builders who would develop Cheongju.
The old red-brick schoolhouse was built in 1936 and has changed little since.
The interior is appropriate musky, with displays set up with artifacts from the school’s history. Along the hall hang old photos documenting the school’s past, and are well worth seeing. Kept in cases near the entrance is a mountain of trophies the school has won throughout its illustrious past.
Other Sites in Cheongju
One of the sites I really, really wanted to see while in Cheongju was the Provincial Governor’s Residence (Registered Cultural Property 353), which was built in 1939. It’s a beautiful building that blends Western and Japanese designs, but unfortunately, it’s off-limits to the public. In fact, I’ve been able to find only one photo of it, taken by the Cultural Properties Administration. I did make the effort, however — I spend much of the morning bouncing around the Provincial Hall trying to arrange a visit, not to no avail. That said, the officials really did go out of their way to help, which impressed me, because they could have just as easily told me to bugger off.
About an hour north of Cheongju is the country of Jincheon-gun, a quiet farming community that’s famous for its high-quality rice. Where there’s good rice, there’s good rice wine, and my final destination for the day was Sewang Brewery. which for the last 70 years has been producing some of Korea’s best traditional firewater.
Jincheon is about two hours by bus from Seoul’s Dongseoul or Nambu bus terminals. From Cheongju, however, it’s only about 40 minutes away — bus #711 will take you to Jincheon Bus Terminal.
Jincheon Eumnaeri Anglican Church
Registered Cultural Property No. 8.
A short taxi ride from Jincheon Bus Terminal, on a hill overlooking the rice fields below, is Jincheon Eumnaeri Anglican Church. Built in 1923 by Father George Ernest Hewlett to replace an older structure, the church is similar to other old Anglican churches in its blending of Korean and Western architectural styles.
Jincheon Eumnaeri Anglican Church was the first Anglican church in the province, and placed a large role in the educational, medical and cultural development of Jincheon. Today, it is watched over by a nice young priest and his family, and has a congregation of about 200. Unfortunately, most of the church activities take place in a newly built complex in back, so the old church is quite underutilized.
Registered Cultural Property No. 58.
I can’t say enough about Sewang Brewery, formerly Deoksan Brewery, located a short bus ride from downtown Jincheon-gun in Deoksan-myeon. If you visit just one place from this collection of vacation posts, make it this one.
Sewang Brewery was founded in 1929 by brewer Lee Jang-beom, and has changed remarkably little since then. The beautiful wooden brewery building, designed by a Japanese architect and constructed by Korean builders, was completed in 1930. Built of fir and cedar transported all the way from Mt. Baekdusan, the factory has managed to make it through the decades virtually in its original condition. It helps, of course, that it still does what it was purpose-built to do — produce high-quality takju (a.k.a makkeolli) and yakju using old-fashioned techniques handed down over three generations. This is very, very special place where architecture, history, cultural tradition, and the fine rice and water of Jincheon-gun blend into one.
The founder’s grandson, Lee Gyu-haeng, runs the establishment with his wife and a small staff of employees. For a small family brewery operating out of a 78-year-old factory, they produce a surprisingly large amount of product and have drawn no small amount of praise from the press and traditional wine connoisseurs, not the least of whom was reportedly late president Park Chung-hee, who would send his security detail to the brewery to score booze every time the dictator visited to Jincheon (which, BTW, was often). Lee and his wife are a very charming couple who will talk your ear off about brewing and the history of the company. Interestingly, Lee was an architect before taking over the family business in 1998, which gives him a particular appreciation of his brewery’s architectural importance.
The truss work on the ceiling of the brewery. The windows were designed to provide the perfect ventilation for fermenting booze. BTW, as soon as you walk into the place, you’re overtaken with the smell of fermenting takju and yakju, so you know you’re in a brewery.
Rice wines fermenting in clay jars, just like your grandmother used to make.
When I say nothing has changed, I mean nothing has changed — this clay jar was made in 1935 in nearby Yongmongni Kiln.
Mr. Lee is always experimenting with recipes to develop new products in addition to his staple firewaters (OK, so I guess some things have changed). This here is red wine produced from black rice; it took a decade to develop, and is quite, quite good. It apparently impressed a visiting agro-science professor from UC Davis, too.
The name “Mont Grande” comes from “Deoksan,” BTW.
This is Cheonmahwalboju, and comes in clay jars modeled on the wind chimes of the great stone pagoda of Mireuksaji in Iksan. It’s made from rice and 19 medicinal herbs, including cheonma (Tian Ma in Chinese), or Gastrodia Root, a Jincheon-gun specialty product. I’ve been told that male drinkers will notice it puts lead in their pencils, so to speak.
Ah, this little baby isn’t on the market yet. In fact, it doesn’t even have a name. Ranging from 18 to 22% alcohol depending on the batch (Lee notes that the 22% number is significant, in that most brewers consider it impossible to brew over 20% using fermentation), what it will do is get you hammered fast, but you recover quick, too. Its creator said it also has amazing cleansing properties that help you lose weight — in fact, he lost 7kg during its development.
Then, of course, there’s always the takju and yakju for which the brewery is rightfully famous — there’s a full list of products on their homepage.
Coincidentally, Joel Browning did a feature on the brewery for my magazine last year. It has contact information (the phone number anyway is  536－3567) and directions to the brewery, so check it out. The story also recounts some of the brewery’s fascinating history, including how it managed to survive the Korean War.
Anyway, do yourself a favor and visit the place. And please, buy their stuff! Give the commercially produced crap a rest and drink some good stuff for a change!