The following article originally appeared in the American Breweriana Journal, September - October 1996. This bi-monthly publication is included with membership in the American Breweriana Association (ABA). To visit their official website click here: American Breweriana Association. It is with kind permission from the author, Bill Carlisle and The ABA, that I am able to present this article to you. A big thanks goes out to them! NOTE: The images shown here did not appear in the original article. Thanks also to former Parkersburg, West Virginia resident Jim Dawson for donating his incredible pictures! See Jim Dawson's Parkersburg, West Virginia: A Vintage Portrait, a stunning online collection of old photos taken on the streets of that fine city, including the nice shots of the Parkersburg brewery.
The1971 closing of the Little Switzerland Brewing Company marked the end of one of West Virginia's oldest and most successful industries. The brewing industry in this eastern state had its humble beginning back in the 1830s in Wheeling. By the turn of the century, West Virginia boasted 35 breweries to provide enough beer to the residents of the state. Wheeling had become a major brewing center including three of the state's largest plants. When National Prohibition failed in the U.S. House of Representatives in early 1914, West Virginia legislation sprung into action and passed the Yost Statewide Prohibition Law on June 30, 1914. The effect of the law devastated the state's brewing industry, closing over 500 saloons, including all of West Virginia's breweries. Ohio County, (Wheeling) was the hardest hit when 107 saloons and the state's three largest breweries were forced to close. After repeal, only five of the state's original breweries re-opened in 1933 and none of Wheeling's breweries were among them.
|Reymann Brewing Company
The Reymann Brewing Company of Wheeling was the state's largest and most successful pre-Prohibition brewery. It began as the P.P. Beck Brewery in 1847. Beck formed a partnership with A. Reymann which continued until 1863 when Reymann gained full ownership.
A small sales book lists the Reymann depots in several cities in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, including Charleston, Huntington, Canton, Marietta, Pittsburgh, and Erie. The brewery produced as much as 28,000 barrels of beer in the early teens.
The Reymann company's bottling department employees worked with engineers from the Studebaker Corporation to design a beer truck (picture not yet available). The truck proved so successful that it was featured in an early edition of the Western Brewer [an industry publication].
(above) Reymann brewery and malt house From the The David Rumsey Map Collection
|(right) Example of a post-prohibition label from Monongahela Valley Brewing Company in Fairmont.
Fairmont Brewing Company
Along with Clarksburg and Huntington breweries, the Fairmont Brewing Company is one of the few West Virginia breweries with a pre-Prohibition and post-Prohibition history in their original buildings. The pre-Prohibition Fairmont brewery was famous for its Black Diamond beer. The post-Prohibition brewery was known as the North Pole Brewing Company. When North Pole brewing operations ceased in 1938, they became the North Pole Distributing Company and operated well into the 1970s. The distributing company branched out to include outlets in Clarksburg and Huntington and was the principal distributor of Falls City and West Virginia beers. The distributorship served the entire state of West Virginia as well as eastern Kentucky and southern Ohio.
|Schmulbach Brewing Company
The Schmulbach Brewing Company was the second of Wheeling's big three breweries. It began operations in 1855 as the Frederick Ziegler Brewery. In 1873 a stock company was formed under the name of The Nail City Brewing Company. In 1882, Henry Schmulbach gained control of the company and changed its name to the Schmulbach Brewing Company. The company also fell victim to Prohibition and closed for good in 1914. The buildings still exist today and are one of the finest examples of 19th century brewery architecture in the country.
(Anyone know if the buildings are still up in 2005? Ed.) UPDATE: 2/17/06 Some of the buildings are still standing! Thanks to Albert Doughty for the info!
|Uneeda Brewing Company
The Uneeda Brewing Company was formed in 1902. The plant was one of the most modern in the nation when it began brewing in 1903. The plant was built at a cost of $170,000 and produced 40,000 barrels of beer during its first year of operation. It too closed in 1914.
(sketch) Uneeda Brewing Company
Clarksburg Brewing Company
The brewery known as the Clarksburg Brewing Company was organized by a group of investors from Pittsburgh in 1903. It was built on East Pike Street near the B&O depot; and once produced between 60,000 and 80,000 barrels annually. The Clarksburg reopened after Prohibition as The Old Tavern Brewing Company until 1938 and became The Mountain State Brewing Company for the next three years. Later, the building became a warehouse for Sears & Roebuck during the 1960s.
The first Parkersburg Brewery was founded by Marcus Rapp in 1859. During the time the company was known as the Rapp & Hebrank Brewery, the original plant was built near present day Route 68 and Marrtown Road near Marrtown. The new brewery was built in 1896 because the Rapp-Hebrank brewery could not meet the demand for beer in Parkersburg.
After the move, the company became known as The Parkersburg Brewing Company and was a thriving business until Statewide Prohibition. The plant was located at Seventh Street where Daley Transfer is now located. The American Brewing Company was on Depot Street in Parkersburg, near the present-day laundry building of St. Mary's Hospital.
The brewery only operated during 1934 - 1938. It was most likely an attempt by the original owners of the Parkersburg Brewery to re-enter the beer business after Prohibition. The original Parkersburg Brewery buildings were sold years later.
(below left and center) Taken by unknown photographer in 1907. Photo courtesy of Jim Dawson (below right) Photo by Tony Kemp - The Parkersburg News, courtesy of Jim Dawson
(click pictures to enlarge)
It was in the early 1830s when Michael Fesenmeier was learning the trade in his native Germany. In 1849 he came to America and took a job at a brewery in Cumberland, Maryland. In 1877, Michael Fesenmeier, along with his four sons started their own brewery in Lindenville, Maryland.
When he retired in 1890, he left the business to his four sons: Michael, Andrew, George and John. Instead of continuing the business, they joined forces with a group of Cumberland investors and formed the Cumberland Brewing Company.
Michael became the brewmaster with Andrew as his assistant. John became plant manager and Michael studied at Anheuser-Busch, Dallas Brewing and the Globe Brewing Company prior to joining the Cumberland Brewery. In 1899, the brothers purchased the assets of the bankrupt American Brewing Company of Huntington, West Virginia. They reopened the plant as the West Virginia Brewing Company. The original brewery plant was completely rebuilt after a fire in 1905, and prospered until Statewide Prohibition in 1914. The brothers converted the plant to an ice house and cold storage facility.
In 1933, John and his son John Jr. reopened their brewery as the Fesenmeier Brewing Company and West Virginia beer became their flagship brand. Operation continued until 1968 when the family sold the business to Robert Holley of Huntington, who renamed it as the Little Switzerland Brewing Company. The new owners remodeled the office and hospitality room with a Swiss look in an attempt to make the plant a tourist attraction. They introduced Charge beer to their market area.
By 1970, the brewery was purchased by the August Wagner Brewery of Columbus, Ohio and the plant closed in 1971. No buildings of the Little Switzerland brewery exist today, as it was demolished in 1972 to make room for a parking lot. The 1971 closing of West Virginia's only remaining brewery marked the end of one of the state's oldest industries.