Editor’s note: This is the 309th in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington landmarks.
HUNTINGTON — For nearly 70 years, minus the Prohibition years of course, the Fesenmeier family brewed beer at its brewery on Madison Avenue at West 14th Street.
In 1899, the Fesenmeiers came from Maryland to what was then Central City and purchased a defunct brewery that had been built at Madison Avenue and West 14th Street in 1891. They reopened it under the name West Virginia Brewing Co. Soon the brewery was widely known as the home of “West Virginia” brand beer.
The brewery survived a disastrous fire in 1905 and the flood of 1913, but it couldn’t survive the state of West Virginia’s enactment of Prohibition in 1914, five years before the rest of the country. John J. Fesenmeier converted the business into a meat-packing plant. When he died in 1922, his brother Michael returned from Maryland and converted the plant to an ice and ice cream business.
Sensing that Prohibition was soon to be lifted, the company took a gamble, installed $300,000 worth of modern brewing equipment and began brewing and stockpiling beer. On May 5, 1934, the first day that beer could again be legally sold, the company — now renamed the Fesenmeier Brewing Co. — had 250,000 gallons ready for the thirsty Huntington area.
For the next couple of decades the company thrived, but ultimately the national beer brands like Budweiser and Miller, with their multi-million-dollar advertising and marketing budgets, squeezed small brewers like Fesenmeier out of business.
In 1968, the brewery was sold to a group of local investors headed by Robert Holley of Huntington, who operated it as the Little Switzerland Brewing Co.
Holley had grand plans for increasing the brewery’s sales and turning it into a tourist attraction. He even remodeled a portion of its exterior to resemble a Swiss chalet and encouraged public tours of the old brewery. He introduced two new brands, Charge Premium Beer and Innkeeper Beer, a lower-priced alternative. Sales of both new brands proved unimpressive.
In 1971, the brewery closed its doors. A year later, the block-long building was demolished to make way for a shopping center parking lot.