Fesenmeier Brewing Company Excerpts from the Book - Huntington Through 75 Years ©1947 by George Seldon Wallace
The history of the Fesenmeier Brewing Company, located at 14th Street West and Madison Avenue in Huntington, began when Michael Fesenmeier and his bride settled on a farm on the Old national Trail near Cumberland, Maryland in 1851. Having brought a knowledge of brewing with him from Germany, shortly after the Civil War he started a small brewery in conjunction with the thriving farm. The demand for their products increased but they were working under many handicaps, especially refrigeration; and to keep their products it was necessary to harvest natural ice in the winter months and store it against the summer heat. The ice was stored in vaults dug into a hillside between the brewery and the farm house.
In harmony with the trend of the times toward industrialization, the brewery was moved to Cumberland, Maryland and continued to grow. Mr. Fesenmeier returned to the farm with his eldest son, George. The business, then well established, was being carried on by the other three sons, Michael, Andrew and John. The elder Mr. Fesenmeier died in 1893 and was survived by the four sons mentioned and two daughters, Teresa Fesenmeier and Mrs. Katherine Kearny. Mrs. Kearny, the only survivor of the family, has resided in Huntington since 1899.
In 1899, the Fesenmeiers, together with John Kearny, came to Huntington and purchased the American Brewing Company which had started in 1893 and was located on the site of the present plant in what was then known as Central City. John J. Fesenmeier remained in Huntington with Mr. Kearny. The name was changed to the West Virginia Brewing Company and their products were marketed under the names of "Fesenmeier Brew" and "West Virginia Special Export Beer."
The new management found the brewery well laid out and excellently located but blocked off from the Huntington retail market by unpaved streets and swamps in the low lying parts of the city. It was impossible for team traffic to get from Central City to Huntington the year round. This problem was partially overcome by establishing a warehouse at 2nd Avenue and 10th Street on the river bank and shipping carloads of beer and ice by rail from the plant at 14th Street West to this warehouse. This was not satisfactory as the extraordinary demand at times exceeded the shipping facilities.
Later, through the cooperation of the progressive city governments of the two towns, an avenue was paved, permitting a regular schedule of delivery for both beer and ice, but there were still two squares located between 3rd Street and 1st Street unpaved, and known as "Neutral Strip" since it was not in the corporation limits of either town. During inclement weather it was necessary for the brewery to keep an extra team of horses stationed at what was popularly called, "Noodle Strip" in order to help pull the wagons through the mud.
Despite these handicaps the brewery prospered until 1905 when a disastrous fire destroyed a large part of the plant. This damage was repaired and after a year, business was again normal. Central City was later incorporated into Huntington and "Neutral Strip" was paved. This made the first complete link in the network of fine streets and avenues we now enjoy. The City continued to grow and by this time Huntington was a contender for Metropolitan honors in the State, the brewery keeping pace with the growth of the community.
The 1913 flood caused considerable damage to the plant and its equipment, but the brewery was again renovated and continued successfully when, in 1914, the State Prohibition Amendment became effective. The brewery whistle was stilled and years of patient endeavor and a large investment was lost. Faithful employees scattered as their livelihood was taken from them.
In 1916 the brewery was remodeled into a modern meat packing plant, known as the Fesenmeier Packing Company. Mr. Kearny had died the year before and "Uncle John" Fesenmeier carried on alone. The packing house gave employment to many of the old employees, some of whom became skillful meat cutters and butchers. The packing business was discontinued after the death of John J. Fesenmeier in 1920.
In 1921 Michael L. Fesenmeier came from Baltimore to assume management of the plant which was converted into a modern cold storage to handle perishable produce. The ice plant was completely remodeled.
In 1933, with the repeal of Federal and State Prohibition statutes, plans were made for reopening the brewery, under the supervision of Michael L. Fesenmeier. After 20 years of idleness, the old machinery was useless. The building was completely remodeled. New and the most modern equipment was installed at a cost of $350,000 and on May 10, 1934, from this up-to-date plant the Fesenmeier Brewing Company again began distribution of "Fesenmeier Brew" and "West Virginia Special Export Beer."
M.W. (Mike) Fesenmeier, son of John J. Fesenmeier, was secretary and sales manager and under his supervision, carefully selected dealers were established throughout the state of West Virginia and in nearby Kentucky and Ohio. Old friends and new ones gave an old-time welcome to the return of these fine products. M.L. Fesenmeier died later this year and John J. Fesenmeier, the eldest son of John was elected president.
There developed a demand for an English type ale and in 1939, "West Virginia Special Sparkling Ale" was added. In 1941, with the public demand for a lighter beer, after months of careful research and testing under the supervision of M.A. (Gus) Fesenmeier, brewmaster, "West Virginia Pilsner Beer" was placed on the market and immediately adopted as a favorite of the lovers of the beverage of moderation.
Throughout World War II the company willingly accepted all wartime restrictions placed upon the use of raw materials and through its advertising in newspaper and radio urged the public to cooperate. However, looking forward to the return of normal operations, work progressed on an addition to the bottling house and modern types of machinery was installed for sterilization and bottling under the most sanitary conditions at a cost of about $150,000. This more than doubled the capacity of the bottling department.
The Fesenmeier Brewing Company is the only brewery now operating in the state of West Virginia and the plant, including brewery, ice house, power plant and bottling house covers an entire block. The present officers of the Fesenmeier Brewing Company are J.F. Fesenmeier, president and general manager; J.P. Kearney, vice president and purchasing agent; M.A. Fesenmeier, brewmaster and superintendent; and G.J. Linsenmeyer, sales manager. (end) Story on pages 148-149
More from "Huntington Through 75 Years"
This paragraph is from the story about Duncan Box & Lumber Company
From its beginning , the company has shipped Huntington-made boxes from California to Florida. Purchases of boxes in those early days were made in 2, 4, and 6 dozen lots.
Wooden beer crates like this were once a common site on the Duncan Box & Lumber production line.
One of the first customers of the then new box company was the parent company of the present Fesenmeier Brewing Company. This company still buys boxes from Duncan Box & Lumber Company for the shipping of its products throughout its territory. (Duncan Box & Lumber is still in business! Ed.) Story on pages 146-148
....and from the section on Huntington banks: During the time of the writing of the book in 1946, The First National Bank listed among its Board of Directors, J. Frank Fesenmeier. From page 130
Huntington Through 75 Years © 1947 George Seldon Wallace