Written by Aaron-Michael Fox.
Any Huntington old-timer (and many West Virginians at large) should remember the old West Virginia Brewing Company, also known as the Fesenmeier Brewery that once occupied a large section of Central City in Huntington’s West End.
According to the Herald-Dispatch, the Fesenmeier family first came to America from Germany in 1851. They originally lived and opened a brewery in Cumberland, Maryland, but expansion led to them opening a new brewery in Huntington at Madison Avenue and Fourteen Street West in 1899.
Historian James Casto notes that the brewery survived at least one fire in 1905 and several floods (including the Great Flood of 1913), but a year later Prohibition would become state law in West Virginia six years before the rest of the nation and the brewery was forced to become a meat-packing plant and later an ice cream factory. However, beer was never far from the Fesenmeiers’ minds and when Prohibition was lifted on May 5, 1934, they had 250K gallons of West Virginia’s finest beer ready for sale.
The brand enjoyed a profitable few decades in the post-WWII climate, boasting the slogan ‘‘West Virginia, That’ll Win Ya.’’ However, national brands like Budweiser, Miller, and Coors began to tighten their grip on the market and force the smaller breweries out of existence starting in the 1960s. Furthermore, the rise of television offered an advantage to the larger companies who took valuable advertising time away from smaller local breweries.
In 1968, the Fesenmeier family was forced to sell the brewery to Robert Holley who changed the name to “Little Switzerland” and oversaw the production until filing bankruptcy in 1971. The block was leveled to make room for a new shopping center a year later.
Huntington’s only current local brewery, The Peddler, began offering house-made beers at 835 Third Avenue on September 1, 2017.
*You may be wondering why I included a Dalmatian in the thumbnail graphic and the answer to that is quite simple: In the early days of beer production when beer was still delivered by horse-drawn wagon, the deliverymen would keep dogs by the truck to protect the beer from thieving passersby. Why Dalmatians? The same reason fire departments used them: they get along really well with horses.