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Something was brewing in Sistersville

By Staff | Mar 19, 2014

The Sistersville Brewery (center left), located at Carter Avenue and North Wells Street, dominated the landscape of Sistersville’s north end.

(Editor’s note: This is the latest installment from the Tyler County Planning Commission in conjunction with the Tyler County Bicentennial.)

Today, “craft beers” and “micro brews” are reaching a high level of popularity throughout America. But nearly a century ago, Tyler County had its own brewing industry in the form of the Sistersville Brewing Company.

Located on the corner of Carter Avenue and North Wells Street (state Route 2) in the north end of Sistersville, the ornately built brewery, maintenance shop, offices, and adjacent ice house occupied over one-half of a city block and featured a five-story building which housed the brewing tanks. Only one of the structures remains standing and is now a private residence.

With $150,000 in hand (just under $4 million in today’s money), A. Bruner, of Sistersville, along with investors from Pittsburgh and Jeanette, Pa., constructed the brewery in 1905. In a community experiencing a booming economy and a great influx of oil field and factory workers, taverns as well as other even less savory, but popular, business establishments required a dependable supply of beer and ale. It seemed as if a local brewery was a “can’t miss” business venture.

Unfortunately, for the investors, employees, and the local beer loving public, that was not the case. Whether due to poor management, under capitalization, or just a bad product, the Sistersville Brewing Company remained in operation only until 1908. The brewery reopened later that year as the Ohio Valley Brewing Company, until closing in 1911.

Thirsty tavern owners and their beer drinking patrons had to look elsewhere for their favorite brew after the closing of the Sistersville Brewing Company. Did anyone check the I.D. of that young man in the center foreground?

As a result of a court case, which was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1914, the brewery was stripped of its tanks and fixtures, never to operate again. Thanks to the decision, delivered on behalf of the court by none other than Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Detroit Steel Cooperage Company repossessed the brewing tanks and fixtures for nonpayment of $5,480 by the Sistersville Brewing Company.

But, three years prior to the court’s decision, thirsty beer drinkers were forced to look elsewhere for their favorite beverage. Less than six years after that, the Eighteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (the Prohibition Amendment) would prohibit legal brewing in the U.S. until it was repealed in 1933.

Since the Sistersville Brewing Company and the Ohio Valley Brewing Company operated for such a brief time, the companies did not have a long time to produce advertising and collectibles. Any that are still in existence would be scarce and valuable to collectors, as they tend to be hard to find. So check the trunk from your great-grandpa’s Tyler County attic. You may find a valuable bottle opener or beer glass.

Writer’s Note: Photos from the Walter McCoy Collection, Sistersville Public Library. Last week’s photo of the 1950 blizzard was courtesy of Gary E. Campbell. The photo was mistakenly credited to the Walter McCoy Collection. Our apology to Mr. Campbell.

Sistersville Brewing Company’s five-story brewing tower was one of the three tallest buildings ever constructed in Tyler County. The brewery warehouse and adjacent icehouse are on the left. All the buildings were built with locally fired brick.