Schmulbach Brewery, located at 33rd Street and McColloch in Wheeling, West Virginia, was once an integral part of the city’s rich German heritage that dates to the 19th century. Wheeling was an early prominently German communityand boasted its unofficial nickname, the Beer Belly, with pride as it was a city featured over 130 taverns and saloons.
Nail City Brewery
Nail City Brewery, the predecessor to Schmulbach Brewery, was formed in 1861 by Frank Zeigler at 33rd and Wetzel Street.4 5 Several cellars for the beer were dug into the hillside that extended for 400 feet. There was also a fermentation cellar, measuring 60 feet by 30 feet, mash tubs, boiler and a cooler, the latter which was 18 feet by 19 feet and was purchased at the Centennial for $1,000.5 Two inch pipes made it possible to cool 60 barrels per hour with water coming from an adjacent spring.
Twelve years after its founding, a stock company was organized and the property fell out of Zeigler’s hands.5 The first directors were S. Butterfield, C. Siebke, C. P. Brown, R. S. Brown, N. Riester, F. Walters, G. Warner, H. Michael and P. Bonenberger.4 5 The master brewer for many years was Ernest Irion, formerly of the Gambrinus Brewing Company of Cincinnati, Ohio.
By the 1880’s, Nail City sold between 7,000 and 8,000 barrels per year.5
Schmulbach, born in Germany in 1844, emigrated to the United States with his family to Wheeling at the age of eight.3 Schmulbach worked on packet boats as a teenager and then as a clerk at a wholesale grocery during the Civil War before becoming employed in the wholesale liquor trade in 1867.2 In 1881, he acquired the majority of shares in the Nail City Brewing Company and in January 1882,3 4 he took ownership of the company where he became president and changed the company’s name to the Schmulbach Brewing Company. Schmulbach not only sold beer under the Schmulbach name, but under Nail City Brewing due to brand recognition.3
Modern equipment was installed in 1883 6 and capacity was increased to 50,000 barrels annually. By 1890, due to increasing sales not only in West Virginia but in neighboring states, capacity was increased to 200,000 barrels per year. In 1899, a bottling plant was constructed.6
Schmulbach became one of the largest breweries in the area; it also operated West Virginia’s largest ice plant, which was used in the brewing process.4
Schmulbach developed Mozart Park into a beer garden.1 He also constructed an incline from 44th Street to the park, and then a streetcar line from Caldwell’s Run, up the hill and to the developing community. Schmulbach was also instrumental in constructing Wheeling’s first skyscraper in 1907,2 the 12-story Schmulbach Building, later home to the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation, and an estate at Roney’s Point, which covered several hundred acres.1 The rooms, decorated with hand-made wallpaper imported from France, included a conservatory. The mansion later became home to the Ohio County poor farm and as a tuberculosis sanitarium before being engulfed in flames in 1975.2
Schmulbach retired in 1913 to his mansion at Roney’s Point.2 West Virginia became a dry state in July 1914 under Yost’s Law, and Schmulbach was forced to close.1 3
During World War II, the caves and cellars that extended from the brewery was once considered the site of an air raid shelter for Wheeling.4 Henry C. Miller, of the Wheeling Realty Company, who was also in charge of shelters for the local Civilian Defense Corps, proposed the idea based on the fact that bombers from the Atlantic coast could reach Wheeling in an attempt to avoid heavily fortified and defended coastal cities, and attempt to bomb inland industrialized regions.
The Miller Brewing Company considered the Schmulbach facility as a potential home for a brewing operation in 1978,1 but it was reused instead as storage. The Schmulbach complex is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.3
- Hoffmann, Joe. “Lager-Lapping Land.” News-Register [Wheeling] 29 Oct. 1978: n. pag. Print.
- Comins, Linda. “Brewer Causes Brouhaha.” News-Register [Wheeling] 23 Aug. 2009: n. pag. Print.
- “Breweries of the 1800s.” Valley Magazine Nov. 2005: 25. Print.
- “Ancient cellars once used to store beer may serve Wheeling as air raid shelters.” News-Register [Wheeling] 8 Feb. 1942: n. pag. Print.
- J. H. Newton. History of the Pan-Handle, Wheeling, J.A. Caldwell, 1879.
- Doughty, Albert, Jr. “Wheeling Breweries.” Huntington Beer. N.p., 2010. Web. 18 Dec. 2010. Article.