This week, Monroe City Council unanimously approved the alcohol beverage license for the city’s first microbrewery and brewhouse since the institution of the updated alcohol ordinance last year. The license was granted to Major Humphrey’s Brewing Company, which is expected to open on S. Madison Avenue by the end of the year.
“We hope to start construction next month with a 6-month construction process,” said David Bilsland, one of the four people involved in the brewpub partnership. He and his wife, Lily Bilsland, along with their business partners Shaun and Brittany Berube, are looking at an end of the year opening date for the much-anticipated brewery.
Construction is set to begin on the old seed house of the old Monroe Oil and Fertilizer Company that stands alongside what will soon be the new Monroe Downtown Green. And that, says Monroe historian Steve Brown, is where two chapters of the city’s history collide as we move into a new era.
“It is significant that two moments in Monroe history are coming together on Madison Avenue,” Brown said. “The namesake of one of Monroe’s first social gathering spots finds a home in the former home of Monroe’s first corporation, the spark that led to Monroe’s growth into the 20th century.”
Lily Bilsland said it was the city’s history that sparked the name, Major Humphrey’s Brewing Company.
“We read about it in an old history book about Monroe when we first started throwing around names. ‘In the 1820s, Elisha Betts aided the erection of log and frame houses, stores and a tavern known as “Major Humphries Assembly Room,’ which was used for public meetings, dancing and other forms of amusement,'” Bilsland quoted. “We thought that name fit perfectly. Our vision is to provide a beautiful gathering space for friends and neighbors to unplug and get to know each other while playing games, listening to live music, and enjoying quality craft beer.”
Bilsland said they did change the spelling to differentiate a little from the original place and a restaurant that was open sometime in the 1980s with the same name. She said much as they would love to incorporate some old photographs of the original “Major Humphries” in the decor, they have not been able to find any photographs of the original 1820s assembly room.
“But we will be using some fun historical elements in our branding and design of the Assembly Room,” she said.
Brown said the original “Major Humphries” establishment is believed to have stood on Broad Street near Washington Street, quoting from page 69 of Wayfarers in Walton by Anita Sams, “Nearby was erected the two-story structure known as Major Humphrey’s Assembly Room. Under its roof, feet stomped to the fiddlers’ tunes and elbows bent in sociable rounds of rum, brandy, and whiskey. Although the owner is unknown, there is the possibility that George W. Humphrey, one of Walton’s first commissioners, could have been “Major Humphrey.”
Brown also gave some background on Monroe’s first corporation that was housed in the building soon to be home to the city’s first microbrewery.
“The pyramid-shaped building on south Madison Avenue is the seed house of the Monroe Oil & Fertilizer Company. This is where the cotton seed was stored to later be pressed for oil. The Monroe Oil & Fertilizer Company started life in 1889 as The Monroe Guano Company selling fertilizer,” he said. “This was Monroe first business corporation where stockholders combined assets to form a business partnership. Monroe Oil & Fertilizer was purchased by Arnold Fertilizer and after Arnold’s facilities were destroyed by fire, they moved operations to Monroe Oil & Fertilizer in 1963.”
At this time, Bilsland said they are just excited to be part of the next chapter in Monroe’s development.