A. Smith Bowman Distillery/Wiehle Town Hall
This historic building served several purposes for the town of Wiehle, Virginia, now part of Reston. Built around 1892, it was a town hall on the first floor with a church on the second floor. In the early decades of the twentieth century it operated as a store and a house, then was acquired by Abram Smith Bowman, who established a whiskey distillery at the site the day after the repeal of Prophibition. The A. Smith Bowman company operated this distillery until the 1950s, and in 1988 moved its operations to Fredericksburg. The National Register of Historic Places recognized this structure, the original distillery, in 1999. The building is not open to visitors, and no plaque or historical marker commemorates the history of the site.
Backstory and Context
Built ca. 1892 under the direction of town founder Dr. C. A. Max Wiehle (1846-1901), the building is a two-story brick structure with a stone foundation. Painted white on the exterior, the building exhibits the Classical Revival style with a front gable. Originally the first floor was the town hall of Wiehle and the second story was the Wiehle Methodist Episcopal Church. The town declined after the death of its founder in 1901, and the town hall ceased to operate in this building in 1909. From that year until 1927 it was a single-family dwelling and store. It was in 1927 that Abram Smith Bowman (1868-1952) purchased the town of Wiehle. His 7200-acre farm, Sunset Hills Farm, incorporated the former town hall.
With his sons A. Smith Bowman, Jr. (1906-1981) and Edmund Delong Bowman (ca. 1911-1989), Bowman established a whiskey distillery in 1934, the day after the repeal of Prohibition, and this structure was part of the distillery complex, which produced the Virginia Gentleman and Fairfax County whiskey brands. During the 1930s, the distillery made several changes to the building in order to accommodate vats, stills, and barrels. The distillery removed the steeple and 80-pound bell from the building that had signaled its former use as a church. The second floor was removed in order to install oak beams for barrel storage. Many of the windows -- all on the first story and several on the second -- are sealed, and large runways for the rolling of barrels remain in the building.
The A. Smith Bowman distillery used this building until the 1950s; it was the only legal whiskey distillery in Virginia for several decades. The entire Sunset Hills Farm land parcel was sold in 1960, though the distillery site remained in the ownership of the Bowman family. In 1988, the company moved its operations to a new facility in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The modern A. Smith Bowman distillery is in a former cellophane factory. The original distillery has been vacant ever since and the structure is overgrown with vegetation. The National Register of Historic Places recognized the structure in 1999.
Barnes, Bart. E. D. Bowman Dies at 78, The Washington Post. October 20th 1989. Accessed January 12th 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1989/10/20/ed-bowman-dies-at-78/6fb6a2f1-90ac-475b-b9a7-a30c155ff278/.
BumgardnerMemories. Abram Smith Bowman, Jr. (1906-1981), Find a Grave. Accessed January 12th 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/184285647/abram-smith-bowman.
Hughes, Laura and Simone M. Moffett. A. Smith Bowman Distillery, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. July 1999. Accessed January 12th 2020. https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/VLR_to_transfer/PDFNoms/029-5014_A._Smith_Bowman_Distillery_1999_Final_Nomination.pdf.