At least for the time being Illinois leads all states in most identified Mesker facades. But which town has the largest surviving collection? And what other high concentrations are out there? Below is an imperfect ranking of communities according to number of existing Mesker facades, with a minimum of ten. It may be January but it’s never too early to start choosing your summer vacation destinations…
Key: GLM = George L. Mesker & Co; MB = Mesker Brothers Iron Works; JBM = J.B. Mesker & Son
1. North Vernon, Indiana; 29 facades (23 GLM, 6 MB)
Although some official sources mistakenly report 65 Mesker facades in North Vernon, 29 existing buildings is still the most in any town known to date (the final tally may include a handful more depending on one’s method of counting adjoining buildings that share cornices or facades, etc.) Additionally, both companies are represented through a variety of brick and full metal fronts. So if there’s one place in the country to see and learn about Mesker facades, North Vernon is it.
2. Henderson, Kentucky; 26 facades (all GLM)
Across the Ohio River from Evansville, it is no wonder that Henderson has so many examples of facade components by George L. Mesker & Co. In addition to the sheer number, one can study some of the company’s early designs from the late 1880s and early 1890s.
3. Evansville, Indiana; 24 facades (23 GLM, 1 JBM)
Despite a significant number of demolitions over the years, Evansville retains an impressive amount of Mesker examples (which cannot be said of the other “parent” city of St. Louis). Most remaining specimens are early works of the prolific manufacturer. The only known remaining full metal front is on the Heldt & Voelker Building, also home to an amazing German restaurant, the Gerst Haus. So when in Evansville, have an authentic experience and eat some schupfnudel in a Mesker. Unlike anywhere else, one can also encounter other Mesker building products throughout the city such as manhole covers or street lights. Although very difficult to identify, one can moreover stumble upon surviving works by John Bernard Mesker—father to the Mesker brothers and predecessor of the Mesker companies owned by his sons—as well as iron fences by the lesser known brother John Henry Mesker. A comprehensive survey would undoubtedly result in additional identifications.
4. Boonville, Indiana; 24 facades (all GLM)
Another town in proximity to Evansville, Boonville has a very high concentration of George Mesker facades. With full metal and brick fronts, early and late designs, Boonville’s downtown is virtually the entire George L. Mesker & Co catalog on display. A rather unusual commission stands right at the center—the Warrick County Courthouse, designed by Harris & Shopbell Architects from Evansville and built in 1904, features sheet-metal work by George L. Mesker & Co.
5. Linton, Indiana; 17 facades (16 GLM, 1 both)
Nice collection of brick fronts with components by George L. Mesker & Co and one example with George Mesker storefront columns and a Mesker Brothers cornice.
6. Palestine, Illinois; 16 facades (all GLM)
Palestine’s Meskers are nearly all brick fronts with cast iron columns and galvanized trimmings such as cornices and window hoods. Several buildings retain original Mesker canopies. (updated May 29, 2014 – another GLM facade found).
7. Louisiana, Missouri; 15 facades (all MB)
Situated along the Mississippi River, Louisiana has a truly authentic downtown with a variety of Mesker Brothers cornices and window hoods and a handful of full sheet-metal fronts.
8. Huntingburg, Indiana; 15 facades (all GLM)
Great collection of Mesker facades in a thriving downtown. Most buildings appear to be well maintained and colorfully painted. Most interesting example is the F.H. Poetker & J.B. Miller Building with an upper story galvanized sheet-metal facade.
9. Ouray, Colorado; 14 facades (13 MB, 1 GLM)
Ouray is often described as Colorado’s most beautiful town and once you are there it is hard to argue. Adding to the dramatic mountainous scenery is a very nice downtown historic district, with several striking buildings. One of these is Wright’s Hall from 1887, with one of the earliest and most impressive full iron fronts by Mesker Brothers Iron Works. A dozen more Mesker facades make for a great study of the companies’ work.
10. McLeansboro, Illinois; 14 facades (13 GLM, 1 JBM)
Despite a nice collection of George Mesker facades around the courthouse square, the main reason to see McLeansboro is the Cloud State Bank. Designed by the architecture firm of Reid & Reid of Evansville, the building was completed in 1882. It features exuberant architectural motifs, including several cornices and a mansard roof covered with tin. The building’s crowning element is a “bull’s eye” tower covered with zinc shingles and topped with wrought iron, executed by J.B. Mesker & Son, company owned by the father of the Mesker brothers where they all worked and learned the sheet-metal trade. In 1884 adjacent to the bank, the Cloud family had Reid & Reid design an elaborate residence, now the public library, which also features sheet-metal cornices and decorative ironwork, likely made by J.B. Mesker & Son. Cloud State Bank has long been recognized for its architectural exuberance. It was featured on the cover of “Illinois Architecture: From Territorial Times to the Present” (1968)by Frederick Koeper; made the list of America’s 500 best buildings in G.E. Kidder Smith’s “Source Book of American Architecture” (1996); and more recently was selected as one of Illinois’s 150 greatest buildings through the AIA150 initiative.
11. Eureka Springs, Arkansas; 13 facades (all MB)
A non-traditional street grid with curved roads and grade changes combined with well-maintained buildings make for a great experience. There is a nice variety of Mesker subtypes.
12. Providence, Kentucky; 13 facades (all GLM)
Providence’s historic commercial building stock appears to be under threat of demolition (by neglect as well as intended). With a few Mesker facades lost in recent years, the remaining dozen may not be around for much longer. Many appear to be in less than desirable condition. Nonetheless, a few impressive structures remain, including one rather amazing instance of slender two-story cast iron columns. (updated August 23, 2013 – another GLM facade found).
13. Altamont, Illinois; 12 facades (10 GLM, 2 MB)
Nice mix of mostly brick fronts, although most have been substantially altered. While the Mesker components remain visible, reduced storefront openings and unsympathetic materials such as vinyl siding and EIFS mar the appearance of most examples.
14. Georgetown, Texas; 12 facades (all MB)
Great downtown with a high concentration of Mesker facades in a variety of subtypes and sizes. Many employ wonderful color schemes. Hard to pick a favorite here! (updated March 1, 2013 – another MB facade found; Georgetown was previously #16 on the list).
15. New Harmony, Indiana; 11 facades (10 GLM, 1 JBM)
As if New Harmony wasn’t already a destination with an early 1800s utopian village and master works by Philip Johnson (Roofless Church, 1960) and Richard Meier (Athenaeum, 1978-79), this National Historic Landmark district also features a nice collection of well-maintained Mesker facades with a high level of integrity, all within a couple of blocks. Perhaps the most unusual is the Working Men’s Institute (1894), an imposing Romanesque Revival building with a continuous Mesker cornice and interior structural columns. Across the street is a beautiful iron fence by J.H. Mesker & Co. Also downtown, among several great High Victorian Gothic buildings with galvanized sheet-metal components, one is believed to be the work of John Bernard Mesker with cast iron columns by John H. Roelker & Co, also known as the Eagle Foundry, dated 1876. Mesker was once Roelker’s partner in the foundry business and the two companies likely worked together to provide a wider range of products—Roelker took care of cast iron and Mesker provided galvanized iron.
16. Ballinger, Texas; 11 facades (all MB)
Ballinger has a very nice grouping of Mesker facades, primarily brick/stone fronts with cornices and cast iron columns.
17. Calvert, Texas; 10 facades (8 MB, 2 GLM)
An impressive array of various Mesker subtypes can be found in Calvert. The Masonic Hall is a superb example by the Mesker Brothers; it is a corner building with a custom-designed main sheet-metal facade and a long cornice on the brick side elevation. (updated September 25, 2014 – one MB facade was listed twice; Calvert was previously #16 on the list).
18. Chrisman, Illinois; 10 facades (8 GLM, 2 MB)
Nice cornices and window hoods from both companies, but vacant storefronts and boarded up windows take away from the experience.
19. Flora, Illinois; 10 facades (9 GLM, 1 MB)
Impressive collection of various components including a few puzzling pairings of columns by George L. Mesker & Co and International Steel & Iron Construction Co in the same storefront, perhaps attributed to their design similarities (International Steel, also from Evansville, began in 1910 as a direct competitor to George L. Mesker & Co by its former employees).
20. Corydon, Indiana; 10 facades (9 GLM, 1 MB)
Very typical assemblage of Mesker facades, all brick fronts. The Luckett Building with a full metal front by Mesker Brothers Iron Works was unfortunately demolished.
21. Loogootee, Indiana; 10 facades (all GLM)
Nice collection of George Mesker brick front designs, ranging from the late 1880s to the mid-1900s. The most noteworthy are two adjacent buildings originally built by Huebner Shirey & Co, whose renderings were reproduced in the 1902, 1903 and 1905 company catalogs. Most buildings retain a high level of integrity.
22. Mt. Carroll, Illinois; 9 facades (all MB)
So we’re breaking our “minimum of ten” rule, but with nine specimens this self-proclaimed “Mesker capital of Illinois” may in fact be the most impressive collection in the state. Although only Mesker Brothers are represented, the examples are nearly all full sheet-metal fronts, including several in a row. The best is probably the Kraft Building, a corner edifice with the main elevation fully clad in sheet metal while the secondary elevation is of brick but with intricate sheet-metal window surrounds.
23. Bloomfield, Iowa; 9 facades (all MB)
Although other towns can boast as many Meskers, not many have seven in a row (south side of the square). And with a high level of quality, variety and integrity, this is a definite must-see.
Disappointed that your town didn’t make the list? As more buildings are discovered in more towns, it is sure to change. Don’t fret and let me know about your Mesker buildings and I promise to include them in a future revised edition of “Mesker Magnets.”