In order to be considered a “Mesker Magnet,” my invented though no less official designation for towns with sizable groupings of Mesker facades, a community must have at least ten surviving examples (or nine really cool ones, as in the original list from just over a year ago). During a recent road trip, a fellow Mesker spotter Roger Waguespack, documented two more enclaves, both in the State of Mississippi. He was gracious enough to allow me to share his photos in this post.
Natchez, Mississippi, is a town already well known for its historic architecture, with a particularly strong focus on historic homes, including Longwood (or Nutt’s Folly) from 1860-61, the largest octagonal house in the United States and a National Historic Landmark. Natchez also has a relatively large historic commercial district with nearly 700 resources, 14 of which are surviving Mesker facades—12 are Mesker Brothers Iron Works (St. Louis, MO) facades and 2 are by George L. Mesker & Co. (Evansville, IN). In addition to the shear figure, the surviving examples represent a very nice sampling of Mesker products appearing on a range of one- to three-story buildings of various widths—storefront columns (3 buildings), cornices (6), window hoods (3), and especially galvanized pressed metal upper stories (6). Although it’s tough to choose a favorite, the W.J. Hogan Building at 324 Main Street stands out for the uncommon upper story design with four-rosette pilasters flanked by quarter-round engaged columns. Dating to 1888, it is also one of the earliest surviving Mesker Brothers “house fronts” in the country. The integrity and condition of the buildings varies but is mostly good. Interestingly, however, all but one George L. Mesker example, cannot be identified through nameplates. Some, as in the case of the W.J. Hogan Building, do not survive. Others have storefronts by different manufacturers, such as the wonderful Mesker Brothers facade at 100 Main Street with equally impressive cast iron storefront columns by Pullis Brothers, also from St. Louis. Several Meskers were installed above columns made by the Chickasaw Iron Works from Memphis, TN. This nearby manufacturer produced at least one cast iron upper facade which can be found at 420 Main Street. As a result of these storefront and upper facade manufacturer combinations—relatively common despite our present-day inability to acknowledge it—it is unclear whether people in Natchez are aware of the true origins of their commercial buildings; this information certainly cannot be found in the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Natchez-On-Top-of-the-Hill Historic District (1979) but then again that is not the purpose of National Register nominations. Perhaps this is too harsh coming from someone who has never been to Natchez. My only hope is that this post will shed some light at least regarding the 14 Meskers. I certainly would like to visit Natchez someday and if, according to Roger, my Mesker appetite is not satisfied, he recommends the Pig-Out Inn Barbeque Restaurant, which is just a couple of blocks from Main Street.
Approximately 120 miles to the north is another, but very different, Mesker grouping. Yazoo City, Mississippi, has 10 surviving Mesker facades which although impressive in number, lack the galvanized upper stories so prevalent in Natchez. All ten Yazoo City Meskers are brick fronts with cast iron storefront columns manufactured by George L. Mesker & Co., several of which retain their original maker’s marks. Only one building features second story ornamentation in the form of pressed metal window hoods. Most buildings appear to be in good condition and the colorful paint schemes are a feast for the eyes. However, perhaps the most interesting metal ornamentation can be found not on a Mesker front but that of a competitor. The facade at 224 S. Main Street features what at a glance appears to be a galvanized cornice by Mesker Brothers Iron Works. The cornice is galvanized iron/steel but is likely the work of the Willis Manufacturing Company from Galesburg, Illinois. I’ve mentioned this Mesker Brothers competitor and imitator briefly in the past; as we’re discovering their work in other states, I will have to cover the company in greater depth in a future post.
Before Roger’s documentation of Natchez and Yazoo City, the Mississippi Mesker listing had only 17 listings. Just like that, and with just two towns we’re plus 24 (actually, Roger found 4 more in Crystal Springs). I don’t get down to Mississippi very often but I look forward to visiting Natchez and Yazoo City someday.