When in May 2007, the Old Exchange National Bank in Okawville, Illinois, was honored as the 500th Mesker facade identified in the state, we made it a big deal. This was during my first tour of duty at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and in the midst of “one of the most successful historical detective cases ever.” We issued a press release and had a celebratory event in front of the building with descendants of Fred Moehle, who built the structure in 1910, and David Mesker, grandson of Frank Mesker, co-founder of Mesker Brothers Iron Works which supplied the building’s pressed metal cornices and moldings, ornamental steel box columns, steel sills, and [in 2007] only the second self-supporting metal Mesker Brothers awning identified in Illinois. We even developed a special commemorative certificate that was presented to the Moehles, Mr. Mesker, and the building’s owner, Village of Okawville. It felt great to honor all involved, past and present, while simultaneously celebrating the ‘got mesker?’ initiative’s soaring success.
Now Indiana can boast it’s 500th identified Mesker, though this announcement will likely lack the Illinois fanfare from 2007 unless someone at IDNR’s Division of Historic Preservation & Archaeology or Indiana Landmarks would be willing to champion the cause. But since I can’t guarantee any official coverage from Indiana, we’ll celebrate it’s 500th Mesker and the previous 499 here.
The milestone Mesker was discovered in Wolf Lake, an unincorporated and oldest community in Noble County. The building with its unmistakable galvanized sheet-metal cornice by George L. Mesker & Co. was first spotted at the far left of this historic postcard view from 1909 (better visible in the cropped version). And indeed, Google Streetview imagery reveals that the building survives albeit with some bumps (storefront alterations) and bruises (missing cornice pediment). Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find a quality image that I can reproduce here and the postcard is from a private collection with disabled sharing on flickr.
Below is the breakdown of the Indiana 500 (a full database listing can be accessed here):
412 by George L. Mesker & Co. (GLM)
80 by Mesker Brothers Iron Works (MB)
4 by both
4 by J.B. Mesker & Son (JBM)
88 complete “house fronts” (61 GLM, 27 MB)
27 demolished (23 GLM, 2 MB, 2 JBM)
156 towns (100 with GLM, 21 with MB, 35 with both)—there are several towns with large groupings of surviving Meskers including North Vernon (29 and most in the country), Evansville (24), Boonville (24), Linton (17), Huntingburg (15), New Harmony (11), Corydon (10), and Loogootee (10). A brief synopsis of each can be found here.
What these numbers do not capture is how special Indiana’s Meskers really are, and particularly those by George L. Mesker & Co. Being the company’s home state, Indiana was recipient of many of the company’s early motifs and offerings especially in proximity to Evansville. Aside from isolated occurrences in Illinois or Kentucky, these designs and elements from the early 1880s have not thus far been identified elsewhere in the country. Furthermore, Indiana’s Meskers include works of J.B. Mesker & Son (father’s preceding iron works), J.H. Mesker & Co (another brother’s ornamental iron fence company), and several Mesker factory buildings which utilized company products on their facades. In addition to the 500 buildings, one can also come across various Mesker-made streetscape elements such as ornamental coal hole covers or street lights.
500 is a lot of Meskers no matter how you slice it. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, however, that so many were identified in Indiana which by my estimates originally had a combined 4,936 buildings with Mesker components (806 by Mesker Brothers and 4,130 by George L. Mesker & Co—more than any other state). Only Illinois had more total Meskers but that’s because building owners did not have an allegiance to either company and purchased heavily from both. As with Illinois, the number of identified buildings is destined to grow.
Following are some favorite Meskers in Indiana to date (it’s really difficult to narrow it down from 500 buildings and over 1,000 images!):