Indiana 500

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!):

On Indiana 145, Birdseye, IN. Wonderful example of a George L. Mesker & Co “brick front” with an early 1890s Victorian Gothic cornice, window hoods and a fully intact cast iron and wooden storefront. One of four surviving Meskers in Birdseye. Image courtesy of flickr member Tourismguy.
Warrick County Courthouse (1904), Boonville, IN. A Mesker courthouse? Yes, according to a George L. Mesker & Co testimonials catalog from 1905 which featured a rendering of the Harris & Shopbell designed building. Mesker likely provided all of the cornice work and metal work atop the cupola. Image courtesy of flickr member OZinOH.
123 S. Second St (c. 1888), Boonville, IN. Galvanized sheet-metal facade by George L. Mesker & Co with rarely seen motifs that were phased out by the 1890s. One of twenty-four surviving Meskers in Boonville.
121-123 S. Second St, Boonville, IN. This historic image shows another George L. Mesker facade (1888 in pediment) to the right of the three-story survivor at 123 S. Second St. The building was demolished at an unknown date. Image courtesy of the National Register of Historic Places flickr page.
Heldt & Voelker Building (1890), 2100 W. Franklin, Evansville, IN. This great building has perhaps the only remaining George L. Mesker & Co galvanized sheet-metal front in Evansville. The other twenty-three are all brick fronts. Image courtesy of flickr member Eridony.
1000 N. First Ave, Evansville, IN. Despite alterations, the building retains its cast iron columns and galvanized sheet-metal cornice – both with early motifs rarely seen outside of Evansville and neighboring counties. One of several such examples in the city.
A.G. Johnson Building, 8 N. Jefferson St, Huntington, IN. The three-bay galvanized sheet-metal upper facade on the left of the photo appears to be but a quarter of its original length, at least according to renderings of the building reproduced in the 1902, 1903 (general) and 1905 (testimonial) catalogs. Image courtesy of flickr member OZinOH.
32 N. Washington St, Knightstown, IN. Although Mesker Brothers Iron Works facades in Indiana are fairly commonly designed, the mere expanse of this surviving full metal front is noteworthy. The brick building to the right also has a Mesker Brothers cornice. There are five other known Meskers in Knightstown. Image courtesy of flickr member Tourismguy.
Lee & Co. Building, Marco, IN. Good things come in all sizes. This compact and intact facade explodes with ornament and unfortunately, rust. Hopefully better days are still ahead. Image courtesy of flickr member will139.
Johnston and Hancock Building, on Washington St, Montezuma, IN. While the building has cast iron columns and storefront lintels by George L. Mesker & Co, what makes it noteworthy and visually interesting are its historic painted signs. One of five Meskers in Montezuma.
Evertson Building (1884), 319-325 Main St, Mount Vernon, IN. The cast iron column design found here is extremely rare and I believe it to be the earliest offered by George L. Mesker & Co, perhaps purchased from another foundry (ala Mesker Brothers and Christopher & Simpson). One of three identified Meskers in Mount Vernon, all manufactured between 1884 and 1888.
510-512 S. Main St, New Harmony, IN.
510-512 S. Main St (1876), New Harmony, IN. New Harmony has it all when it comes Meskers – ten surviving George Mesker examples, plus an amazing coal hole cover, an iron fence by J.H. Mesker & Co., and this building with iron work made by the father of the Mesker boys, John Bernard Mesker. The columns were manufactured by the Eagle Foundry/John H. Roelker & Co from Evansville, in which J.B. Mesker was a partner. One can see many similarities between this cornice and those offered by George L. Mesker from the mid-1880s to the early 1890s. An identical cornice also survives in Evansville at 129 SE Fourth St.
Corner of 5th and Walnut, North Vernon, IN. Meskers as far as eye can see – North Vernon has twenty-nine of them. Image courtesy of flickr member aschweigert.
2-10 N. Washington St, Worthington, IN. Row of metal facades with a rock face stone pattern and spiral columns by George L. Mesker & Co. There are seven Meskers in town. Image courtesy of flickr member Tourismguy.
Evansville, IN. In addition to 500 Mesker buildings also surviving in Indiana are examples of the Evansville company’s other products such as this beautiful coal hole cover. Another can be seen on Main Street in New Harmony.
Evansville, IN. Street light manufactured by George L. Mesker & Co. Image courtesy of Dennis Au.
Evansville, IN. Several of these street lights manufactured by George L. Mesker & Co still survive in the city. Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

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