NY State of Mind

Comparatively speaking, Mesker facades are not common in the Northeast, where there were many competitors in the architectural cast iron and galvanized sheet-metal trades. Nonetheless, 101 locations have recently been confirmed in upstate New York. Not surprisingly, none exist and likely were never installed in New York City—the closest Mesker facade to NYC in the state is in Cold Spring, some 60 miles to the north; another, slightly closer location was in Smithtown but that building no longer exists. NYC and in fact the entire state appear to be replete with cast iron and sheet-metal architectural elements, with Meskers forming but a small part of the state’s rich architectural iron works legacy (James Bogardus and Daniel Badger, anyone?). The two most recently identified locations are in Stittville and Gouverneur, two- and three-story galvanized sheet-metal fronts, respectively, by George L. Mesker & Co. of Evansville, Indiana. The facades were identified through Google Streetview and as yet, publicly available photographs of the buildings were not found.

Historically, the Northeast was the least Mesker-populated region, with under 3,000 projected installations. Pennsylvania led the region’s purchases of Mesker products with over 1,500, followed by New York whose combined estimated figure of approximately 703 facades ranked 24th in the nation. 538 of these are attributed to Mesker Brothers Iron Works, purchased at a total of $67,036.68 between 1885 and 1908 (ranking #20 on the company’s charts). The remaining fronts were supplied by George L. Mesker & Co., but the available statistics are somewhat confusing. The 1905 testimonials catalog lists 70 locations, while the maps from subsequent editions depict a steady increase in sold facades, peaking at 238 in 1911. The head scratcher begins with the 1913 and 1914 maps which are identical and show a figure of 26. Unless facades were returned to the factory, the stat was most likely misprinted and should have been 260. In 1915, the number for the state jumps to 165, still lower than the 1911 total. The resulting statistics are marred by these inaccuracies and misprints. For the time being, the latest and conservative figure of 165 will suffice, and is higher than the George L. Mesker & Co. facades identified to date. In 1915, 165 fronts ranked 28th in the nation.

Meskers in the Empire State stand out in terms of sheer scale. Majority (59) are two stories in height, but there are 39 facades that are taller, including 3 four-story fronts. Only 3 are one story in height. Among the most impressive are the Grant M. Kennedy Building in Canandaigua (GLM) and the four-story building at 83-85 Main Street in Cortland (MB). But the most significant is the Smith Block in Wappingers Falls, whose photographs perennially graced catalog covers of Mesker Brothers Iron Works from 1896 until 1914. Regretfully, only one small section of the block survives.

The 101 facades in New York break down as follows (download a detailed Excel inventory here):

  •  62 by Mesker Brothers Iron Works (MB)
  •  39 by George L. Mesker & Co. (GLM)
  •  40 complete “house fronts” (21 MB, 19 GLM)
  •  11 demolished (3 MB, 8 GLM)
  •  61 towns (28 with MB, 28 with GLM, 5 with both)—Geneva, McGraw, and Saugerties have the most, each with five.

Some favorites, in alphabetical order by town, are below (many others do not have publicly accessible photographs):

Cairo Garage, on Main St., Cairo, NY. Pressed galvanized sheet-metal pilasters and upper story facade by George L. Mesker & Co. Image courtesy of flickr member Dougtone.

12-18 Main St., Cattaraugus, NY. All three “brick fronts” have galvanized sheet-metal cornices (main and lintel) by Mesker Brothers Iron Works. The wrought steel balcony at far left was also made by Mesker. Image courtesy of flickr member Dougtone.

97 Main St., Cold Spring, NY. The three-story galvanized metal facade by Mesker Brothers Iron Works is unusual for its use of different pilaster designs per floor; the conventional norm was a single design for the entire facade. The single rosette (versus double) in the base of the second floor pilasters is also atypical. Image courtesy of flickr member Dougtone.

22 Main St., Hamburg, NY. This three-story Mesker Bros. facade likewise uses different pilasters on each floor. The baroque-influenced “dolphin panels” are installed upside down. Image courtesy of flickr member Dougtone.

C.T. Phillips Building (left) and Warren & Alexander Building (right) on E. Main St., McGraw, NY. Two of five surviving George L. Mesker & Co. facades in town. Rendering of the C.T. Phillips Building with its pressed-metal facade mimicking rusticated stone, was featured in the 1907 catalog of George L. Mesker & Co. Image courtesy of flickr member Dougtone.

J.M. Schmidt and Sons Co. Building, North Branch, NY. Cast iron columns and pressed-metal facade, including steel rock siding panels on the side elevation were manufactured by George L. Mesker & Co. Image courtesy of flickr member rchrdcnnnghm.

315 Main St., Poughkeepsie, NY. Despite storefront alterations, the upper facade by Mesker Brothers Iron Works remains. Image courtesy of flickr member joseph a.

200 Main St., Salem, NY. Another large three-story facade with a characteristic arrangement by Mesker Brothers Iron Works. The patented steel plate storefront columns and millwork also survive. Image courtesy of flickr member Dougtone.

I. Lazarus Clothier Building, 110 Partition St., Saugerties, NY. This is the largest of five known surviving facades by Mesker Brothers Iron Works in Saugerties. Image courtesy of flickr member joseph a.

A. McCreery Building, 5969 Main St., Tannersville, NY. Unusual three-story facade with large projecting bays, all clad with galvanized metal panels supplied by George L. Mesker & Co. Rendering of the building appeared in the company’s 1908 catalog. Image courtesy of flickr member Dougtone.

Smith Block (1895), Wappingers Falls, NY.

Smith Block (1892-95), Wappingers Falls, NY. This impressive grouping of Mesker Bros. fronts continuously graced the company’s catalog covers between 1896 and 1914 (above). Today, only the oldest portion at far left survives.

5 E. Main St., Wappingers Falls, NY. To the right is the only remaining portion of the Smith Block (far left in the 1914 catalog cover above). According to testimonials, this facade was purchased in 1892, three years before the rest of the block. Image courtesy of flickr member Dougtone.

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