America’s Dairyland

Main Street, Alma, WI. In the foreground is Mesker #100 in Wisconsin, with ornamentation by George L. Mesker & Co., Evansville, IN. Image courtesy of flickr member Tourismguy.

There is another state with at least 100 found Meskers. The 100th facade identified in Wisconsin is a two-story building on Main Street in Alma. Despite storefront alterations, the building retains a galvanized sheet-metal cornice, window bay and hoods manufactured by George L. Mesker & Co. The facade may have been originally purchased/installed by J.A. Fretsch & Son, listed in the company’s 1905 testimonials catalog.

Historically, Wisconsin ranked as the 19th leading buyer of Mesker products with a combined estimate of approximately 986 facades. Majority of these (528) were by George L. Mesker & Co., which ranked 10th highest in the nation. The remaining 458 were by Mesker Brothers Iron Works bought at a total of $40,891.66 between 1885 and 1908. The projected number of Mesker Bros. facades rank #21 on the company’s charts but the expenditures were #31, suggesting a higher number of less expensive installations such as cornices instead of complete “house fronts;” the facades identified thus far appear to support this assumption.

Wisconsin Meskers are a somewhat cohesive group. Majority (96) are two-story in height and with sheet-metal cornices in lieu of full iron edifices, possibly indicating a regional preference for masonry construction (or that most of the iron fronts were demolished or remain to be found). Of the 100, only a handful no longer survive, which is perhaps the most important statistic of all. However, with 90% still unaccounted for, its difficult to predict any definitive patterns.

Here’s the breakdown of the 100 facades in Wisconsin (download the Excel inventory for a complete listing):

  • 64 by Mesker Brothers Iron Works (MB)
  • 35 by George L. Mesker & Co. (GLM)
  • 1 by both
  • 16 complete “house fronts” (9 MB, 6 GLM, 1 both)
  • 6 demolished (4 MB & 2 GLM)
  • 40 towns (11 with MB, 19 with GLM, 10 with both) – Elkhorn has the most with 13; Burlington and Sun Prairie each have 8.

And below are some favorite examples from the Badger State, chosen from available photographs and appearing alphabetically by town:

140-152 E. Chestnut St., Burlington, WI. Adjacent cornices by Mesker Brothers Iron Works over angled and curved masonry walls. 152 E. Chestnut also features Mesker’s patented adjustable window hoods. Burlington is home to 8 surviving Mesker facades.

12-26 S. Wisconsin St., Elkhorn, WI. Mesker Brothers cornices as far as eye can see. Elkhorn has 13 of them in total.

9 E. Walworth St., Elkhorn, WI. Interesting cornice installation.

2005 Main St., Hazel Green, WI. A rare example in Wisconsin of a full galvanized iron front by George L. Mesker & Co.

2005 Main St., Hazel Green, WI. A rare example in Wisconsin of a full galvanized iron front by George L. Mesker & Co.

2005 Main St., Hazel Green, WI. Close up of the intricately embossed cornice.

2005 Main St., Hazel Green, WI. Close up of the intricately embossed cornice.

Old Municipal Building, 203 W. Lake St., Lake Mills, WI. Early 1890s galvanized sheet-metal cornice design by George L. Mesker & Co. Image courtesy of flickr member Tourismguy.

S. Jefferson St., Lancaster, WI. Three metal facades in a row, but only two are historic. At center (135 S. Jefferson) is a Mesker Brothers front, while the building at left (143 S. Jefferson) has elements from both Mesker companies – façade by George L. Mesker & Co. and cornice by Mesker Brothers. Image courtesy of flickr member Tourismguy.

Image courtesy of Ryan Dallman.

R.W. Urbain Building, 800 Main St., Marathon City, WI. Mesker Brothers’ “dolphin panels” may be ubiquitous but not in Wisconsin; the Urbain Building, which is in the final stages of restoration, is the only known Mesker to have them in the state. Image courtesy of Ryan Dallman.

236 High St., Mineral Point, WI. Beautifully and meticulously restored Mesker Brothers façade, including a reconstructed storefront (for more information about this building and project, click here). Image courtesy of flickr member cohodas208c.

229 High St., Mineral Point, WI. Across the street is another surviving Mesker Brothers façade, very similar to 236 High St. Image courtesy of flickr member Mary Warren.

107 S. Wisconsin, Muscoda, WI. One of the most impressive Mesker Brothers fronts in the state, featuring a corner turret and window hoods with a cornice on the side elevation. Image courtesy of flickr member Tourismguy.

Becken Building, 134 E. Madison St., Waterloo, WI. Cast iron columns and galvanized cornices and window caps by George L. Mesker & Co. The combination of these elements with the polychrome block walls is striking. Image courtesy of flickr member Tourismguy.

 

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