Many Main Street commercial buildings of the late 1800s and early 1900s reflect the widespread availability of mass-produced building parts, which ranged from individual components to entire building facades. While prefabricated architectural elements were available from a number of manufacturers, no other companies better exemplify this niche than the Mesker Brothers Iron Works of St. Louis, Missouri, and George L. Mesker Company of Evansville, Indiana. They specialized in ornamental sheet-metal facades and cast iron storefront components, which were ordered through catalogs and easily shipped by rail to any interested building owner. Their extensive product lines not only featured embossed sheet-metal panels and cast iron but also entire storefront assemblies, as well as tin ceilings, fences, skylights, and freight elevators.
“Meskers”, as they are called, are found across America. However, because the companies were based in the Midwest, they are particularly plentiful in Illinois and are part of the state’s rich architectural history. Made of galvanized steel and cast iron, these durable facades often survive, despite the occasional neglect and lack of maintenance. While not all buildings may feature elaborate sheet metal facades, individual building components, such as cornices and window hoods, are quite common throughout the state, especially in smaller communities. If your town has a Mesker facade, we would like to know about it. The goal of our ever-expanding Illinois database (PDF file) and this website is to recognize the historic significance of the Mesker companies in the shaping of our downtowns’ architectural fabric.
How many Meskers are there in the world? Click the Google Earth icon to find out. Better yet, download the .kmz file to get all the information. This file will load in your Google Earth preferences so you can get specific information regarding a Mesker in any part of the country. You can also update the file or e-mail updated information to us so we can keep this file updated. Get Google Earth.
Although owned by brothers, the two companies operated independently. Producing similar products with architectural motifs rooted in Classical Revival, the companies are distinguished through subtle identifying characteristics. For further information see the Identification Guide (updated 09/2008).
Do you have a Mesker in your community? Visit the ‘got mesker?’ photo page on Flickr.com for photogpraphs of Mesker facades throughout Illinois and the United States.
Cover of the George L. Mesker and Company catalog from 1904. The Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library Electronic Books Database features several George Mesker catalog editions. Currently available are 1892, 1904, 1905, 1909, and 1928 editions. Access them here.
Cover of the Mesker Brothers Iron Works catalog from 1910. Click here to download a copy of the entire 1910 catalog.
Check out the University of Illinois at Springfield's 1903 Mesker Brothers Iron Works catalog here.
Two posters are available for download in .pdf, the sizes are 16x20 and 18x24, respectively. To view an image of the posters click their thumbnail. Download 16X20 .pdf file size 9.8 mb.
Download 18X24 .pdf file size 11.4 mb.
Watch an interview with WAND's Warren Brinegar covering Mesker facades in Taylorville.
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Click to Listen to a 'Lost & Saved' segment about Mesker facades with Ron Bernthal on WJFF in Jeffersonville, New York.
For in depth information regarding the Mesker companies, download the article from the IL SHPO's publication: Historic Illinois