Ouray, Colorado boasts beautiful architecture, and one of the largest collections of Mesker facades maintained to perfection!
The Mesker Brothers Iron Works and George L. Mesker & Co. were competing manufacturers and designers of ornamental sheet-metal facades and cast iron storefront components from the 1880s through the mid-twentieth century. The Mesker Brothers Iron Works was owned and operated by brothers Bernard and Frank Mesker and was based out of St. Louis, MO. The George L. Mesker Company was operated by the eldest brother, George L. Mesker, and was based in Evansville, IN. The three brothers learned their iron-working skills from their father.
Both companies produced tin ceilings, iron railings, stairs, roof cresting, ventilation grates, iron awnings, skylights, and freight elevators. “Meskers” were marketed through mail order catalogs that displayed their designs. According to a 1915 catalog, there were Mesker storefronts in every state, and even in the territory of Alaska.
For profit-minded businessmen in the late 1800’s the goal was to stand out from the crowd. For those who couldn’t afford fancy masonry or cast iron embellishments, there was an alternative: pick up a catalogue and order a decorative, galvanized sheet metal facade from the Mesker Brothers Iron Works or George L. Mesker & Co. Purchasers could pick and choose from a range of cast iron and pressed metal mass-produced components or spring for a lavish top-to-bottom facade. Their order would come in by train and in just a few days, a plain brick or wood box of a building could be transformed into a beautifully elegant edifice, at roughly one-fifth the cost of a masonry facade.
In Colorado there are roughly 112 remaining documented “Meskers”, with 14 surviving examples (more than any other town in the state) Ouray is a favorite destination for Mesker enthusiasts. At the same time that the Mesker facades were becoming popular, Ouray was in the midst of its mining heyday. This coincided with the Second Industrial Revolution and its abundance of large-scale iron and steel production and the widespread use of manufacturing machinery, thus marking the face of Ouray with a large variety of Mesker facades.
The Wright Opera House boasts Ouray’s first and most ornate Mesker facade, dripping with cornices, columns, ornamental sheet metal panels and other decorative elements that encrust the entire front of the building from top to bottom. The building and its facade made a big impression on the community – so much so that over the course of the next 20 years 14 more buildings were built with Mesker facades. Of the 15 buildings originally built with these facades only one has been torn down, this was the Hiebler Building located at 624 Main St.
OURAY’S SURVIVING MESKER’S
Original: 1888 Wright’s Hall Today: Wright Opera House Address: 462 Main St.
Original: 1888-90 Scott-Humphries Building Today: Buen Tiempo Address: 513 Main St.
Original: 1888-90 Carney Hardware Today: Swiss Store Address: 514 Main St.
Original: 1898 Prevost Saloon Today: Citizens State Bank Address: 600 Main St.
Original: 1898 Columbus Building Today: Silver Nugget Restaurant Address: 740 Main St.
Original: 1890 Jeffers Building Columbine Rock Shop 635 Main St.
Original: 1895 Powell Grocery Today: Rockin’ P Ranch Address: 512 Main St.
Original: 1900 Hammond & Waring Grocers Duckett’s Market 621 Main St.
Original: 1900 Derry Building Today: Gator Emporium 608 Main St.
Original: 1901 Townsend/Witherspoon Building Today: Mouse’s Chocolates Address: 520 Main St.
Original: 1902 Orendorf Building RB Horsetraders 629 Main St.
Original: 1906 Sanitary Market Today: O’Brien’s Pub Address: 726 Main St.
Original: 1906 Faussone & Pricco/ Cascade Grocery Today: Salon Envy Address: 736 Main St.
Original: 1908-10 Canavan Taylor/ Bonatti Building Today: Outlaw Restaurant Address: 610 Main St.
Of the 15 “Meskers” built in Ouray all but one were created by the Mesker Brothers Iron Works. The one by George L. Mesker & CO the Powell Grocery built in 1895, today the Rockin’ P Ranch (a clothing and gift shop) resides there. You can distinguish the two companies by looking for the embossed cast iron column nameplates bearing the company name and foundry location. George L. Mesker displayed a “morning glory” motif, while Mesker Brothers Iron Works, influenced by the French heritage of St. Louis, displayed a “fleur-de-lis.”
One of the most interesting Meskers in Ouray is the Jeffers building which appears to have used a combination of several different kits to create the façade. The Columbine Mineral Shop is currently located in the Jeffers building and offers a dazzling array of rocks, minerals, and jewelry to choose from. The 600 block of Main Street in downtown Ouray has several Mesker Brothers fronts in a row. The Jeffers Building of 1890 (far left of the photo) and the cornice and pediments of Duckett’s Market are some of the best surviving elements anywhere.
The Scott-Humphries Building built in 1889, boasts another of Ouray’s best Mesker fronts. This building has several ornamental elements on the ground level, and a complete second-floor sheet metal facade. When checking out this beautifully restored building stop in and enjoy a tasty meal and margarita.
The next time you come to stay with us at Box Canyon Lodge please take some time to wander Main St and enjoy the beauty of the many and varied Mesker facades scattered throughout Ouray. And please don’t forget to peruse the fun shops and restaurants located within those beautiful buildings.
About the Author: Morgan McDaniel is a Ouray County native. After graduating high school, Morgan continued through college, and spent some time out of Colorado.