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Iowa Terra Cotta

Lemp in Ft. Madison

by Michael R. Allen

While working in Ft. Madison, Iowa recently I noticed an unmistakable emblem of the St. Louis empire. At the southwest corner of 7th Avenue and Avenue G downtown, the parapet of a building caught my eye.

Joined with the corner building — and united by lovely green mid-century tile — to form a Sears store, the narrow building told me of its connection to my city.

Two stories above the sidewalk in an Iowa river city, arrested in fine terra cotta, was the mighty shield of the William J. Lemp Brewing Company.

As I rounded the corner, I saw that the building wrapped the corner building in an L-shape. On Avenue G, the wider elevation was definitely the main entrance.  Research showed that this building was built for Kiel & Burster Liquor Dealers, the exclusive distributor of Lemp beer in this area.  Many brewery distributors and tavern owners in the late 19th and early 20th century adorned their buildings with terra cotta brewery emblems.  Anheuser-Busch’s emblem is more prevalent than Lemp’s, but there are some surviving buildings with the Lemp shield outside of St. Louis.

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