A fellow was building a new blacksmith shop for Ivan Lytle, in Griggsville, Ill., laying it up with solid concrete blocks. He disappeared with the job only half done. One of Lytle’s sons tried to finish the building, but he couldn’t make the mortar stick on the stones. A younger son, Eris, said, "I gave it a try and didn’t have any trouble."
Eris spent the next 60 years building with brick and stone. Almost every town in Central Missouri has buildings on which he had major responsibilities.
Eris Lytle was born in 1904. He learned to lay bricks and solid concrete blocks and took over his father’s blacksmith shop. Lytle was in demand until the Depression. He joined the union in 1924 and dropped out during the Depression because there wasn’t enough work to pay his union dues! In 1934 he rejoined the union; 50 years later Lytle was awarded the coveted "Gold Card" and lifetime union membership. He was honored in this country and England for his skill.
Missouri is dotted with public buildings that felt the skillful touch of Eris Lytle’s trowel. He worked for John Epple Construction Co. most of his career. His most challenging and demanding assignment came in the 1960s. Epple contracted to rebuild a war-damaged London church on the Westminster College campus in Fulton. He chose Eris Lytle and the late Renzo Palmer to see the project through.
Eris was responsible for the stone masonry. He soon realized that no such ancient structures had been built on this side of the Atlantic, and the task became a labor of love. Sir Christopher Wren designed St. Paul’s Cathedral and this church, St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, and many others in England. The ancient stones survived the London fire, but the church was again gutted by Hitler’s fire bombs, leaving only the stone walls with gaping doors and window holes - and no roof.
London workmen carved numbers into each stone as they dismantled the remains. Seven thousand stones, and some extras, were shipped to Fulton, 20 miles east of Lytle’s home in Columbia. "Our big problem," Lytle said, was that the stones arrived "all mixed up," repacked at the dock, to make them fit in the ship’s hold. Another problem was that each wall was numbered starting from No. 1, so there were four stones for each number, one for each wall - north, south, east and west.
A further complication was that the first stones placed had the largest numbers and the last stones on each wall were numbered "one"!
One man spent all of his time hunting various numbers. Lytle patched broken stones and cut and glued lots of damaged corners using uncounted gallons of stone epoxy. To keep ahead of the other workmen, he repaired stones before and after normal working hours and on weekends and holidays.
Eris Lytle lived 95 happy, useful years, and his funeral was, of course, in the beautiful church where all of the men worked so hard, loving it back to life. It’s a work of art inside, outside and in the museum on the lower level.
John Epple, contractor, said, "Lytle solved the greatest puzzle known to man." The London Times newspaper called him "A foremost authority on Sir Christopher Wren."
My husband, W.F. "Chub" Gerard, was the brother of Eris Lytle’s wife, Mildred, who died in 1979. Eris was our frequent guest and traveling companion.
The Fulton church, a memorial to Sir Winston Churchill, is open to the public. Call (573) 592-5369 for details.