Business Profile
  • South Central Wisconsin
  • December 2011
Written by 

Great American Chimney & Masonry and Fireplace Folks

Great American Chimney and Masonry and Fireplace Folks is a business located at 1902 S. Stoughton Road, Madison. The company began in 1977 by founder Ernest Bingham. The company at that time was called the Great American Chimney Sweep Company. It was and is the first registered chimney sweep company in Wisconsin. It was also the first chimney sweep company in the yellow pages. It was positioned between churches and chiropractors because there were no headings for chimney in the book. The novelty of a true top hat and tails chimney sweep became a hit with the public and Ernest did countless radio and TV shows in the early years.

Ernest began years earlier in the trade serving journeymanship under a master fireplace builder in Los Angeles mostly working in Beverly Hills and Bel Aire. Later he moved across the country to build fireplaces for the Amish and Mennonites under a Scottish master. In those years he was taught that chimney sweeps over time and thousands of chimneys cleaned developed an instinct for how chimneys worked. The constant exposure to chimneys and soot buildup patterns left by draft characteristics would leave an indelible knowledge as to the subtle workings of fire and flue. He was taught that to be a great fireplace builder he must become a master of chimney sweeping as well.

When he opened the doors of his business, Ernest was a journeyman fireplace builder and mason, but for the first 5 years his main focus was to complete the set. The set was then the name given to a number of chimneys swept by a single individual to be considered a master of sweeping. That number was 5,000. Ernest completed the set in 1982. In the early years it was common for him to begin before dawn and end long after dark, often calling customers up until 11 p.m., simply getting back to them as he could to schedule his times. In those years he became a common sight around the area, perched on a chimney top as the sun rose reflecting frost on the roofs. To further the trade in Wisconsin, Ernest founded and organized the Wisconsin Guild of Chimney Sweeps. This was the first state chimney sweep guild in America. He was then a member of the fledgling National Chimney Sweep Guild and supported their efforts for years. Ernest's efforts to expand the trade in Wisconsin helped get Wisconsin Chimney Sweep Day enacted as well in those early years.

After having completed the set, Ernest's focus shifted to apprenticing chimney sweeps and fireplace masons. The name of the company was shortened to Great American Chimney and Masonry. Many of Ernest's apprentices have gone on to start businesses of their own across the country. Ernest's clients expanded from the Governor's mansion to Land's End, from Boaz to Epic. He has done stonework and chimneys from the south of England to the top of Scotland from Dublin, Ireland, to Denmark building stoves. He has made true lime putties from rocks and fire in Charleston, Scotland, to watching the sun come up from a chimney top in Edinburgh, sweeping chimneys with third generation masters. The company has continued on over these decades known for its extensive knowledge in historic masonry restoration from 8th century keeps to constructs as far back as 48 A.D.

The legend of Great American Chimney and Masonry and Fireplace Folks continues to grow. In the mid-1990s, Ernest opened the shop to the general public because he realized that the fireplace shops of old were becoming a thing of the past. They were being replaced by smooth designer operations marketing short life span factory-made products for the builder market.

In Ernest's view, the actual homeowners became only secondary clients because they didn't have the buying power of the contractor. And fireplace shops turned into fireplace-shaped furniture stores with beautiful people selling pretty settings. Hence, Fireplace Folks was born. Rustic in appearance and intent, Fireplace Folks is the alternative. Our main focus is to provide and serve homeowners themselves with products and skills not generally available from a single source: chemically accurate historic masonry repairs to any age; fireplaces designed and built on any scale; and the finest wood, pellet and gas appliances available on the market today.

Ernest owns 3 patents associated to the trade. Fireplace Folks is still overseen and run by the master with a staff of passionate fireplace folks. And, as always, the best chimney sweepings available. Come see us at 1902 S. Stoughton Road, or call us at (608) 221-4415. For more information, visit

Sweeps Luck.

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