Thirty-one years ago when architectural historian Esley Hamilton arrived in Hannibal to research the city’s historic buildings, he had been told his project might require a month. However, his extensive research continued for six years, and the end result is again on display for the public.


Thirty-one years ago when architectural historian Esley Hamilton arrived in Hannibal to research the city’s historic buildings, he had been told his project might require a month. However, his extensive research continued for six years, and the end result is again on display for the public.
His work was exhibited on 30 large panels for the Hannibal As History: A Photographic Exhibition, sponsored by the Hannibal Arts Council. Now, many years later, the HAC is again offering it for public view. The panels each contain numerous photographs, narratives and sketches depicting the town from its beginnings to the turn of the 20th century.
This free exhibit is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays until Friday, Feb. 19, at the Hannibal Arts Council Gallery, 105 S. Main.
Hamilton will meet the public at a special event beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6. Hamilton is a preservation historian for the St. Louis County Department of Parks and Recreation.
During the current exhibit, two additional free Saturday events are scheduled.
Today, Jan. 30, at 10 a.m. a program titled Morning with the Preservationists will be presented by Scott Meyer and Bob Yapp, who will discuss historic preservation, historic restoration, the economics of preservation, downtown revitalization and historic neighborhoods. 
On Saturday, Feb. 13, Images of Hannibal and Hannibal’s Railroad History will be presented at 3 p.m. by Steve Chou, local historian and photo collector, and Archie Hayden, railroad historian. 
HAC Executive Director Michael Gaines invited the public to attend all three free Saturday events, in addition to viewing the Hannibal As History exhibit any weekday.
According to Gaines, Hamilton’s work not only preserved the history of many local buildings, “his years of research led to the creation of Hannibal’s historic districts and a lot of buildings being named to the National Register of Historic Places.”
Gaines added that Hamilton is one of Missouri’s leading historical preservationists, “and he has won state and national awards.”
A special guest on Feb. 6 will be Roberta Hagood, who co-authored numerous Hannibal history books with her late husband, J. Hurley Hagood, Gaines said. Describing the Hagoods as “the premier historians of Hannibal,” he said her appearance on Feb. 6 will be “a real treat for guests, because of her knowledge of Hannibal’s history.”
Gaines noted that Jean Meyer, HAC board president, made the arrangements for the current events. The Hannibal As History exhibit has not been shown since 1990, he said.

Hamilton reports
original goals

Hamilton came to Hannibal in 1979 at the request of the Missouri State Historic Preservation Program and continued to do his architectural research during weekends for the next six years, he explained. “I was welcomed with open arms and made lifelong friends.
“One original goal was to see what we could nominate to the National Register of Historic Places,” he said. “Toward the end, we thought we should be sharing (his work) with the public, so we made panels.”
His project was sponsored by the Hannibal Arts Council, Hamilton said, so the panels were exhibited and later stored by the HAC, which is now displaying them again for the public.
During his six years of research in Hannibal, he was disappointed to see some of the buildings torn down, Hamilton said. One example was a house at 1110 Broadway, he added. “It was the only house on that block that has been torn down.”
Among the historic buildings he was glad to see preserved are the old Sonnenberg building at North Main and Center, which is now the Mark Twain Museum Gallery.
One of the most rewarding outcomes of his 1980s’ project was the “saving the old federal building - the old post office,” Hamilton said. “The federal government had never had a national registration prepared for one of their buildings, in the whole country, I think, but because we had done that, they had to accept that. That is the primary reason they didn’t tear it down. And it is now on the National Register of Historic Places.”
He was surprised to find how little had been done about preserving local buildings, “considering how famous the town was,” Hamilton said. “So much of the research had never been done before, and people didn’t know which buildings had been here during Samuel Clemens’ time. ... I think it is even more pertinent now because of all the changes that have taken place in the last 25 years since we did the exhibit.”
He noted that after the HAC took over the project, “that caused it to be successful, and the Hannibal Arts Council was the only arts council in the state that did this. It got a state award.”

Hamilton recommends
buying historic homes

As he encouraged people to buy historic buildings, Hamilton said, “there has never been a better time to get involved in historic preservation, because Missouri has a wonderful state tax credit for rehab of historic buildings. We have been the leader in the nation for several years in historic preservation, with more tax credits projects than any other state. ... In St Louis, it is actually cheaper to rehab a historic building than build a new building.”
The Hannibal Arts Council helps people learn about local property, Gaines said. “The arts council actually has possession of all the research and historic records on Hannibal and historic property, and the public may come and do research.
“If someone wants to purchase a historic home, we have details,” Gaines added. “A lot of people utilize that. A lot of people who buy homes in the historic districts come to the arts council and look up research on the homes.
Every day we have people coming in and looking at it (the exhibit) and sharing their stories of Hannibal, how houses used to look and the business district,” he said. “We learn interesting stories about buildings featured in the exhibit. A lot of the (now) empty lots in town are the building in the photographs. It is interesting to learn about Hannibal at a different time period.”