It’s not what it used to be.
The homes have aged, grown unkempt and in some cases they’ve been abandoned or torn down.
Gone are the days of walking around the neighborhood, getting together with kids down the block and summer nights on the porch just to watch the cars go by.
It may be hard to believe, but at one time residents of Hannibal’s rarely had to leave their little community within a community. All that’s really left of the area south of the business district is childhood memories and days gone by.
“We had our own grocery stores. There were three grocery stores on Fulton Avenue, there were two within one block on Union Street, there was one at the top of Union Street, there was one down on Quincy Street that was also a meat market,” Donna Brown said. She spent her childhood on the South Side. “When I was a kid, you didn’t go to the grocery store and buy a week’s worth of food. You went to the grocery store (every day). I can remember Mom making out her menus in the morning, she’d walk down to Booth’s or walk down to Hy-Klas, get whatever ingredients she needed and then she walked home. It’s just something everybody did.”
It wasn’t just grocery stores. There were doctors, a drug store, fire station, barbers, beauticians, churches, a library, a cleaners and a dairy. Everyone went to Stowell Elementary School and there were different churches of different faiths for everyone to attend. You could walk down Main Street and catch a movie at the Star or walk a few more blocks to the Orpheum. Those who passed away were laid to rest at Riverside or Mount Olivet. And many of the residents worked for the railroad, cement plant or shoe factory.
“With the railroad tracks and Bear Creek, which flooded in the spring, there were a lot of times we were pretty isolated,” Dave Dexheimer, another childhood south-sider, said. “We used to play in Bear Creek, we used to fish.”
In current times, gas prices are hurting American budgets, but on the South Side of Hannibal years ago, a car was only needed to go somewhere and get or do something that wasn’t available in the neighborhood. That’s something Brown, whose maiden name is Loy, remembers well.
“We walked everywhere. We owned a car, but the car was a means of transportation to do things that you couldn’t do walking — or taking a cab or riding the bus,” Brown remembers. “I can remember riding the bus when I was little, then taxi cabs were big. We had three taxi cab services in Hannibal.”
Hannibal’s native son Mark Twain could’ve been prophesying for the South Side when he said, “In the small town of Hannibal, Mo., when I was a boy, everybody was poor, but didn’t know it, and everybody was comfortable, and did know it.” That truly was the way of life on the South Side.
Page 2 of 2 - “I don’t think any of us really considered ourselves poor, by other standards we were probably low income, but you had everything you needed,” Dexheimer said. “There wasn’t much to spend money on like there is today. Back then, you had a roof over your head, you had good friends, you had food on the table and didn’t ever think about it.”
But all good things must come to an end.
The railroad yard closed, as did the shoe factory. There was downsizing at the cement plant, and businesses couldn’t compete with the new Huck Finn Shopping Center. People moved away, the neighborhood went downhill and property values fell.
Dexheimer also notes the new highway 79 played a role.
“When highway 79 went in and opened up the South Side, the South Side was no longer its own entity,” he said. “The South Side lost the fire department, they didn’t need it anymore because Fourth Street could get over there. One by one other stores opened up (away from downtown).”
Both Brown and Dexheimer say economics sent the South Side down, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad place to be.
“It looks bad, but there’s still hard-working people that are just barely getting by,” Brown said.
“The economy certainly played a part,” Dexheimer added. “It became more affordable to low-income families, which isn’t bad, but you have more lower-income families who began to move into the South Side because they could afford property.”