Editor's note: This is the first of a series of stories about the old Immaculate Conception Church.
Its beauty is gone.
Its appeal is nothing more than its immense stature and age.
And now uncertainty is the only future the former Immaculate Conception Catholic Church has is uncertainty.
Each day the sun rises and sets on the old building at the corner of Sixth and Lyon. The rain dampens the old roof, the snow blankets the crumbling steps and pigeons fly in and out of the bell tower, circle as a flock and land to gather on the building's north gable.
This isn't what life used to be like for the church. It was once gorgeous with stained-glass windows, religious statues and elaborate marble. It's where many couples said, "I do." Where many families wept as they and said good-bye to loved ones during funerals. Gospel readings used to echo off the walls, organ music lead everyone in song.
The building's erection year is a mystery. In the book, "History of Marion County 1884," it is stated that the church was built by the Pilgrim Congregational Church at a cost of $70,000. Hannibal authors Roberta and Hurley note in their book, "The Story of Hannibal," the original Immaculate Conception Church was a small, square building located at 512 Church St. According "History of Marion County 1884," the church was purchased Oct. 9, 1880 at a cost of $16,500. The new Immaculate Conception Church was dedicated April 24, 1881.
Until Blessed Sacrament Church was established, Immaculate Conception was the only Catholic church in Hannibal. America's Hometown had an increasing number of Catholics by the time the Sixth and Lyon church was purchased and the large facility could seat thousands.
Over the years the building not only was a place of worship, but a place of reception. The basement allowed for many church events like school plays. Even Mother Nature had her battles with the building. A windstorm damaged the roof July 26, 1907 and there were reports the structure may have been damaged during a tornado shortly before the Catholics bought the building.
"It was a beautiful church at one time. I remember when I was a kid and I was just amazed when I walked in there. It was like walking in the Cathedral Notre Dame," Hannibal Mayor Roy Hark recalls. "My first grade year of school, I was going to the Catholic school, and we went down there into the basement and we had a play. That's where I had my theatrical experience. I had to get up and say, 'Jack Sprat can eat no fat and his wife could eat no lean, so together they licked the plate clean.' Those were my lines."
In the mid-1950s, Hannibal's current Catholic church opened. Immaculate Conception was used by American Legion Post 55 and became a bowling alley.
Page 2 of 2 - Where many once prayed and worshipped, 10 bowling lanes were installed. The walls which once echoed the music of the Lord were now echoing cheers, jeers and the crashing sounds of collapsing pins.
"They sold beer, they sold sandwiches. They sold soda, candy, all kinds of stuff. They put a drop ceiling in with lights, you didn't see the upper part of the church," Hark said. He got a job there as a pin setter during his teen years. "You had five guys, usually worked back there on those alleys and each guy would set two lanes, and when they threw the ball down you'd pick the pins up, put them in this machine, waited until they threw the next ball. I just had to set them up in this machine and trip a lever and it would go down. That's the way it was back in those days."
The bowling alley eventually moved next door and the American Legion moved out.
Hannibal Community Theatre bought the building in the late-'90s and began showing their production in the basement. According to board member Stephen Boltinghouse, productions were performed there until 2009 when they decided to move out. They're credited with adding new heating and air conditioning units to the building, a feature they're still paying for to this day as they attempt to sell the old building for $15,000. Boltinghouse said the price has fallen $20,000 since the building originally hit the market.
It's one of the city's oldest church buildings with more than just religion embedded in the history of its solid structure. While the future of the building has yet to be written, some might say, in a fitting matter, "it's in God's hands."