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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • Days Gone By: Brittingham Hall - Once town's grandest gathering gallery

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  • J. HURLEY AND ROBERTA HAGOOD
    For the Courier-Post
    Brittingham Hall
    The demolition of a building with a historic past causes many old-timers to feel a note of sadness. Indeed, a piece of history is lost and will not exist again. More that one person has spoken to the writers of this article to tell us of the razing of Brittingham hall, which stood at the southeast corner of Broadway and Fourth from 1859 to November 30, 1964. It was directly across Broadway from the present Hannibal City Hall.
    Those who were in Hannibal in 1964 may remember this old building as the Schultz Building, and as the site of Avery Burch Furniture Store, Osterloh Book Store, Storr's Electric Store, Haug Music Store and Citizens Discount Company. Two people who observed the demolition process, Bea Berry and the late Bessie Brown, told us that the strong old brick walls resisted destruction, making the process more difficult than anyone had expected. Ordinary methods of that day did not accomplish the leveling of the old brick building which was built as strong as a fortress.
    Its name came from the Brittingham Brothers, Littleton T. and Irving Byron, of the Brittingham Brothers Drug Store, who were motivated by a desire to make Hannibal a finer town with more commodious shops, but equally important they realized the need for a hall large enough to accommodate the crowds who would attend cultural, recreational, religious, and civic events, if a more spacious hall were available.
    The Brittingham family came to Hannibal so early they are not covered in recorded history to any great extent. They came in the early 1830's from Westchester County, Maryland. By the next decade they owned two important business houses in the 300 block of North Main. James S. Brittingham, in partnership with Milton Strong, established a general merchandise store on the east side of North Main. The Brittingham and Strong Store existed many years.
    Dr. Littleton T. Brittingham, a graduate of Louisville, Kentucky School of Medicine, and Irving Byron Brittingham established the Brittingham Brothers Drug Store on the west side of North Main.
    Hannibal people of today do not realize the scope, significance and importance of the position of Hannibal as a Missouri business center during the Nineteenth Century. Hannibal merchants met incoming boats daily to receive goods to dispense to merchants in small communities in most of Northeast Missouri, extending out almost a hundred miles from Hannibal.
    The Brittingham Drug Store served a large population to the west long before the advent of railroad delivery in 1859. They shipped drug supplies as far west as St. Joseph, by wagon or stage coach. These resourceful druggists made their own remedies and medicines from basic drug mixtures, as well as manufacturing other household concoctions.
    Typical of their customers were the farmers at Bethel, Missouri. One order sent to the Bethel Colony consisted of six barrels of fish oil and 300 pounds of indigo. The oil was for tanning leather and the indigo for dying the woolen cloth they wove and made into their clothing colored a somber blue.
    Page 2 of 4 - The Brittingham Brothers Drug Store operated 60 years and eventually the stock was sold to Ed DeGaris who was a Hannibal druggist for many years.
    The Brittinghams acquired the lot on Fourth and Broadway in 1854 and began planning for a 62 by 145 foot building, two stories high, made of locally manufactured brick. The building faced Broadway and the lower level was designed for shops or offices.
    The upper level was entirely devoted to the large hall, 62 by 145 feet in dimension, with an impressive 30 feet high ceiling. To match the height of the ceiling, tall windows almost 30 feet high provided excellent lighting during daylight hours.
    This upper level was entered from a wide stairway with double doors opening on Fourth Street. The decor of the hall was considered elegant, a quality important in that day. No expense was considered too excessive for curtains, draperies, woodwork and a large stage which was innovative for its day.
    Brittingham Hall was completed in 1859. Some of the businesses which were located on its first floor at various times during the early days were F.W.A. Bastian Furniture Store, Hollister's Grocery, Robert Cash Saw Filing Shop, Robbins-Cheesman Furniture Making, Mike Schanbacher Shooting Gallery, Orysinski Drug Store, Barney Ross Queensware Store, Robie Cheesman Cabinet Making, J. C. Anderson Grocery and others. Robert Curts, Undertaker, was located in this building. Later it became the establishment of Undertaker William Smith who was in the building until 1921.
    From the very first, the big hall upstairs was in constant use. Many events which occurred had a historic aspect and made the building important in Hannibal's story.
    One of these events came about soon after the hall was completed. It was the funeral of William P. Samuel in October 1860. He was highly respected as a leading citizen, a partner in the Samuel-Moss Packing plant on the riverfront. His wife, Sarah Lavinia, was a daughter of Peg-Leg Shannon of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. They were rearing their family at the edge of Hannibal, a Ralls County location referred to as Hydesburg. William P. Samuel had been elected to the Missouri State Legislature, representing Ralls County, but he died suddenly before his term was to begin.
    Upon his death there was no other building in Northeast Missouri which would have held the multitude of mourners. In that day, funerals of prominent people were elaborate. A procession originating at his farm home, about a mile west of present day Oakwood, was led by an ornate hearse drawn by six matching horses, all wearing large black plumes on their bridles. Special carriages followed, bearing the family, all city officers and the councilmen who were pall bearers. Marching next in line were the men of the Royal Arch (Masonic) Lodge in traditional attire.
    In the 1860's, Hannibal's three Volunteer Fire departments, or companies, customarily marched in uniform in all processions as they did at this funeral. They, and the City Band, also in costume, joined the procession at the east edge of what is now Oakwood. The procession wended its way slowly, and it was afternoon when they finally ascended the steps into Brittingham hall which was already overcrowded. After a lengthy sermon by Rev. Busby, Baptist minister, and doleful hymns by the Baptist choir, all mourners present were invited "to view the remains."
    Page 3 of 4 - Then the procession reformed and proceeded to the old Baptist Cemetery. It was dark by that time, and the Reverend Benjamin Stevens gave a long soliloquy at the lantern lighted grave.
    Another early historical event at the hall was the Memorial Service commemorating the death of President Abraham Lincoln on 19 April, 1865. Many towns across the country held such services.
    An account of this event, written by Mrs. Dumas Ward who attended it, has been preserved. As usual, Brittingham Hall held a capacity crowd.
    In accordance with custom, a simulated funeral procession preceded the service including city officials, three uniformed fire companies, police in uniform, members of several lodges in their finery, and participants in the ceremony. Mrs. Ward wrote that the hall was "full to overflowing." Participants who led the service were: Congregational minister, . Sturdevant, Rev. Charles Fuller of the Presbyterian Church, Rev. John Vincel of the Methodist Church, Rev. John Leighton of the Presbyterian Church and musical selections by the Monitor Club.
    The Civil War had its effect on buildings in Hannibal.
    Brittingham Hall was used by the Union troops as a hospital, one of several facilities used to treat the wounded brought in from battles west of town. It was reportedly also used as a prison during the war. Many Hannibal homes and other buildings were taken over by the Union Troops in the course of that war.
    After the war, the hall was used widely by local or touring performers. Among the organizations that used it, two local organizations used it repeatedly. Temperance meetings were frequent due to the uncontrolled use of alcohol. These gatherings drew capacity crowds.
    Another local group which used the hall frequently was the Congregational Church, possibly the most active church in Hannibal at the time and attended by the most prominent newer, and largely "Northern" families. Hannibal was still divided ­ Union and Confederate supporters were often bitter toward each other. The railroad and the lumbering business had brought in a large number of "Union" side families.. The old Southern families from earlier days still clung together socially. The Congregationalists, desiring to move from their South Side facility, were raising money to build a pretentious church building at Lyon and Sixth streets. One way of raising substantial amounts was to give entertainments for the public such as plays, concerts, tableaus, and by sponsoring cultural traveling performances.
    Typical was a "panorama" showing Artic region paintings and sketches. Numerous operas such as "Barber of Seville," "Paradise Lost," etc., were given by English companies. Concerts by Quincy musicians such as Professor W. H. Leib were presented.
    The new Congregational Church building at Sixth and Lyon streets was dedicated in 1874. The congregation no longer needed the Brittingham Hall for money-making purposes but the hall was still in constant use by a variety of entertainers.
    Page 4 of 4 - Many traveling groups engaged the hall on their own. Minstrel shows were popular, The Dupree groups appeared many times. Prominent actors of the day, including Lawrence Barrett, Alf Burnett, Robert McWade and others , drew large audiences to the dramas in which they performed.
    Brittingham Hall met a need for much of the entertainment of the town.
    The original 62 by 145 foot hall was magnificent, but not perfect. It had an acoustical problem if it was occupied by less than a capacity crowd. An echo came from the tall ceilings.
    Thus, in March 1878, a new room was partitioned off from the main auditorium. It was used by smaller groups and was called "Holly Tree Inn."
    In 1898, a prominent furniture dealer, Harold Schultz, bought the Brittingham building. The first floor continued to be occupied by shops, but Schultz did away with the large upstairs hall. Many concerts and plays changed location from the Brittingham Hall to the newer Park Theatre, and only a few social activities and dances were conducted in the old hall.
    Without altering the exterior of the building, Schultz made it into a three-story structure. The two upper floors became show rooms for furniture and storage space.
    Since the building was demolished, no other large building of any kind has been erected at the southeast corner of Broadway and Fourth Street.

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