Access to the historic Grant’s Drug Store building on North Main Street in Hannibal was barricaded by strands of yellow tape Friday. However, fears that the almost 180-year-old building’s structural status had taken a turn for the worse proved unfounded.
“The barricades are out on the sidewalk because we’re replacing the deck on the porch above,” said Henry Sweets, executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, referring to the east side of the structure. “The yellow tape is to keep people away while we work on the porch down there.”
On Friday morning, Sweets said the start of the project was “very imminent” and would be completed in two days.
“The rails around the porch are down right now,” he said. “The paint is being peeled off of it so they can be re-primed and put back up. All of that is happening immediately.”
Far more substantial work is planned on the building, which was named to the Missouri Preservations' Most Endangered Buildings list in 2009. Local preservationists volunteered their time and talent to make emergency repairs at that time. And while Grant’s Drug Store had been removed from the endangered list in 2010, it remains a point of concern.
“We’re very worried about the physical integrity of the building,” said Sweets, who estimates it will take $1 million or more to totally restore the building, also known as the Pilaster House. “We’ve taken a good look at it and structurally it needs a lot of repair.
“What we are looking at is a full restoration; taking the building apart to the interior timbers. (We’d be) strengthening, reinforcing and putting the building back together again.”
In June 2011 the decision was made to close Grant’s Drug Store to the public.
“We deemed it was better to stop the weight load of the visitors walking through the building until we can approach a restoration of the building,” said Sweets. “At this point we are investigating our options in terms of planning for the restoration and the future exhibits that go into because the two have to go hand in hand.”
According to the Missouri Preservation website, the building’s interior timbers were cut and fitted together in Cincinnati, Ohio, then dissembled and shipped by steamboat to its present destination. The structure was originally headed to Marion City, north of Hannibal, but floodwaters prevented delivery of the timbers, and the decision was made to use them at Hannibal. The contractor who erected the building in 1836 and finish it was James Brady, who would later become the Hannibal’s first mayor.
Dr. Orville Grant, his wife and her mother lived in the upstairs rooms of the house in the 1840s. Grant had an office and drug store on the first floor.
In late 1846 John Marshall Clemens, father of Samuel L. Clemens, was bankrupt and had to move his family out of their home across the street. The Grants accepted the Clemens family into their second floor living quarters, where they shared the space. (Other accounts state the Clemens family rented space from the Grants.)
John Marshall Clemens died in Grant's Drug Store on March 24, 1847. The impact this had on the family ultimately led Samuel L. Clemens to leave school and strike out on his own.
Jane Clemens, John Marshall Clemens’ widow, was eventually able to raise the funds necessary to move her family back into their own home, known now as the Mark Twain Boyhood Home.
The building would become public property a little over 100 years later.
“When it was given to the city in 1955 it went through some alterations that actually structurally weakened the building. They took out an interior wall,” said Sweets. “The first floor had been two stores. On the inside that wall was taken out to enlarge the exhibit area and the glass partitions were put in to allow people to look in at the exhibits. That process is one of the contributing factors to the instability of the building right now.
“Whether we would split it into the two stores, leave it as an open space on the first floor, those sorts of decisions are to be made. We’re very early in the planning process for that restoration.”
Preserving Grant’s Drug Store is a point of emphasis, according to Sweets.
“It’s high on our priority list because of the architectural significance of the building as well as the historical significance of the building,” he said. “The big concern right now is getting the plans in place so we can come up with some estimates and then start the fund-raising.”