Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • Days Gone By: Lot 6, in Block 19, played significant roles during Hannibal’s fledgling years

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  • Editor’s note: Information for this story is from the private research collection of Mary Lou Montgomery, Hannibal Courier-Post editor.
    As early as 1850, women in Missouri could hold title to property in their own names. This wasn’t universally the case in this country.
    The property located at 312-314 N. Fourth Street in Hannibal not only plays an important role in Hannibal’s history as the former site of a historic church and courthouse, but the current double house on the property was first owned by a married Hannibal woman in her own right – Laura B. McDonald, wife of grocery merchant James J. McDonald.
    To fully understand the story that land transfers tell, it is necessary to start the research at the beginning. Ownership of this particular property dates back to the original platting of Hannibal.
    People associated with this parcel of land are easily recognizable to those who study the town’s past:
    • 1837 - Edward Dunning held title to the land until April 1837. The land transfer at that time was to James L. Miller, grantor, presumably representing the trustees of the Presbyterian Church of Hannibal.
    Edward Dunning was described in an 1851 edition of the Missouri Courier as “an active, energetic merchant of this city, and one of our best citizens.” The newspaper went on to say that Dunning died of cholera, just one day after enjoying a dinner in Hannibal, consisting of turtle soup.
    A major merchant in Hannibal, his store stock, consisting of “Staple and fancy dry goods; boots and shoes, all varieties, gents and boys hats and caps; Queensware, a large assortment; groceries” was sold at auction in order to settle his estate. The auction was to begin on Sept. 15, 1851, and continue from day to day until all the stock was sold. The store was located in Commercial Row on North Main Street.
    • 1840: Sam Clemens’ family was associated with the Presbyterian Church that ultimately constructed a church edifice on this lot. J. Hurley and Roberta Hagood report in “The Story of Hannibal”: “The First United Presbyterian Church called Rev. Joshua P. Tucker as minister in October 1840 and he began preaching in the first church building built in Hannibal on North Fourth Street between Bird and Hill. … This was the church attended by Mrs. John Marshall Clemens.”
    • 1850: The Western Union newspaper in Hannibal, described the minister of the church in its Oct. 10, 1850 edition.
    “A working minister – Mr. Bennett, the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, in this city is busily engaged in painting the church. He has already put one coat on the east end. We understand he has obtained permission from his people to paint the whole Church at his own expense. We have noticed Mr. Bennett very often in and about the edifice, laying down carpets, hanging window blinds, putting on shingles, etc. We believe he seeks by these improvements the good of his own society, and the credit of the city. We are glad to see this Church out of debt and going ahead.”
    Page 2 of 2 - • 1852: The owner of Lot 6 in Block 19 was listed as James L. Miller, who was arrears on the church property’s taxes in the amount of $5. (Source: Hannibal Journal and Western Union, Jan. 29, 1852.)
    • 1861: The trustees of the church sold the land and building on North Fourth Street to the County of Marion in May 1861, to be used to house the Court of Common Pleas. The building would continue in this capacity until the completion of the Marion County Courthouse on Broadway in Hannibal, in 1901.
    The church trustees listed on the deed in 1861 are also familiar names in Hannibal’s past:
    • David J. Garth – A leading tobacco manufacturer of Hannibal.
    • Thomas K. Collins – A merchant of Hannibal and former mayor.
    • James S. Brittingham – Hannibal businessman.
    • Dana F. Breed – Hannibal merchant who served as pallbearer at Jane Lampton Clemens’ funeral in 1890: Source, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians, and Other Unfinished Stories – Mark Twain.
    • Pete Schnitter – Wagon and carriage maker. East side of Fourth, between Market (Broadway) and Church: Missouri State Gazetteer and Business Directory.
    • 1901 (July 9): E. Simms O’Conner, special commission by order of the County Court of Marion County, sold the property to Laura B. McDonald, born in 1858, daughter of the late Judge Adam C. Helton, a former Marion County judge and farmer. Judge Helton died Sept. 30, 1901, at the McDonald’s home in Hannibal.
    Mrs. McDonald subsequently contracted for the construction of a two-story duplex on the lot and lived in one half of the building with her husband, John J. McDonald, a Hannibal grocer and one-term Hannibal mayor.
    1910: According to the Hannibal city directory, Laura McDonald’s mother, Mary Clark Hilton, was living in the other half of the duplex, age 73.
    1925: Laura McDonald, a widow, was still living in the duplex.
    2014: Barbara Blackler, who shared information from the property’s abstract, has owned and occupied this brick duplex – located on the site of the Hannibal Presbyterian Church and the Court of Common Pleas courthouse - since 1984.
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