Truck farmer Peter C. Strass began an experiment in November 1916, "trap nesting" his flock of Barred Plymouth Rock hens. He kept records of the hens’ egg production for a year. At the end of the year, his flock averaged 161 eggs to each hen. One hen laid 240 eggs and was still laying; another laid 226 eggs.
An article published in the Buffalo (N.Y.) Times on Dec. 29, 1917, made note of this exceptional production. The newspaper reported that the hens owned by Mr. Strass of Hannibal, Mo., nearly met the record set in the sixth national egg-laying contest.
Peter Strass wasn’t a farmer by heredity, but rather by circumstance.
Injured while working for the Burlington Railroad in May 1911, his right leg had to be amputated at the thigh. A bachelor all his life, he lived the remainder of his years with his sister, Rose Cosgrove, a widow, and their mother, Sarah Strass, on James Road west of Hannibal.
The extended family moved to Hannibal from Leavenworth, Kan. Rose Cosgrove and her husband John, along with their children, moved to Hannibal circa 1903, when John Cosgrove went to work for the Duffey Trowbridge stove factory. He had previously worked as a molder for the Great Western Stove works in Leavenworth, and was considered to be one of the finest molders in the state of Kansas.
In succession, Peter C. Strass and his mother, Sarah Strass, moved to Hannibal as well.
Prior to his move to Hannibal, Peter Strass had worked for the Ryan and Richardson ice plant in Leavenworth, and subsequently was employed as a Rural Federal Delivery driver prior to his move to Missouri. (In 1902, he had a telephone installed at his house so that his route customers could contact him, according to the Western Life newspaper of June 12, 1902.)
Sarah Strass was an Irish-born widow; her husband, Frank Strass, was a German-born stonemason who came to the United States during the Civil War years. He died in 1893 in Leavenworth at the age of 73.
The extended family first lived on Grace Street in Hannibal, with addresses between the years of 1907 and 1911 ranging from 109 to 327 to 427. By 1914, they were living together on James Road west of the city limits.
The first member of the Hannibal family to die was John Cosgrove. At the age of 47, in 1907, he became ill, and treatment by his Hannibal physician was ineffective. Cosgrove was admitted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Quincy, Ill., where he was placed under the care of Dr. Johnston. The surgeon operated on Cosgrove, but the relief was only temporary. The diagnosis was cancer, and Cosgrove gradually grew worse, until death called him home in October 1907.
His remains were taken back to Leavenworth, Kan., for burial.
The Leavenworth Post on Oct. 7, 1907 noted: "John Cosgrove was a model citizen and his death is sincerely regretted by the people of Leavenworth."
At the time of his brother-in-law’s death, Peter C. Strass was working as a timekeeper for Duffey-Trowbridge.
In 1909, Peter was a clerk for the Wabash Railroad, and in 1911, he suffered the aforementioned injury on the Burlington line that resulted in his leg amputation.
Letter to the editor
Peter Strass was content in Hannibal. In September 1915, he wrote a letter to the Leavenworth Times, in which he praised Hannibal’s infrastructure and tax rate, and questioned why Leavenworth was behind the times.
"Why cannot the City of Leavenworth buy the water plant and run it?" Strass asked. "Hannibal, Mo., is about the same size as Leavenworth and this city owns its water plant, is running it successfully and has extended the mains to nearly every street in the city.
"One other thing Hannibal has that Leavenworth ought to have is good outlying streets. There is not a street in town that has been open for any reasonable length of time that cannot be traveled with comfort at any time of the year. Our streets are graveled and the gravelling was paid for out of the general fund.
"And yet taxes here are far below what they are in Leavenworth. I paid $24 taxes upon a piece of property in Leavenworth last year and had I had the same property in this city the taxes would not have been more than $10 or $12 at the most."
Two years after recording the exceptional productivity of his hens, Peter C. Strass died unexpectedly in his sleep at the family home on James Road. He was 45.
Mr. Strass was a member of the Hannibal Council of the Knights of Columbus, Modern Woodmen of America, and Ancient Order of United Workmen.
His services were held at the church of the Blessed Sacrament, and burial followed at St. Mary’s – now Holy Family – cemetery.
His mother, Sarah, died in 1923, and is buried beside her son.
Rose Cosgrove moved to Michigan with her surviving brother. She died in 1940.
Note: The Blessed Sacrament parish was organized in Hannibal in 1919 to serve Catholics who lived on Hannibal’s west side. The first place of worship was in a building formerly used as a grocery store. Later the American bank was made available to the parish. Finally, the basement of the new structure served as a place of worship for the congregation for 18 months, until the church – on the southwest corner of Hayden and Broadway, was completed. Source: Quincy Daily Journal, Sept. 4, 1921.
Wikipedia: The Plymouth Rock is an American breed of domestic chicken. It was first seen in Massachusetts in the nineteenth century, and for much of the early twentieth century was the most popular chicken breed in the United States. It is a dual-purpose breed, raised both for its meat and for its brown eggs.
Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com