While A.B. Sweeney was in the act of drawing molasses from a barrel at his family grocery store in late April 1860, the camphene lamp he used as a light source somehow “took fire and exploded,” starting a conflagration that would, in turn, take out 13 nearby frame buildings.
According to the next day’s newspaper account in the Hannibal Daily Messenger (preserved digitally via newspapers.com), Mr. Sweeney’s store was located on the north side of Market Street (later renamed Broadway) just one door west of the intersection with Third Street. In the street, directly in front of his store, was the old (at that time) Market House. Today, because of this fire and later urban development, there are no physical reminders left of this early, pre-Civil War commercial district.
As mentioned, the fire started in A.B. Sweeney’s family grocery store. Mr. Sweeney received substantial burns when his clothing caught fire.
George H. Jones owned three of the business buildings which burned; his brother-in-law, Henry V.P. Draper owned 4 tenements; and brothers A.W. and C.L. Lamb owned three more of the buildings.
Prominent in the resurrection of the burned-out block (businesses in the 300 block of Broadway and the 100 block of North Third) were descendants of Zachariah Gibbs and Eleanor Mitchell “Nellie” Briggs Draper, who settled in Hannibal as early as 1820s.
According to research conducted by Esley Hamilton, The Van Every Building, still standing at 306-308 Broadway, was built circa 1873 by Maria Simmons Van Every, granddaughter of Zachariah Draper. The building was sold in 1902 to Rudolph and Albert Eichenberger, who started a cigar factory in the building.
The Draper’s Block, 302-304 Broadway, was also constructed circa 1873 by Z.G. Draper’s heirs. Two separate storefronts faced Broadway, while a Masonic Temple was housed on the third floor.
The third building, at 300 Broadway, was called Brown’s Hall, and was commissioned by J.B. Brown, a Hannibal druggist who previously conducted business at 119 N. Main. In 1907, the building was customized to serve as home to the Hannibal Courier-Post, and when the newspaper moved to 200 N. Third in 1951, it was altered again to suit the needs of the Holme-Hickman banking and insurance company.
Zachariah Gibbs Draper (1797-1856) was recognized as one of Hannibal’s earliest and most progressive citizens. He was instrumental in the development of railroads and plank roads, town platting and commerce.
With business finesse and real estate savvy, he became a wealthy man, his name liberally sprinkled as property owner across the lots drawn out on the Hart and Mapother map of 1854.
But riches alone don’t bring contentment. He and his wife, Eleanor Mitchell “Nellie” Briggs, during a span of 26 years, brought at least 11 children into the world, but only four would live to reach adulthood. And of those four, only two would produce grandchildren.
Born into relative prosperity circa 1853, Maria J. Simmons grew up in Hannibal with every advantage imaginable to a young girl, with one major exception: Her mother, Julia Ann Draper Simmons, (1829-1854) died when Maria was just a babe.
Left in the care of her father, William Olen Simmons, along with support from her late mother’s parents and siblings, Maria seemed to seamlessly transition from toddler to debutante.
Julia Ann Draper Simmons’ sister, Maria Gibbs Draper, married George H. Jones in 1851, and remained childless. She helped fill the void in raising the daughter that her sister left behind.
In 1870, when Maria Simmons was 16, she was living with the Joneses near an area in Marion County, known as Frytown, with her mother’s sister and brother-in-law. (The Jones fruit farm is calculated to have been located roughly where the Steamboat Bend Shopping Center now stands.)
Z.G. Drapers son, Henry Von Phul Draper, (1825-1910) married Elizabeth Hotlzclaw. They, like the elder Drapers, lost several children to early death. Daughter Frances Elinor Draper (1867-1949) lived to adulthood, marrying George W. Sprinkle. The Sprinkles apparently remained childless, he dying in 1938 and she dying in 1949.
In 1937, George and Frances Sprinkle lived at 711A Church Street in Hannibal.
After reviewing family history charts, Maria Simmons, daughter of Julia Ann Draper Simmons, seems to be the only Draper grandchild to have had a child of her own. This child was born of her marriage to John Van Every, once owner of a Hannibal livery stable at 311 N. Main. A son, John L. Van Every Jr., was born circa 1875.
Van Every Jr., led a colorful life, serving a term at San Quentin in the 1930s for assault with a deadly weapon, attempted murder.
Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870,” and “Hannibal’s ‘West End,’” 47 stories of the Market Street Wedge and on west to Lindell Avenue. Montgomery can be reached at Montgomery.email@example.com Her collective works can be found at maryloumontgomery.com.
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