At the turn of the 20th century, hillslide coasting was all the rage
Bluff City Shoe Factory photo
Pictured are office workers at the Bluff City Shoe Factory office, circa 1917. The building was located at Maple and Collier streets. World War I posters are on the wall behind the workers. The photo was originally contributed by Mrs. John Logan of Louisiana and is now a part of the Hannibal Arts Council's Hannibal As History collection. Scott Meyer is pictured at left in the foreground
The lure of Hannibal’s hills on a snow-laden day have tempted many a coaster out from the comforts of a warm furnace vent or log fire into winter’s elements. Those in a flat state – such as Kansas – or a warm state – such as Florida – could never imagine the breathlessness of guiding along a crust of snow, belly down parallel to the ground, along the hilly streets or pastures of this town, situated as it is between two river bluffs.
“Is Hannibal hilly?” a stranger might ask a native who takes the steep terrain for granted. “Is Hannibal hilly!” should be the response from any kid or former kid who has ever put metal rails or a plastic saucer to the test.
William Scott Meyer, born 1892, was a Hannibalian through and through. While born in Kansas, he spent all of his formative years, and his adulthood, associated with Hannibal’s wellbeing. A successful businessman and agriculture expert, generations of his family still call Hannibal home, long after the elder’s 1979 death.
Following the philosophy attributed to William James - “The greatest use of life is to spend it on something that will outlast it,” – Scott Meyer wrote and published a trilogy of books during the 1960s, capsulizing his recollections and analyses of this town’s past. And these books live on to describe the minutia of days long since past.
Within the book is a description of sledding in Hannibal at the turn of the 20th Century. The piece, published in “You’d Scarcely Believe It,” is attributed to Meyer’s alter ego, Stubbs Marrs.
Meyer’s grandson, Larry (Bud) Meyer, accomplished journalist and novelist, describes “Stubbs Marrs” as his grandfather’s “misty-eyed third person version of a reporter/historian. Capable of stretching the truth to meet a sunnier, funnier version of events.”
“Stubbs Marrs” writes that dozens – or hundreds - of male youth spontaneously stepped outside during the first measurable snowfall of the year during the early days of the 20th Century; no one was in charge, but everyone knew their role. The goal was to establish a blocks-long sledding trail down Hannibal’s highest hills - and the trails were packed and maintained by young men who lived along the way – ending at the flatlands.
Then it was time to coast. Scott Meyer and his contemporaries rode their sleds from the top of Griffith to the bottom, at Minnow Branch, and then walked back to the top of the blocks-long trail, pausing along the way to stop horse and electric streetcar traffic for fellow sledders en route down the hill.
“Stubbs Marrs’” story begins as thus:
“Griffith Street, about the turn of the century, was surely worth knowing. If we don’t create that impression, it will be because a poor sponsor has failed a fine subject. The hill started a block, maybe even more than that, west of the great, three-storied frame home of Mr. George Carter, the flour miller. Standing nearby were the less pretentious homes of the Doyles, the McCarthys, the Rupps, the Collins’ boys, the Groehnes and of Matt Gasberry, a fine darkey lad. The track passed, in turn, Grace Street, Broadway, Chestnut, Hope, Spruce, Gordon and Settles Streets, winding up, at last, at Minnow Branch. Landmarks passed, en route, now all but forgotten, were the colored church on Broadway; Burkholder’s Dairy, just opposite; the big arc-light tower at Chestnut; Whisler’s Greenhouse and the dreaded streetcar tracks at Hope; Douglass School (colored), on South Arch, near Spruce; and finally, the end of the road at Minnow Branch … The general neighborhood, as one can readily see, was one of substance and of racial tolerance, tho possibly not what one would call ‘silk- stocking row.’”
William Scott Meyer, the author of “You’d Scarcely Believe It,” and wife Elsie lived at 319 Virginia Ave. His principal vocation was in real estate and livestock. The 1940 census reveals that Scott and Elsie had four children, William H. Meyer, John R. Meyer, Mary A. Meyer and Eleanor S. Meyer.
Scott was born in Kansas about 1892, the son of W.J.A. Meyer and Jennie Scott Meyer. He had a sister, Helen Meyer, who was four years his junior. Helen married Harry Carstarphen, and they made their home at 314 Virginia St.
Profiles of the faces and places at the turn of the 20th Century mentioned in this story, as researched by Mary Lou Montgomery in 2015, follow, in order of appearance in the story:
George H. Carter, a Kentucky native born around 1856, lived on Grace Street, northeast corner of Locust, with his wife and daughter, both named Nellie. Carter was a cashier for Eagle Mills. Source: 1901 Hannibal city directory, 1900 U.S. Census. The address of the three-story house is now 1616 Grace Street.
boys in 1900
Thomas J. Doyle and his wife Kathleen lived at 354 Griffith. In 1990 Thomas J. was a railroad switchman. The census of that year lists children at home: Clarence Doyle, 14, Thomas R. Doyle, 11; Richard Doyle, 9; and Francis C. Doyle, 1.
3) McCarthy: 1901: Patrick and his wife Anna McCarthy, molder, D.T. Stove Co., residence 331 Grace. Parents of teen coaster Pat McCarthy.
parents to two named coasters
Lewis (Louis) Rupp (German spelling Rouppe), 56, and his family lived at 219 Locust. In 1910 the family consisted of Margaret Rupp, 45, Mary Rupp, 20, Henry Rupp, 19, John Rupp, 17, Margaret Rupp, 15, George Rupp, 12, Louis Rupp, 10, Edward Rupp, 2. Both Mr. and Mrs. Rupp were German immigrants. Lewis bought and sold junk, and John and Henry hauled iron for their father. Sources, 1910 census, Hannibal city directories.
5) Collins – No information found.
5) Groehnes – No information found.
a Carnegie hero
Mathew Gasberry (col) lived with his parents, William and Mary Gasberry, at 355 Griffith in 1900. He was one of five children living at home, including Harrison Gasberry 26; Archie Gasberry 18; French Gasberry 13; Mathew Gasberry, 8; and William Gasberry 4. According to his World War I draft registration card, in 1917 Mathew Gasberry worked as a delivery man for Andy Schutz, Hannibal, Mo. Mathew was single, tall and slender, had black eyes and black hair, and a badly crippled arm. In 1919, Mathew’s brother, Thomas F. Gasberry, living at 1719 1/2 Wardlaw, was among 51 heroes who were recognized by Carnegie Fund Commission. Thomas F. Gasberry, 39, a locomotive hostler, was the recipient of a bronze medal for saving G. Dolores Rice, 4, from being killed by a train at Hannibal, Mo., Nov. 23, 1926. The Macon Chronicle Herald, Nov. 2, 1929, (newspapers.com) reported that: “Delores was standing on a track when a passenger train was approaching at a speed of 25 miles per hour. Gasberry ran to Dolores, picked her up as he ran and fell with her clear of the track just as the locomotive of the train passed.”
‘Colored’ church at
The colored church on Broadway, as mention in the above story, was the Broadway AME church, a predecessor of Scott’s Chapel Church of Hannibal. The late Lola Richardson wrote a history of the church, which is posted on the Hannibal Free Public Library’s website. She wrote that Circa 1892, the church moved to Broadway, just west of Griffith Street. After experiencing financial difficulties in the late 1890s, the church congregation was forced to sell the building. The building was located directly across the street from the Burkholder Dairy.
Burkholder Dairy, 1589 Broadway, was located on the southwest corner of Broadway and Griffith streets. Near the beginning of the 20th Century, Mrs. Mary J. Burkholder (widow of John D.) was head of the family dairy operation, which was set out on lots 1, 3 and 5 on Broadway’s south side. The address was later renumbered 1600 Broadway. The house was in close proximity to Broadway, while the outbuildings, presumably for dairy cows, were at the rear of the property. The 1880 census notes that John D. and Mary J. (Wisdom) Burkholder had 10 children living at home, Dolly, Hattie, Joseph, Lucy, George, William, Nettie, Medora, Bertha and Edward. John D. Burkholder died prior to 1899; and son William F. Burkholder was killed in a railroad accident on the Wabash lines at New Florence, Mo., Aug. 31, 1899.
arc light tower
During the 1880s, 11 arc light towers were installed in Hannibal in order to provide lighting for business and residential neighborhoods. The intent was to locate the towers in such a manner as to provide light for the entire city. One such tower was located at Chestnut and Griffith. The carbon had to be replaced daily in each of the lamps. Source: Hagoods’ Story of Hannibal.
flowers on Hope Street
The Whistler greenhouse, mention in the Meyer story, was located along the Griffith Street coasting route. David Whistler and his wife Fannie C. (Bivens) Whistler lived at the northwest corner of Hope and Griffith as early as 1875. He was a painter and wall paperer, and together they had two children, Harry and Maud Whistler. The 1901 Hannibal city directory lists Fannie C. Whistler was a florist, living at 300 Hope. That address translates to 1900 Hope Street today. David Whistler died Aug. 6, 1903, accidentally killed by his horse team. Mrs. Whistler continued to live in this house until her death. Her daughter and son-in-law, Jack C. and Maude Frew, lived there until at least 1940, a total of some 65 years for the family to occupy a single house. Sources, U.S. Census, Hannibal city directories and the Monroe City Democrat, Aug. 13, 1903, newspapers.com
Street car tracks
followed path of Minnow Creek
Beginning in 1890, Hannibal’s street cars were powered by electricity. Horse-drawn street cars had provided a service to the community, but moved so slowly that a person could walk just about as quickly as the streetcar moved. Once the conversion was made to electricity, tracks were extended out Market Street to Hope. At Hope, the line divided, one went to Oakwood via Market Street, and the other followed Hope Street, along Minnow Creek, to St. Mary’s Avenue. Source: Hagoods’ Story of Hannibal.
Note: The following is reprinted from the Western Christian Recorder, Kansas City, Kansas, July 1, 1899.
Closing Exercises Of Douglass School, Hannibal, Mo., at the AME Church.
The closing exercises of Douglass school were held at the AME church, on Church street, May 26th. The large auditorium was packed with friends of the graduates and members of the school, anxious to hear the excellent program, which was rendered in a very pleasing manner.
A platform had been constructed across one end of the auditorium on a level with the pulpit and on this were seated the members of the High school and the seventh grade pupils.
Numerous beautiful potted plants occupied a place on the platform and added much to the beauty of the scene.
The exercises of the evening were opened by a prayer by Rev. J.W. Sanders, and the High school sang a chorus: “Gloria.”
The first number on the literary was the salutatory by Miss Corintha May Bolden. The young lady welcomed the audience and introduced the class of 1899. She spoke in a loud, clear voice and set forth the possibilities of the race.
“The Polish Boy,” a poem recited by Miss Dora Lawson, was rendered in a charming manner and her jestures were excellent, indeed.
The following number was a debate on the subject, “Resolved, that the Negro race will derive great benefit from the Spanish American war.”
Prof. Pelham acted as chairman and prior to the debate a number of comical resolutions were offered and voted upon which afforded considerable amusement for the audience.
The debaters were: Affirmative – Miss Lucy Brock, Wm. Wright and Aaron Mosley. Negative – Miss Maude Edna Harris, Chas. Gaskin and Harry Truman Bolden.
Twenty minutes were allowed for the argument on each side of the question and the decision was by the audience, for the affirmative.
Miss Della Etta Hall then recited “The Black Regiment,” in a way that pleased her hearers and was followed on the program by Miss Cora Lee Braxton, whose subject was “Bricks Without Straw.” She told how useless and easily broken were bricks without straw and applied the lesson to the human race; that without knowledge man was not a power.
Roderick Lee, that old and well read poem, was recited charmingly by Miss Cordelia Beatrice Bolden.
The Kazoo band, by the seventh grade was an interesting number of the program and received merited applause.
Part II was commenced by an essay “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” by Miss Ida May Foster. The subject was well handled and showed the advancement of the races.
Wm. Hobbs, in an oration on Maceo, the great Cuban general, won honor as an orator. He gave a brief sketch of the life of the great man from his boyhood to his death, Dec. 14, 1898.
Edward Phenix handled the subject, America’s Greatest Men, in a way that did not fail to please. Washington was the father of his country, Abraham Lincoln the emancipator of slaves and Fred Douglass the great champion of equal rights, were all sketched in a word picture.
The chorus, Wake, Wake, by the seventh grade was applauded by the audience for its excellent rendition.
William Wright recited Toussaint L’Overture in a pleasing manner.
Miss Adah Ruth Robinson delivered an essay, Upward and Onward in a way that received applause.
A violin and piano duet by Ida May Foster and Edward Phenix was loudly applauded.
The Negro as a Soldier by Miss Lulu Ida B. Lewis, pleased the audience and was well rendered.
The chorus Italia, was sung by the High school and Rev. R.L. Beal presented diplomas to the graduates as follows:
Corintha May Bolden, Ida May Foster, Lucy Brock, William Hobbs, Cordelia Beatrice Bolden, Ada Ruth Robinson, Lulu Ida Lewis and Edward Phenix.
The chorus Gloria was repeated and Rev. W.E. Helm pronounced the benediction.
Thanks to Larry (Bud) Meyer, Mary Beth Meyer, Scott Meyer II, and Jean Meyer for sharing Scott “Stubbs Marrs” Meyer books, and helping prepare this story for publication. Larry, Mary Beth and Scott II, are grandchildren of the elder Scott Meyer.