MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
The group of men gathered together in 1889 to discuss the need for a new United Methodist Church didn’t necessarily consist of community leaders, nor were they natives to the town. Instead, they were devout individuals who came together for one common cause: To test a notion that a new church would be a good fit for the sparsely populated area called Oakwood.
At the end of a meeting on Nov. 15, 1889, members of the church committee came to a consensus: A new church would be constructed in what was considered to be a suburban village to the west of Hannibal.
J.B. Price, a landowner in developing Oakwood, made good on his pledge to help by donating a lot from the property he owned, the lot described at the time as just north of the New London gravel road, and east of the lane leading to the old Holmes property. The land, which now corresponds to the intersection of 36th and St. Charles streets, was big enough to hold a frame church, 28 feet wide by 42 feet long.
A plan in place, members of the building committee set out to raise the few thousand dollars needed to start construction.
On the first day of services in the new building, the remainder of the debt was collected, allowing for the dedication of the new Methodist church.
Residents of three counties surrounding Oakwood – in some cases spanning three generations - attended those first services, filling the little church to its seating capacity of 300 people and leaving more to stand throughout the services. A Hannibal Courier newspaper article of the day described: “It was built at the cost of $1,650, all of which, with the exception of about $400, was raised previous to the completion of the edifice.
“The people of Oakwood have every reason to be proud of their new church, and great credit is due the leaders in the movement, as they have labored almost unceasingly to the accomplishment of what they had undertaken,” the newspaper reported.
Those committee members included:
* D.R. Scyoc wore many hats during his era as a Hannibal resident. He was born in 1849 – in Virginia – and on Christmas Eve, 1873, married Sarah F. Aydelotte in Marion County, Missouri. In 1877 he purchased the dairying business of Mr. Hafner, and thus supplied pure milk to residents of Hannibal. In 1893, his farm was located near the Hannibal and St. Joesph Railroad tracks in Oakwood. He added to his agriculture holdings in 1904, by purchasing a 409-acre farm near Asher’s Ford in Ralls County, and in 1905, when he brought a 186-acre farm from the Hawkins estate, adjoining Hannibal in Oakwood. He was also the owner of Melpontian Hall at the intersection of Third and Center Streets, where he operated a grocery store at the turn of the 20th Century. He died in 1920.
* William W. Tompkins was born circa 1859, in Missouri, one of at least six children of William and M. (Carter) Tompkins. The family lived in Peno, Pike County, Mo. William W. Tompkins married Margaret P. Truitt Oct. 13, 1881, in Ralls County. While in Hannibal he worked at various jobs, including that of farm laborer. In 1910 he lived on St. Mary’s Avenue, near its intersection with James Road. By 1920, he had relocated to San Diego, Calif., where he lived with adult children following his wife’s death. He died May 19, 1941, in San Diego.
* C.H. Edmondson, who hosted the meeting at his office, served as manager of the Empire Lime Company, located in Oakwood. In 1891, earned the dubious distinction of being the first person prosecuted under Section 10 of the Inter State Law
involving the bribing of weighmasters. According to a story in the Chicago Tribune of June 16, 1891, the lime shipper entered guilty pleas to two counts of offering weighmasters bribes to the extent of one half of the revenue they would save his company by underbilling his cars of lime.
* Dr. John A. Hampton relocated to Missouri from Lexington, Ky., in 1850, settling to the east of the Foreman farm near Rensellear. He was a land speculator and capitalist, his name appearing frequently on Marion and Ralls County land deeds and mortgages from the early 1860s until his death in 1892. He moved to Marion County - in the Oakwood area - in the 1860s, and remained a resident of that neighborhood throughout the remainder of his life. His wife, Susan, was affiliated with Trinity Episcopal Church until her death in 1884. They are buried at Hydesburg Cemetery.
Debbie Hightower Frances grew up in the church, which was known for many years as the Oakwood ME Church. She was married in the church, and all the seats were filled on that date, plus chairs were set up in the back and along both sides to accommodate guests.
She remembers Harry Sanders, who was Sunday School superintendent when she was a child. “He was a chauffeur for the Mahans,” Debbie said. When she was in junior high school, during the early 1960s, John Murphy assumed the superintendent roll.
“A lot of my family went there,” Debbie remembers, including her aunt, Helen Whitaker Stewart, and her mother and grandmother, Wilma Hightower and Myrtle Whitaker, and many cousins.
Debbie grew up in Oakwood, where she lived until she was married at age 23. After living in other parts of the community, she has comfortably settled back into her old neighborhood, in a small frame house typical of those located on 36th Street.
A leader in the church during her childhood was Ray Ball, who was responsible for an addition to the original church building. His daughter, Sharon, and Iona Yeldell’s daughter, Betty, were Debbie’s church friends.
“I taught junior and senior high Sunday School for a long time,” Debbie said. “My mother was my teacher. We did paper drives – selling newspapers back to Browns – to raise money for the church.”
A favorite memory involves the fellowship dinners after church on Sundays. “Ham and beans, and everyone pitched in to help out.”
When the church closed, “It was really hard on my mom. It was the church she had grown up in. She was very devout,” Debbie said. Mrs. Hightower transferred to First Methodist Church downtown. “She likes that church, too.”
Following the closing of the Oakwood church, the building was sold in1996 to Calvary Christian Church. This church sold the property to the Gospel Lighthouse in 1997.
The Hannibal Courier described the church dedication, following the final donations that paid off the construction debt during the summer of 1890.
“At 8 o’clock p.m. Rev. McAnally (the veteran editor of the St. Louis Christian Advocate) again preached a powerful sermon, which contained many good thoughts. His text was selected from the 33rd chapter of Isiah, 20th, and the 21st verses, with ‘The Church’ as the subject. Rev. McAnally preached the same sermon at Baltimore in the year 1836 (or 1886). He treated the subject in a manner that clearly indicated the fact that he was thoroughly conversant with it, and those who were present were accorded a rich spiritual treat.
“At the close of the sermon three children were administered the rites of baptism, after which the Church of Oakwood was organized. The members of the new church represented three generations and quite a large number of persons were enrolled on the membership list.
“This closed the days exercises at the Oakwood church and it was a day that will long be remembered by the citizens of that place as well as the persons who were present from abroad, and we hope that Rev. McAnally’s prayer, that the opening of a church in that place, will result in much good for the cause of Christ will be answered.”
Editor’s note: Information for this story was obtained from a newspaper clipping taken from Gerald Stone’s scrapbook. Steve Chou collection.
The Gospel Lighthouse Church now occupies a church building constructed in 1889-90 in Oakwood. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY/WWW.MARYLOUMONTGOMERY.COM