Through these windows, glimpses of the past

April 28, 2015

 

 

Published in the Hannibal Courier-Post Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011

 

Author: Mary Lou Montgomery, marylou.montgomery@courierpost.com

What would I see if I could go back a hundred years in time, and look through the curved windows in the master bedroom of the stately brick duplex at Fifth and Church streets that was shared by the families of my great-grandfather and his twin brother, Tom and Robert Robinson ? 

Picture this: In 1911, visible from this window, two houses to the north, was the Stillwell Mansion, site of Amos J. Stillwell's unsolved murder from 1888. Just a little further to the north - a block away - is Central Park, a gathering spot for community concerts in the summer. To my right would be the new library the Garth family donated to Hannibal, and behind me, to the south, is the Garths' winter home - much bigger than the Robinson house, and a source of envy to the women of this household. 

In the 200 block of Broadway, within walking distance, two sons of this family have opened a plumbing and electrical business. On South Main Street, despite natural disasters including fires and floods, the men of the household have built and maintained a successful business catering to the region's paint and wallpaper trade. Just south of the library, there was a four-plex - dubbed the Robinson Flats - where various children of this family would begin their married lives. 

These three curved windows in the Fifth Street half of the Robinson house - tie together into a second-floor alcove - and are repeated in the adjacent duplex, occupied by my great-grandparents. The alcoves are significant architectural elements of this stately double house. 

During the next hundred years, long after my great-grandparents and their children would go on to their eternal rest - many families called this house their home. Most notably, in my estimation, are attorneys Chase and Howard Hickman, who grew up in this house, exploring the unique alcoves and amazing their friends with the unique passageways and hideaways built into this house by the Robinson family. 

Years of renters and weather have taken a toll on this house across the street from the library. Stairwells were hidden and fire places covered as the Church Street half of the duplex was converted into apartments. There is evidence that for 50 years, owners fought the elements, attempting to repair the fiat roof which allowed rainwater to erode away the very heart of the structure. All who tried to make repairs, ultimately failed. 

Early last autumn, I drove my best friend around town to show her some of Hannibal's most stately homes. We didn't stop in front of the Robinson duplex, just drove by, slowly. "That was my great-grandparents' home," I told her. "I'm sure it will be torn down soon." 

In November of 2010, I received a call from Martha Poole , asking if I was the one who compiled the book, "The Robinsons of Hannibal, Missouri," back in 1992. 

"Yes."

Caption: R.B. and T.C. Robinson operated an electrical and plumbing business in the 200 block of Broadway in 1912. R.B., pictured second from the left, sent this picture postcard to his uncle, Wills Ayers, in Denver, Colo., May 18, 1912. This postcard is part of Steve Chou's collection. "Here is a little picture of our shop, with a few of the workmen. I am the one with the dog. Tom is not in the picture. We employ 3 electricians and 7 plumbers at present. Bob." T.C. and R.B.'s parents occupied the duplex at Fifth and Church streets, now under renovation by the Poole family. 

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