Historic West Ely Road house reflective of the region’s past
Cutline: John and Mary Waite are the owners of a Civil War era house encircled by the Pioneer Village subdivision. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY/FOR THE COURIER-POST
EDITOR'S NOTE: The information regarding the early occupants of a Civil War era house still standing on West Ely Road in Hannibal required analyzationof existing historical documents and conducting interviews. The conclusion that the Ward and Meredith families lived in this house was drawn by Mary Lou Montgomery. Anyone with information to support or contradict this conclusion is invited to contact her by clicking here.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Forty-six-year-old Catharine Y. Meredith of Miller Township, Marion County, Mo., was driving her mule-led buggy westward on the Hannibal and Paris Road in mid March 1890, when she slowed to make a left-hand turn into her driveway.
Two men approached her on this lonely stretch of rural road, and inquired about the possibility of buying - or making a trade for - her mule. She indicated to them that she would consider a trade for a good mare, and they agreed to contact her at her home at a later date to negotiate a deal.
When the men called at her home, she took a good look at their mare, and, being a shrewd businesswoman, decided she did not like the look of the mare’s eyes, and declined their trade offer.
But that answer was not the one the two men had hoped for. They indicated to her that they had come for the mule, and intended to leave with it. They took her mule, and started down the drive back to the gravel road, which led to Hannibal.
Demas K. Ward, Catharine Ward’s 80-year-old father, made an attempt to regain custody of the mule, and a newspaper account of the day reported that the two men assaulted him, then “roughly used” Mrs. Meredith before escaping with the mule.
Not of the type to turn the other cheek, Mrs. Meredith tethered up another farm animal and drove to town, where she filed a complaint with Judge Samuel Harrison, charging the men with robbery.
“Constable Scott, armed with the necessary documents, started in pursuit of the cheeky individuals and overhauled them near Evercooren’s grocery store on Market Street,” the newspaper reported, and also predicted that the two men would most likely be spending some time at the state penitentiary.
The Civil War-era house where it is believed that Catharine Meredith lived with her father, Demas K. Ward, is now encircled by homes constructed within the last half century along West Ely Road – at Pioneer Village. Its existence is such that the white, two-story brick house with horizontal parallel porches, and constructed upon a natural stone foundation, could almost be plucked from a history book and superimposed onto the landscape.
Owned today by Mary and John Waite, the long history of the house is tightly interwoven with the history of the region.
The gravel road
What is now known as West Ely Road was – as early as 1838 - part of the Hannibal and Paris stage coach route. The stage coach left the east/west road aforementioned at the “Y” intersection at Centerville Road, and proceeded south, and then west toward Monroe County.
The Meredith house is located less than a mile to the east of this intersection.
It has been documented through family papers that Demas Kitchel Ward and Mary Yates Schmerhorn Ward married in 1840, and moved to Hannibal in 1858. Their daughter Catharine Y. Ward (the aforementioned Mrs. Meredith) had been born in Indiana during the year 1844, followed by her sister’s birth (Mary B. Ward) in 1849. The family then moved north, to Wisconsin, where their son Charles Ward was born in 1856.
Relocating to Missouri during the period of great divide preceding the Civil War, the family at first lived in Hannibal, where the city directory of 1859 reported that D.K. Ward was working at Fuller & Ammidown’s, lumber merchants. The family resided on the south side of Bird street between Third and Fourth.
It wasn’t long before Mr. Ward began investing in Hannibal real estate. Records at the Marion County Recorder’s office in Palmyra show D.K. Ward purchasing property in Hannibal as early as 1863. He invested heavily, over the next three years, in property in Hannibal’s Riverview Addition, taking advantage of a war-induced stalled economy and depressed land prices.
When the 1875 atlas was published, D.K. Ward was the named owner of 94 acres in Township 57, Section 25, fronting West Ely Road to the south. On the 4th of May 1875, he and his wife deeded the property to their daughter, Catharine Y. Meredith. In the 1900 census, there were three generations living in the household: Catharine Meredith, her son, Henry E. Meredith, and her father, Demas K. Ward, age 90.
Mrs. Meredith continued to manage this farm and live in the Civil War-era house until her death in 1909.
Wife of Marion County sheriff
Mrs. Meredith’s tenacity was born of necessity. She married John D. Meredith on Dec. 12, 1867. Three years later she was a 26-year-old widow with an infant son to rear alone. She never remarried.
Her husband, John D. Meredith was born in 1838, the son of Dr. Hugh Meredith, who doctored the Clemens family in Florida, Mo., before moving along with the Clemens family to Hannibal in 1839. Sam Clemens wrote of Dr. Meredith in his autobiography. In 1851, Dr. Meredith’s office was located on Main street over the store of E&G Hawkins.
The Quincy Daily Whig reported on May 1, 1861: “A new Union paper has been started at Hannibal, bearing the name Hannibal Daily Evening Press, by J.D. Meredith & Co., its editorial department being under the charge of H. Meredith. It deals secession some formidable blows, and will continue to do so as long as there is any occasion for it in that State. We wish it success.”
The paper’s tenure was short lived.
John. D. Meredith was commissioned an officer in Company D, Missouri 39th Infantry Regiment on September 28, 1864, and served until July 19, 1865.
His father, Dr. Hugh H. Meredith, assistant surgeon, was commissioned an officer in Company S, Missouri 22nd Infantry Regiment, mustering in on July 22, 1862. He transferred to Company S. Missouri 10th Infantry Regiment and mustered out July 22, 1863.
Dr. Meredith died in 1864.
After the war, in 1866, John D. Meredith associated with Harman Warnke in a cigar and tobacco business in Hannibal. Mr. Meredith married Catharine Ward on Dec. 12, 1867. In November 1868, he beat out W.B. Drescher in a close election for Marion County sheriff and tax collector. Mr. Meredith died at the end of 1870, not long after the birth of his son. Benton Coontz was appointed to fill the unexpired term of office.
• The Samuel L. Petrie family was living in this historic house when the census taker called in 1930. Samuel L. Petrie’s daughter Mildred Petrie married Merritt Griffen, uncle of Danny Griffen, Hannibal florist. In 1944, Merritt Griffen donated John Freeman Schermerhorn’s (1787-1859) papers to The State Historical Society of Missouri. Schermerhorn was father-in-law to D.K. Ward, and grandfather to Mrs. Meredith. Speculation is that the Petrie family found the papers in the house or outbuildings previously owned by Mrs. Meredith.
Samuel Petrie was a dairyman. Sue Hart of Hannibal, who has spent her lifetime living on West Ely Road, remembers that there was previously a large barn on the property for use as a dairy.
Schermerhorn was a noted Indian Commissioner and a minister. It is unclear if he ever visited or resided in Hannibal. He is profiled on Wikipedia.com
• Isaac D. Moore and family were living in this house in 1940. Mr. Moore was office manager for a shoe manufacturer. Among his children was L. Dow Moore, who graduated from Turner School. He was a scientist by profession, and died Sept. 2, 2007 in Pennsylvania. His death notice was published in the Hannibal Courier-Post.
The 1940 census lists the Moore family members:
Isaac D. Moore 49
Josephine A. Moore 51
Lorenzo Dow Moore 20
Robert E. Moore 18
William W. Moore 14
• Others who occupied the house, as remembered by Sue Hart, are Hayes Easley and the Loomis family.
Also in the neighborhood
The house believed owned by Mrs. Meredith in 1890 was less than a mile east of another old landmark remembered by some – a two-story house wedged in the “Y” at the southwest corner of West Ely and Centerville intersection. A modern-day duplex now exists on this location.
The house wedged into the “Y” was owned by William Robbins, a farmer and long-time steamboat pilot of the same generation of Sam Clemens. One of Robbins’ brothers was a stagecoach driver along the Hannibal and Paris route circa 1850.
Twain reference: Mark Twain and Medicine: Any Mummery Will Cure; By K. Patrick Ober
Military records: Index to compiled military service records official Army register of the Volunteer force 1861-1865.
Mule theft story: March 17, 1890 Quincy Daily Journal.