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Picture tells story of business half-block destroyed by fire in 1898

This map, based upon a Sanborn Fire Map of 1899, shows where the businesses that burned were located. ILLUSTRATION BY MARY LOU MONTGOMERY


Edwin Richard Gifford was a young man of just 25 in 1896, married to his blushing bride, Mary Jane Wilson Gifford, then aged 19 and a native of Edina, Mo., when they opened a magnificent jewelry store at 207 Broadway, two doors to the west of the Farrell Building, 200-203 Broadway.

Mary Jane invested her own money into the establishment of the store, and their continued success as a Hannibal jewelry family might have earned them a long-time place in the business annuals of their adopted community of Hannibal.

But such was not to be.

During the late spring of 1900, Mary Jane Gifford filed for divorce after a squabble with her husband, an action that caught the attention of the town’s newspaper and neighbors.

Gossip ran rampant through Hannibal that summer, with citizens offering sympathy to the young bride, who made plans to operate the jewelry store alone, after her husband left town.

June turned into July, and then August followed, as it always does. On the 25th of August 1900, Mrs. Gifford withdrew her pending divorce action, and announced that she had reconciled with her husband. They planned to move to Mansfield, Ohio, where the jewelry store contents would be shipped in preparation for the opening of a new store.

The Giffords’ ties to Hannibal were severed, but the marriage preserved. They are buried together at Linville Cemetery, Edina, Mo.

This photo, presumably taken from the Farrell Building on the southwest corner of Main and Broadway, shows a clock with the Gifford insignia in the forefront, and the north side of the 200 block of Broadway in the background. The buildings on Broadway would burn on new year’s eve, 1898. Photo posted on Facebook by Jim Hammond.

Interesting photo

Jim Hammock of Hannibal recently posted on Facebook a photo of the north side of the 200 block of Broadway, dated pre-December 1898. In the foreground is a street clock engraved with the name E.R. Gifford Jewelry Co., which closed pre-August 1900, when the Giffords left Hannibal.

Across the street is visible a sign promoting the Bowman & Williamson store, located at 220 and 222 Broadway.

This photo shows the debris left following the new year’s eve, 1898 fire in the 200 block of Broadway. Photo from the Steve Chou collection.

Great fire of 1898

On the eve of a new year, 1898, a fire heavily damaged half of the 200 block of Broadway, from the alley west to Third Street. “The wind was blowing a hurricane,” Reported the Quincy Daily Herald.

Situated mid-block just west of the alley was William E. Mitchick’s saloon, 216 Broadway, which experienced considerable damage. Mitchick was born in May 1859 of Hungarian immigrants. As a young man he operated a saloon near the park in Quincy, Ill., later moving to Hannibal. He and his wife were parents of one daughter, who married A. J. Whaley. Mr. Mitchick’s wife died in 1901. He was an avid duck hunter, and assisted in the search for victims of the Flying Eagle disaster in 1903. He later moved to Arkansas with his daughter’s family, where he died in 1935. He was brought back to Hannibal for burial.

Next door to the Mitchick saloon, to the west, was Deni Santo’s produce stand, 218 Broadway. Available records show that Santo, with ties to St. Louis, lived in Hannibal but a short time, living and working at 218 Broadway. This building was destroyed.

The expanded dry goods and millinery business of Bowman & Williamson took up two buildings, located at 220 and 222 Broadway. The business was operated by Edmond P. Bowman and James F. Williamson, business partners since the mid 1890s. Bowman was son-in-law of Milton Strong, respected Hannibal businessman. By 1910, Bowman had moved his family to Westchester, New York, where he was working for Clarks and Suits, wholesale merchant. After several business reversals over the next decade, James Williamson would take his own life in 1909.

To the west of the Bowman & Williamson store in 1898 was Frank Sultzman’s bakery, 224 Broadway. Born circa 1852, Frank moved to Hannibal in 1866, coming with his parents from Ft. Wayne, Ind. A baker nearly all of his life, he was a member of the Ancient Order United Workmen. The bakery was gutted by the fire on New Year’s Eve, 1898. The family lived upstairs over the bakery. Frank Sultzman died in April 1905, and was survived by a widow, four sons, three brothers and two sisters, all of whom resided in Hannibal.

Edgar E. Ray, Hannibal druggist, was conducting business in a building owned by Frank Sultzman at the time of the 1898 fire. Most of his stock was damaged by fire and water, according to the Quincy Daily Journal. In August 1897, while doing business at the corner of Main and Center streets, he had found himself in financial difficulty and executed a deed of trust on his stock and fixtures for the benefit of his creditors, necessitating the move from Main to Broadway. The fire resulted in another financial blow to Edgar Ray. Barely a year later, Edgar E. Ray was injured by an accident on the steamboat Harry Reid, and died just a few hours later. When he died at the age of 41, he left a wife and four children. “Mr. Ray was one of the most popular business men of this city and was held in high esteem by people generally,” the Quincy Daily Whig reported.

On the northeast corner of Broadway and North Third was the three-story building housing the First National Bank, 228 Broadway. The Quincy Daily Journal of Dec. 31, 1898 reported, “The fire department, by herculean efforts, saved the International bank (First National Bank), which seemed doomed.”

The bank’s president, Cyrus Albertson, was also owner of one of the buildings occupied by the Bowman & Williamson dry goods store. The bank’s incorporation occurred just a year before the fire.

The advertisement from the Stone’s Hannibal City Directory, 1897-98, shows merchandise available for sale at the Bowman & Williamson stores.

Fire Department

Theron B. Parks was fire chief at the time of the December 1898 blaze. Hannibal Hose Company No. 1 and Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1 were operated at 206 and 208 South Fourth. Thomas J. Higgins Jr., was utilityman, William Dunn; driver; and Frank F. Tessmer, John A. Varney Jr., Harry J. Lower and Charles F. Nagel were hosemen.

Hannibal Hose Co., No. 2, located on Market at the northeast corner of Hueston, Frank Gay, captain; John M. Dunple, driver; Charles Dreyer, Edward F. Nerlich and William Grove, hosemen.

Source: Stone’s Hannibal City Directory, 1897-98.

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