This undated photo represents the Grand Army of the Republic assembled together in formation. The man standing in front holds a Union flag. The men were Union veterans of the Civil War. The photo is copyright 2010 Carondelet Historical Society, reprinted with permission.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
By 1918, members of the fraternal organization, The Grand Army of the Republic, were dying off so rapidly that it became apparent that there soon would be too few veterans to continue the organization.
Members included veterans of various branches of military who served on the Union side during the Civil War, including the Union Army, Union Navy, Marines and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service.
Capt. Wilbur F. Chamberlain of Hannibal was among the proud members of the G.A.R.
According to U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865: “Wilbur F. Chamberlain enlisted in Company G., Ohio 29th, Infantry Regiment on Sept. 30, 1861. Promoted to full 1st Sergeant on Dec. 22, 1863. Promoted to full 1st Lieutenant on May 25, 1864. Promoted to full captain on Oct. 12, 1864. Mustered out on July 13, 1865. Died May 13, 1919. Sources Official roster of the Soldiers of the state of Ohio Journal of the National Encampment of the GAR.”
In 1918, Capt. Chamberlain, 75, was a prominent citizen of Hannibal, a well-known and respected Republican, former postmaster, a major employer and a recognized banker. A year later, on May 13, 1919, he would join the ranks of the majority of his war comrades, dying at the home of his brother-in-law, Ivy Summers, in East St. Louis, Ill. His remains were brought back to Hannibal for services and burial. He rests at Mount Olivet Cemetery.
While his Hannibal political and business associations were many, it was sewing machine sales that brought W.F. Chamberlain to Hannibal in the mid 1870s.
Prior to the war he had lived with his mother, Margaret A. Chamberlain, widow of James J. Chamberlain, and younger sister, Mary, in Springfield, Ohio.
Sometime after the war he settled in Lewis, County, Mo., (Williamstown) where he maintained friendships and business associations throughout his life.
In June 1866 he was elected president of the newly formed “Radical Club,” in Lewis County. It served as a means of uniting the states that had been separated by Civil War skirmishes. (Daily Missouri Democrat, St. Louis)
The 1870 census listed him as a farmer, married to Fannie Chamberlain, who, like Wilbur, was born in Ohio, and their daughter, Annie Chamberlain, age 3, born in Missouri.
During the 1870s, he began expanding his business interests. He made two business trips from Lewis County to Hannibal in the fall of 1874, registering at the Continental hotel in Hannibal on Nov. 19 and again on Dec. 10, 1874.
By Feb. 23, 1875, he called Hannibal home, and frequently advertised his sewing machine business in the Hannibal Clipper newspaper. The next year he married Mary Elizabeth Davis.
The Hannibal Clipper newspaper also carried the following mention of his journeys across Northeast Missouri: “Mr. W.F.Chamberlain returned this morning from a trip through Knox, Scotland, Clark and Lewis counties. Fine crops were raised in these counties, and more stock than usual is being wintered. Many herds of stock from other sections of the state have been driven there for the purpose of being wintered.”
In February 1875, his young wife, listed as Catharine E. Chamberlain, died. Her death notice was published in the Summit County Beacon, Akron, Ohio, on March 24, 1875.
In the Hannibal city directory of 1877, Chamberlain was listed as manager of the Howe Sewing Machine Co., which was located at 125 N. Main St.
By the last quarter of the century, sewing machines were common household appliances, allowing homemakers to construct inexpensive clothing for their families without the aid of tedious hand stitching.
Chamberlain offered a variety of sewing machine brands, plus accessories such as needles and thread.
He served as postmaster during the construction of the new Federal Building at Hannibal during the mid 1880s.
In 1884, Capt. Chamberlain was simultaneously postmaster at Hannibal and commander of the Missouri department, G.A.R.
July 6, 1890:
Articles of association were filed with the Secretary of State, and a charter was granted to the Young Men’s Christian Association of Hannibal. Officers were E.P. Bowman, president; L.F. Keebaugh, secretary, and W.F. Chamberlain, treasurer.
In its Oct. 26, 1907 edition, the Macon Republican described Capt. Chamberlain’s speech to the Old Soldiers’ reunion:
“He delivered a fine talk Thursday night at the camp fire and yesterday morning addressed a large audience at Stephens park. Captain Chamberlain is always an interesting and entertaining speaker and has a mind richly stored with gems of fine enticement and poetry. His address was given close attention and was greatly enjoyed by those so fortunate as to hear him.”
The century-old bronze statue of Mark Twain – Hannibal’s most famous son – continues to look out over the river that the noted author loved, forever reminding new generations of the inspiration he gained as a boy in Hannibal during the 1850s.
Chamberlain was instrumental in its placement in the park.
Perched atop a river overlook in the park donated to Hannibal by W.B. Pettibone, the statue continues to represent the inspiration that Sam Clemens aka Mark Twain gleaned from his memories as a boy whose childhood playground was the banks of the Mississippi River.
While all who are alive today see the statue as a part the park’s landscape, it wasn’t always a part of the town’s most noted park.
It wasn’t until 1911 – a year after Twain’s death – that the state of Missouri earmarked $10,000 to erect a statue in the great author’s image. In August 1911, Gov. Hadley of Missouri appointed members of a commission to explore the possibility of commissioning a statue in the park. Members of the Republican governor’s commission were: Frank L. Schofield, Capt. W.F. Chamberlain, W.B. Pettibone, donor of Riverview Park, where the monument was to be erected; John L. Robards, a boyhood acquaintance of the humorist, and Simon F. Roderick, all of Hannibal.
Chamberlain, a friend and associate of A.W. Pettibone and Andrew J. Settles, who were profiled in a story published in the Hannibal Courier-Post on Dec. 3, 2016, Chamberlain was a well-known Republican who served in leadership positions at both the state and local levels.
A campaign for funds was completed in 1914, and in January that year, Frederick C. Hibbard, designer of the Mark Twain Memorial, was expected to arrive in town to complete the arrangements for the monument, which was to be of bronze and granite.
Wesley Knapp and his wife Rhonda are owners of the house where Chamberlain lived during his most productive years. Located at the intersection of Pleasant Street and St. Mary’s Avenue, the multi-colored, multi-storied house has stood the test of time, overlooking the now busy intersection that once was two miles west of Hannibal’s city limits.
Capt. W.F. Chamberlain was pictured in the Sept. 19, 1908 Macon Republican newspaper.
This advertisement for W.F. Chamberlain’s sewing machine store was published in the May 10, 1877 Hannibal Clipper.