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A house built around a rail car; roads paved of button remnants

Archie Hayden of Hannibal shared this photo of the demolition of the house on Route MM, which was constructed around a railroad car. Jean Otten Moore of Pennsylvania recently share her childhood memories of this house, which was last owned by Darold Davis. CONTRIBUTED/ARCHIE HAYDEN


When William J. Roth died in 1934 at the age of 76, the real estate investor was the legal owner of a number of properties located in and around Hannibal, Mo. Among those properties was a 34.88-acre tract of land with frontage to the north of Highway 36, which is now known as County Route MM in Marion County, Mo.

His two surviving children ultimately became heir to this highway frontage, located several miles to the west of the U.S. 61 junction.

Jean Otten Moore, who is a nonagenarian now living in Pennsylvania, resided on a dairy farm across the street and a little to the east of the Roth property. As a child she accessed a path through this land as a shortcut on her walk to and from Turner School.

Prior to the start of the Depression, the Roth family attempted to develop this land into residential property, Moore said. They laid out lots, Jean remembers, brought in an old railroad car to be used as a club house, and added a swimming pool.

“All the roads were made from shells left over from the button factory,” Jean said. “White roads were quite attractive. But no utilities were put in, therefore there were no sales.”

The vacant property became known as a “lovers’ lane,” she said. “One day as I came to Lovers’ Lane, a huge sink hole had fallen in. It was about 8 foot deep. It was right next to the King sister’s pond lot. The Campbell brothers filled it in and built their houses on it.”

The house wrapped

around a rail car

Sue Hart, who makes her home on her family’s property just to the north of the old Turner School building on West Ely Road, remembers that the rail car that was moved to the property by the Roths was later remodeled and expanded into a residence.

She remembers that a Mrs. Weghoft purchased the property from the Roth descendants, and sold it to a Mrs. Wheelock, who made her home and raised her children there.

“Mom would go over there for social events associated with Turner School,” Sue said. Her mother told her about the house: “it was lovely.”

Darold (Tiny) Davis later purchased the property, and raised his family there. After Mr. Davis sold the property, the house was torn down.

The immigrant

William J. Roth was the oldest son of Frank G. and Catharine Roth, who came to America in 1845 on a sailboat. The journey from Germany to the United States took two months.

Frank Roth and his family moved from Wisconsin – where son William J. Roth was born - to Hannibal in 1869.

Once in Hannibal, Frank Roth became among Hannibal’s leading businessmen. In addition to son William J. Roth, Frank Roth and his wife, Catharine, raised two other children, Carrie E. Roth and Frank Roth. Both sons followed their father into business.

The elder Frank G. Roth died June 30, 1926, at the age of 93.

The eldest son

William J. Roth was best known as a real estate developer. Pre-1916, he had the Fidelity building constructed at 617 Broadway in downtown Hannibal, Mo.

The Hannibal City Directory of 1916 lists the following occupants for that building:

Room 100: Dr. R.B. Millhizer

Room 102-06, Broadway Café

Room 103: W.D. Bull

Room 105: Charles M. Davis

Room 110: Babcock’s studio

In 1919, W.J. Roth announced plans for constructing a modern two-story business building on South Seventh Street, immediately on the rear of the Fidelity building. The building was to be constructed on land Mr. Roth purchased from the Branham estate, and the estimated cost was $10,000.

The same year, work was under way to help solve a housing crisis in Hannibal. Mr. Roth was completing work on a modern bungalow on Rock Street between Fifth and Sixth streets. In additional, six more bungalows were planned on Rock and North streets and Paris avenue.

W.J. Roth died in 1934 at the age of 76.

Button factory

“I've often wondered if the button factory survived very long,” Jean said. “It was along the railroad siding where the Palmyra Road came near the railroad near Palmyra. One man operated it and he had the shells shipped and dumped near a railroad car where he cut his buttons of Mother of Pearl - very pretty buttons - all the same size. “

This is a glimpse of the rail car that served as the original piece of a house on Route MM. The car was exposed during demolition of the house. Photo contributed by ARCHIE HAYDEN

This bungalow, located at 517 Rock Street, was built in 1919, under the direction of William J. Roth, local real estate developer. His intention was to help solve the housing crisis in Hannibal. In additional, six more bungalows were planned on Rock and North streets and Paris avenue. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

Pre-1916, William J. Roth, a local real estate developer, had the Fidelity building constructed at 617 Broadway in downtown Hannibal, Mo.

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