Hannibal vs Quincy: A ‘flour war’ 165 years ago


This photo, taken from the southeast corner of Main and Bird streets in downtown Hannibal, shows two buildings that were primaries in a flour competition pitting Hannibal vs Quincy in the early 1850s. At left is a building where Thomas Jackson operated the “Eagle Mills Flour Depot,” selling Quincy flour. On the left side of the photo (the old stone building) there was the Arrena steam mill, where A.S. Robards produced and sold Hannibal flour. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

There was a bit of a flour war going on in downtown Hannibal in the years 1852-54. Those who have a basic familiarity with Hannibal history already know that A.S. Robards and his son operated a steam flour mill on the north side of the 200 block of Bird Street. The Robards were so proud of their flour that they sent a sample to the World’s Fair in New York, and received a blue ribbon.

That may not mean much to citizens today – who buy a sack of flour at the grocery store for a couple of bucks; or more likely buy already baked bread products off the shelf. But back in 1852, when all food was “made from scratch,” flour was a food staple necessary for even the most basic of meal preparation.

The “flour war” was centered in the 200 block of Bird Street. On the north side of the street was the Arrena mill, operated by the A.S. Robards. Across the street and a few doors to the east, Thomas Jackson conducted the “Eagle Mills Flour Depot.”

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Both advertised regularly in the Hannibal Journal newspaper.

Jackson’s ads were conversational in tone; and Robards’ ads were to the point.

Jackson: “I always have the renowned Eagle Mills Flour – acknowledged by all to be the best article ever sold in Hannibal – in fact it can’t be beat.”

Robards: “We keep on hand the best article of Superfine Family Flour for sale … We will always sell as low or lower than Quincy Flour can be had of the same quality. Call and examine yourself.”

On the surface, the ads seemed innocuous. But that really wasn’t the case.

Robards, recognizing that citizens might be confused as to which side of the street on which to purchase Hannibal flour, started advertising that: “Our flour is sold nowhere else but at the mill. Every sack and barrel is branded with our name on it.”

Robards’ flour was produced in HANNIBAL.

Jackson’s ads led the reader to believe the flour he sold was produced in Hannibal, but in actuality, it was produced at the Eagle Mills in QUINCY.

After Jackson presented the Hannibal Messenger’s editor with a sack of Eagle Mill’s flour, the editor – in turn – wrote a complimentary piece regarding the flour. The Quincy Daily Whig of March 7, 1853, called out the Hannibal Messenger newspaper for a “puff piece” regarding the Eagle Mills.

The Daily Whig blasted the Messenger: “… if it should happen to fall under the notice of some benighted individual who didn’t know that the ‘Eagle Mills’ were located at Quincy, the said benighted individual might think that Hannibal was ‘some’ in the flour line. It doesn’t say Quincy once! It speaks about the dealer as the ‘Hannibal Flour man.’ Well, he’s a Hannibal man, no doubt, but as to the ‘Hannibal Flour’ – that’s a horse of another color.”

2017 landscape

The 1854 map of Hannibal identifies the Arrena Mills building, located upon lot 1, Block 10, and the building across the street, which was known as the Lone Building, and was located upon lot 4 in Block 11, Hannibal, address 208-210 Bird Street.

The Arrena Mills building is still standing, and owned by Dennis and Dena Ellis. The author of this story wrote about the stone building when Dennis and Dena purchased it in 2013. The story was published in the Hannibal Courier-Post on Aug. 1, 2013. Dennis is a carpenter, and Dena is gift shop and finance manager for the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum.

It is believed that the “Lone Building,” located on the southwest corner of North Main and Bird streets, is the original circa 1850 building which housed Thomas Jackson’s store. It is now owned by Gordon Harrison II and Shelly J. Yeager. The address is 223 N. Main St. Gordon is a painting conservator who makes his home in Hannibal. The author of this story wrote a story about Gordon Harrison and his shop, Lydia's Cabinet of Curiosities, and it was published in the May 13, 2014 edition of the Hannibal Courier-Post.

Robards

A.S. Robards came to Hannibal from Kentucky. He died in 1862, and is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Hannibal. He was on the Hannibal ballot for the position of mayor in 1853.

Jackson

The 1870 census notes that Thomas Jackson was born in 1821, in North Carolina. He and his wife, Mary A. Jackson, age 32, had three children, Leonidas Jackson, 9; Elizabeth Jackson, 8; and Caroline Jackson, a baby. In 1853, Thomas Jackson was a candidate for first ward council member.

Timeline

1851: Thomas Jackson operated the “Eagle Mills Flour Depot” on Hill Street near the Levee, next door to “The Black Horse.” Hannibal Journal, Nov. 27, 1851.

1852: Capt. A.S.Robards’ large steam flour mill commenced operating last Monday. April 15, 1852, Hannibal Journal.

1852: The steam mill of the Messrs. Wheeler and Osborn (Eagle Mills in Quincy) burned to the ground. Sept. 23, 1852, Hannibal Journal.

1853: Eagle Mills (Quincy) once again in operation. Feb. 7, 1853.

1853: Thomas Jackson moved his Family Grocery and Flour Depot to the southwest corner of Main and Bird streets. Sept. 23, 1853 Hannibal Journal.

1859: Thomas Jackson, family grocery, operated his store on the south side of Palmyra Avenue, near Garth’s factory. Residence same. City directory.

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