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Building, now demolished, tells the story of the Bertier family

Alexander Bertier's family lived on North Main Street, Hannibal, from 1865 until the houses were torn down circa 1930 to make way for the approach to the original Mark Twain Memorial Bridge. STEVE CHOU COLLECTION

This undated photo from Steve Chou’s collection shows a young man taking a photograph of the Tom & Huck Statue. The building at 200 North Street, which was torn down by the city of Hannibal this week, is at right. At left is the Cruikshank Lumber Company.


Little could Alexander Bertier have imagined, circa 1865, that the hillside property at 505 North Main Street that he purchased from George and Matilda L. Parker for $1,000 would one day be among the most recognizable sites Hannibal.

Bertier, born in France, relocated to Hannibal prior to the Civil War. He married Jane Gilmore in 1855 at St. Louis, and by 1859 was working as a carriage trimmer in Hannibal.

Throughout his long life in Hannibal, he worked as an upholsterer, primarily for the railroads. He first worked for the Hannibal & St. Joseph railroad, and he was working for the CB&Q Railroad at the time of his death in 1918. He was 85.

He purchased lot 2, block 34, in 1865, on which stood one of Hannibal’s earliest dwellings, shown on the 1854 city of Hannibal map. There was also a machine repair shop on the northwest corner of Main and North streets, facing North street.

Alexander’s son, William R. Bertier, (born in 1862) followed in his father’s footsteps, working for the railroads for a time, but ultimately opening his own upholstery shop in a building at 200 North Street - built circa 1910 - just south of the family’s home. (Lot 1, block 34)

For a few years, the building had two addresses: 200 North Street was at the front of the building, and the address on the side door was 501 N. Main.

For the next 30 years – until William’s death in 1940 – the Bertier name was well known and respected in Hannibal’s business community, and his shop was the place to go for quality upholstery.

The 108-year-old former Bertier Upholstery building has made the news of late; it will soon be torn down by the city. The location is next door and just to the west of the Tom and Huck Statue.

Early Hannibal

Of course, there was no Tom and Huck statue when Alexander Bertier moved his family into a house overlooking the river on Main Street between Rock and North; in fact there was no Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn at all in 1865. Sam Clemens’ fictitious characters wouldn’t come to life in the imaginations of people worldwide until 1876, with the publication “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”

While Clemens was building an international name for himself as a writer and a humorist, the elder Mr. Bertier was building up his own reputation as well. In 1863, Bertier was granted a U.S. patent for a station and street indicator for railroad cars. And in 1882, he earned a second patent, for a wagon brake.

He and his wife Jane had four children, Adelaide Bertier, born in 1856; William M. Bertier, born in 1862; Jennie Bertier, born in 1868; and May Bertier, born in 1881.

Bad dream

Jane Gilmore Bertier died in the fall of 1887.

Alexander Bertier was understandably distraught: In addition to losing his wife at a young age, Jane’s death left their 6-year-old daughter motherless.

The Palmyra Spectator, on Nov. 4, 1887, described what happened next.

“A man by the name of Bertier, of Hannibal, dreamed that his wife, who had recently died, had been buried alive and that the remains had been stolen by doctors. So strongly did this dream prey upon his mind that he had the body exhumed, when it was found to be in the same position as when placed in the casket, and the husband is now satisfied.”

Second house on the hill

Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, William and Leona moved into a second house built on the west side of North Main Street between North and Rock Streets: 507 North Main. William’s family continued to live in this house, while his father and siblings lived at 505 North Main.

Jennie Bertier

Jennie Bertier (William Bertier’s younger sister) married Walter Logan Thomas in 1893. They had a daughter, Beattrice the following year. In April 1900, the family received word that Walter had been killed in Webb City, Mo. He was brought to Hannibal for burial at Riverside Cemetery. In March 1907, his mother, Fidelia B. Thomas, was buried beside him in Section G-60.

Jennie and her daughter moved to Kansas City, Kan., where her husband had been raised. The 1920 census reveals that her younger sister, May S. Bertier, was living with her on Washington Blvd. In addition, Beattrice was divorced with a son, Vincent Cook, who was 4 years old.


William Bertier’s wife, Leona Dudding Bertier, died on Oct. 17, 1913, at the age of 43. Her death left their young sons, Edgar C. Bertier (born 1898) and Albert W. Bertier (born in 1908) motherless.

William’s sisters who lived next door, Adelaide (Addie), Jennie and May Bertier, no doubt helped raise Edgar and Albert.

When Addie’s father died in 1918, she was the administrator of his estate. He left the household goods to her, and the remaining property was divided between the four surviving children.

William’s oldest son, Edgar C. Bertier, served in the military during World War I, arriving home from France in March 1919. He earned the rank of sergeant.

By 1930, Addie and May Bertier had moved to Kansas City, and took William’s youngest son with them. Albert would eventually move to Kansas City, Kansas, where he lived for 50 years, until his death in 1974.

May married Reuben M. Lear on July 31, 1931. They lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma for a time. In 1955, she was a widow, living in Albuquerque, N.M.

Famous statue

Mr. and Mrs. George A. Mahan and their son, Dulany Mahan, commissioned the Tom & Huck Statue, and had it erected at the base of Cardiff Hill, just to the east of the Bertier Upholstery Shop. Created by Frederick Hibbard, it was dedicated on May 27, 1926. It remains one of Hannibal’s most visible and photographed attractions.

Bridge right of way

The Bertier houses on North Main Street were removed circa 1934 in preparation for the construction of the Mark Twain Memorial Bridge. President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended the bridge dedication ceremony in September 1936.

William Bertier dies

William Bertier died on Nov. 22, 1940, at the age of 78. Burial followed at Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

Item of interest

Larry Harris of Kansas City, born in 1941, tells the story from his childhood when his grandfather, Hilbert Harris, operated a tavern in the building at 200 North Street.

Larry spent most of his childhood with his grandparents in Hannibal, and sometimes his mother would come back to Hannibal for extended visits.

“She would work (at the tavern at 200 North Street) and she would read me stories from the Golden Books while we were there. Directly across the street was the lumber yard. There was a storm and they told me to get down. A 2x4 flew across the street and stuck in the wall.”

This photo shows the building at 200 North Street, which was torn down by the city this week. At right is the famous Tom & Huck Statue. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

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