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Hannibal physician lost life to late-night traffic mishap

Dr. Thomas H. Welsch is pictured next to his Ford coupe. He was a passenger in this vehicle when it was involved in a one-car crash in the early morning hours of March 1, 1926. He sustained a broken neck and died an hour after the accident. PHOTO COURTESY OF MELANIE WASSON


Dr. Thomas Henry Welsch, a practicing Hannibal physician for 13 years, died as the result of injuries sustained in a one-car accident about 3 a.m. on the first day of March, 1926. He was a passenger in his own Ford Coupe, which was driven by his son, John Phillip Welsch.

Dr. Welsch, who had previously practiced medicine in Center, Ralls County, Mo., suffered a broken neck in the accident. He died an hour later in Wentzville. He was 42 years old.

The accident occurred near Flint Hill in St. Charles County, north of Wentzville. The car rounded a sharp curve and missed a bridge, coming to rest in a creek bed several feet below.

While the younger man walked away without major injuries, he was none-the-less impacted for life by the tragedy. His relatives tell that he never drove again. John Phillip Welsch, son of the doctor, died at the age of 49, after suffering for eight years with bone cancer.

The ill-fated trip began at 9 p.m. Feb. 28, 1926, when the two men ventured down U.S. 61, headed for a business meeting in St. Louis. The accident occurred six hours later.

The highway

The highway had become a part of the federal highway system in 1926, linking New Orleans and Minnesota in one federal route. At the same time, states were taking over management of the roads from the counties, and money was pouring in from Washington, D.C., in order to provide an ease of access for commercial and private travel.

U.S. 61 between Wentzville and Hannibal, had previously been labeled State Route 9. And while much work was underway in 1926, at the time of the Welsch trip to St. Louis, there was still much work to be done.

Eight months after the accident, the St. Louis Post Dispatch (Nov. 21, 1926) reported on the conditions of U.S. No. 61 north:

Detours, gravel

U.S. 61 met Highway 40 at Wentzville. From there, the highway went north to Moscow Mills, Troy and Eolia, a distance of 28.4 miles. The entire distance was graveled, and termed to be in good condition.

Next, U.S. 61 went from Eolia to Louisiana, a distance of 16.1 miles, which was also graveled.

From Louisiana the route went to Frankford, another 16.3 miles.

From Frankford to New London was 9 miles, gravel, but concrete was under construction.

From New London, the highway went through Oakwood into Hannibal, a distance of 9.7 miles, which was concreted.

(A considerable portion of this route was detour while highway construction was under way. Note that Louisiana was then connected to the U.S. 61 route.)

Early years

Thomas Welsch was the son of George and Amanda Ann Hahn Welsch. During the early part of the 20th century, Center, Mo., and later Hannibal, Mo., served as home to three of the Welsch brothers, each connected with the medical field: Dr. John A. Welch, a practicing physician; Benjamin P. Welsch, a druggist during his years in Hannibal; and later, Dr. Thomas H. Welsch, who graduated from the Barnes Medical College, St. Louis, in 1904.

Dr. Thomas Welsch was the youngest of these three brothers, and he was born in 1884 at Tolona, Lewis County, Mo. His father, George Welsch, was named postmaster of Tolona May 1, 1889. Later, the family moved to Irishtown, Clinton County, Ill.

Dr. Thomas Welsch married Lois Kathryn Unsell on Oct. 8, 1903, and they had two children, John P. Welsch, the driver of the car in which his father was killed; and a daughter, Thelma Welsch.

Dr. Welsch’s offices were located on Main Street during his tenure in Hannibal, first at 304 North Main, and later at 107 1/2 South Main.

While his medical practice was successful, his relationship status was less than blissful.

He and Lola were divorced. He married a woman named Mabel in April 1919, but by the end of 1919 he had filed for divorce.

B.P. Welsch

Benjamin P. Welsch was year older than Thomas, and they grew up together in Irishtown, Ill. Census and directory listings indicate that he worked as a druggist, or a drug store clerk, both in Center and Hannibal during the same years his brothers were establishing their medical practices.

In June 1923, while the country was in the stringent grip of Prohibition, Ben Welsch was working as a bartender at a soft drink parlor located at 301 Vermont St., Quincy, Ill., operated by Albert (Doc) Vollbracht.

The police raided the establishment. The bar’s owner was nowhere to be found, but police took Welsch into custody. The Quincy Daily Journal reported that police found a pint bottle of liquor hidden under the bar. In addition, “Two other bottles containing a small quantity of liquor were found on the place and seven whisky glasses, found in Vollbracht’s bedroom in the rear of the place were also taken. An empty pint bottle was found under the mattress of Vollbracht’s bed after the officer had broken the door leading to the bedroom.”

Benjamin Welsch’s older brother, Dr. John Albert Welsch, had his office in the rooms above the soft drink parlor.

Dr. John A. Welsch

Dr. John Welsch was born in 1874, and spent much of his youth in Tolona, Lewis County, Mo.

Where he obtained his medical training is unclear, but he boasted that he attended six colleges – three of them universities.

He practiced medicine in both Hannibal and Quincy.

He made claims that he could rid the body of certain ailments without surgery.

He advertised in the Daily Gate City and Constitution Democrat, Keokuk, Iowa, on July 17, 1918:

“Dr. John A. Welsch successfully treats gall stones, piles, cancer, appendicitis and female diseases without surgery. Consultation free. Phone 1492. 649 ½ Hampshire St., Quincy, Ill.”

While living in Hannibal with his wife, Minnie, and their children in 1912, they made their home at 2112 Market St., which was across the street to the north and two houses east of what is Iva’s Printing in 2018. The house is no longer standing. At the time, Brother Benjamin and his wife Blanch resided at 1820 West Gordon.

Dr. John Welsch’s marriage to Minnie ultimately ended in divorce. He married again at least twice, but those marriages were both shortlived.

He moved to San Antonio, Texas, during the early 1920s, and he died there in 1929. His death certificate informant was his brother, Ben P. Welsch, who was then working for a railroad and living in Moline, Ill.

1928 MAP

This photo represents a segment of the Jan. 1, 1928 map of the Missouri State Road System. The route of U.S. 61 from Hannibal is shown. The arrow is pointing to the approximate location of the one-vehicle wreck, which killed Hannibal doctor, Thomas H. Welsch, on March 1, 1926. ILLUSTRATION MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

South Main Street

This photo, estimated date 1937, shows the buildings that were standing on the west side of the 100 block of Main Street when Dr. Thomas H. Welsch had an office there in 1925. His address was 107A South Main. At the near left is Petersons Jewelry Co., 121 S. Main; Robinson Paint and Wallpaper Co., 119 S. Main; Fletcher Coffee Co., 117 S. Main; Heiser Jewelry Co., 115 S. Main; Musgrove Drug Store, 113 S. Main; and Paramount Café, 107 S. Main. Dr. Welsch’s office was located upstairs over the building which housed the café, 107A South Main. STEVE CHOU COLLECTION


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