Simpson and Bessie Townsend Newman operated the epitome of the ‘mom and pop grocery store’
A crowd of curious gathers around a gaping hole in the street at Adams and Sycamore, South Hannibal, Mo., where the roof of an old tunnel collapsed. Spooner Creek flowed through this tunnel, and excess pressure from flash flooding had caused the roof, and the pavement above, to cave in. Newman’s Grocery is visible in the background at right. Otis Howell photo July 1949. Steve Chou collection. Also published in “Images of America Hannibal, The Otis Howell Collection,” Arcadia
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
For some 49 years, Bessie Townsend Newman and her husband, Simpson, operated Newman’s Grocery Store on Sycamore Street on Hannibal’s South Side. Catering to a strictly blue-collar clientele including railroaders, cement plant and shoe factory workers, their business was first located at 700 Sycamore (on the southeast corner of Washington and Sycamore) and in the 1940s they moved to 718 Sycamore, the northeast corner of Adams and Sycamore.
There the business would remain, even after Simpson Newman’s death in 1958, until Bessie’s retirement circa 1974, when she was 73 years of age. Even then, she continued to live upstairs over the store until her death in 1976, at the age of 75.
The neighborhood, from the east side of Sycamore to South Main Street, is virtually gone now, victim to repeated Mississippi River floods and subsequent federal buy-out programs. But during most of 20th Century, the neighborhood was ripe with independent businesses that catered to the working-class folks who proudly created their own community on the “other side of the tracks” from Hannibal proper.
William Simpson Newman married Bessie Townsend March 2, 1919, at Centralia, Boone County, Mo. What brought them to Hannibal is unclear, but when still newlyweds, Simpson was working for Armour and Co., one of the nation’s leading meat packing industries.
That association may have put him in contact with Edward T. Lake, who had worked as manager for Leach and Guinan grocers, which operated a store at 700 Sycamore. Lake bought the business circa 1922, and a few years later, Simpson and Bessie Newman bought the business from Lake.
During the 1940s, they moved their store to the other end of the block, the southeast corner of Adams and Sycamore.
During late part of the 19th Century, Sycamore Street was known as Fourth Street, South Hannibal. M. Johnston operated grocery store at 323 Fourth, South Hannibal, in 1901. The 1885 Sanborn fire map shows that a grocery store was on the northeast corner of Adams and Sycamore as early as 1885.
Spooner Creek drains runoff from the hills on Hannibal’s south side to the Mississippi River. Following the path of Adams Street, much of the year the creek is virtually dry, but when heavy rains occur, the creek can literally roar.
That happened in 1877, when the Crosby family was returning to Hannibal from an outing in a horse-drawn buggy. As they attempted to cross a wooden bridge over Spooner Creek at South Main Street, the bridge gave way to the creek’s forces, and all four members of the family perished.
In 1949, Spooner Creek once again made its presence known. Pressure from rushing waters in the creek caused a collapse of the lid of an old underground tunnel that had been constructed at the intersection of Adams and Sycamore. The result was a gaping hole in the middle of the roadway. In a picture taken by Otis Howell of the Courier-Post, Simpson Newman can be seen along with his neighbors, watching city crews repair the damage to the street next to his store.
In order to successfully operate a neighborhood grocery, you have to have neighbors.
In 1925, when the Newmans were first establishing themselves in business, Milton F. Finks lived in the same block (705) as the grocery store. Finks would go on to become Hannibal’s fire chief.
Among the other neighbors:
Henry Foerstner, a pitman, lived at 704 Sycamore.
Thomas and Elizabeth Holmes lived at 701 Sycamore.
Lester E. Fox, a painter, also lived at 716 Sycamore.
Mrs. Ella T. Garland, police matron, and Thomas L. Garland, Hannibal fireman, and his wife Ella lived in the block closer to Lover’s Leap, at 808 Sycamore.
Edward Henderson, a laborer, and his wife Marietta lived at 712 Sycamore.
Alex Hunter, a helper for the CB&Q Railroad, lived at 704a Sycamore with his wife, Mae.
Albert W. Jones, a railroad switchman, and his wife Vina lived at 715 Sycamore
B. Crawford Keithley and Harvey M. Keithley operated a grocery store at 801 Sycamore.
Arch E. LaBrash, an engineer with the CB&Q, lived at 700a Sycamore with his wife, Stella.
Bruce and James Loveless lived at 701 Sycamore.
Mrs. Myrtle Longhauser lived at 711 Sycamore.
Leroy and Roy Medford lived at 719 Sycamore.
Osmar and Laura MIlbbert lived at 701 Sycamore. Osmar was a moulder for the D-T Stove Co.
Edward and Emma Mogk, who both worked for International shoe Co., lived at 710 Sycamore.
Carl Morrison, shoeworker, lived at 708 Sycamore.
The Nichols family lived at 706 Sycamore.
William H. and Sophia Peters lived at 704 Sycamore.
Myrtle Pusey lived at 702A Sycamore
Irwin Reed, a machinist for the CB&Q, lived at 711 Sycamore
Alfred Remington lived at 701 Sycamore
Theodore Sinnard lived at 701 Sycamore
Leo W. Sullivan, International Shoe Co., lived at 704a Sycamore
Morris Van Buskirk, International Shoe Co. lived at 706 Sycamore
Downing J. Woods, a barber, lived with his wife Aleen at 702a Sycamore
Thomas W. and Ruth Wooten lived at 717 Sycamore
Carl W. and Margaret Yohn lived at 704a Sycamore
It appears, through research, that the Newmans’ were childless.
Simpson Newman’s parents, Edward David Newman and his wife, Clara B. Newman, moved to the Hannibal area as well, operating a farm in Ralls County. After her husband’s death, she made her home at 618a Sycamore.
Throughout their lifetimes, Simpson and Bessie remained in contact with their relatives in the Boone County, Mo., area.
Mrs. Newman’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Emmett Ernest and Mattie Lou Eckley Townsend, celebrated their golden anniversary at Centralia in December 1944.
Simpson Newman’s father, Edward David Newman, died April 1, 1957, at the age of 86.
Simpson Newman died a year after his father’s death, on July 2, 1958, at the age of 60. Simpson’s mother, Clara Belle Sturgeon Newman, died March 23, 1966, age 93. Bessie Townsend Newman died Dec. 10, 1976. They are all buried at Grand View Burial Park.
Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com
This view shows the south-facing side of the building that housed the Newman grocery store at 718 Sycamore, Hannibal, Mo., from the 1940s until the mid 1970s. The street that is visible is Adams. Photo posted on Ancestry.com by Larry W. Townsend.
This is the intersection of Adams and Sycamore streets (facing north) as it appeared on June 30, 2016. The Newman grocery store was on the southeast corner of Sycamore and Adams until the mid 1970s. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Bessie and Simpson Newman are pictured in front of their store on Sycamore Street on Hannibal’s South Side. Photo posted on Ancestry.com by Larry W. Townsend.
The 1913 Sanborn fire map shows the neighborhood in Hannibal, Mo., where Simpson and Bessie Newman operated a grocery store for some 30 years.