Kate Ridge: A woman ahead of her times
This building at the right housed Katherine Ridge’s grocery store, 1009 Mark Twain Avenue, Hannibal, for some 38 years. During prohibition in the 1920s, her husband Gus was arrested for making moonshine on the second floor, and the copper piping and tub remained in the structure into the 1950s. Note the stone foundation, which dates the building prior to the turn of the 20th century. The building was torn down in the late 1950s to make way for the construction of an urban Highway 36 through Hannibal. Photo from Steve Chou’s collection.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Kate Ridge, who operated a grocery store at 1009 Mark Twain Avenue in Hannibal for some 38 years, was a woman ahead of her times, according her granddaughter, Sue Hinks McElroy, who is now 80 years old.
Sue grew up in Hannibal, and retains fond memories of her grandmother, and the grocery store that she kept on the south side of one of Hannibal’s oldest corridors.
Born in 1876, Katherine (Kate) Teresa O’Connell was left an orphan after the deaths of her mother and father - Johanna (O'Leary) O'Connell and Daniel O’Connell - in 1880 and 1881, respectively.
Kate O’Connell was raised by Patrick (an Irish stonemason) and Ellen Enright Cronin in Hannibal, and adopted the name of Cronin as her surname. “She became a school teacher there in Hannibal, and traveled the U.S. in the summertime,” Sue McElroy said.
In 1899, Katherine Cronin was among the teachers at South School, where A.D. Stowell was the principal, and she was living with the Cronins at 1501 Bird St., Hannibal. She was still a teacher in Hannibal in 1905.
After marrying Gus Ridge in Oklahoma in 1909, the newlyweds came back to Hannibal, and then moved to Oregon, following Gus Ridge’s military assignment. Alone back in Hannibal during World War I, with three young children in her care, she opened a grocery store in the shadows of the southern bluffs at 1009 Mark Twain Avenue, which she continued to operate until the property on the south side of the road was taken for the widening of the avenue circa 1956.
Making a name
Gus was profiled in a recent story in this column, describing his military achievements, his wrestling finesse and a stint in the county jail for making moonshine whiskey at his wife’s store during prohibition. While Gus was busy “making a name for himself,” Kate tended to business, Sue McElroy said, successfully managing the grocery store and supplying a dependable income for the support of herself and their children.
Their only son, James C. Ridge, was killed during World War II.
“Then Gus, who was army career, came home after WWII and divorced her,” Sue said.
“The first house on right side of the photo (which accompanies this story) was Grandma's (Katherine) store,” Sue said, “before the fire that destroyed the upstairs and a portion of the lower left back side of the house, leaving it open with no roof and no wall to the out side. That's where a portion of the still remained when I was growing up, copper tubing was still there and another part of something like a tub.”
Sue said her grandmother lived in one room of the downstairs, keeping the other two front rooms as her grocery store.”
As most small grocers were, Kate was an integral part of the neighborhood. She kept books in a ledger in which she listed her customers, their charges and subsequent payments. Sometimes as a child, Sue would be called upon to deliver sacks of groceries to the neighbors, so she was familiar with her grandmother’s customers.
After their mother’s death in 1958, Kate’s daughters, Arzula Hinks and Mary Hull, found the ledger. There were a number of outstanding accounts. But inside the ledger Kate had written a declaration: "Upon my death all these debts are to be forgiven.”
Sue said that her grandmother, Kate Ridge, “had a generous heart, and was a very intelligent, and kind woman.
“I rue the fact I do not have that journal. I had married and moved to Amarillo, Texas at the time she died. I would love to have read it; have a feeling I knew some of the people named in the ledger.”
The building at 1009 Mark Twain Avenue housed a grocery store prior to Kate’s acquisition. Andrew J. Payton and his wife, Emma E., are listed in city directories as operating a grocery there in 1907 and 1912. In 1907 the address was 651 Palmyra Avenue. In 1912 the address had changed to 1009 Palmyra Avenue. Mrs. David Kleindienst operated a bottling works business on the avenue in 1906, with the address 457 Palmyra Avenue. By 1913 the bottling works’ address was 917 Palmyra Avenue.
A $200,000 bond issue had been approved by Hannibal voters in 1954, allowing for the construction on an urban highway 36 to be built from the bridge approach westward through Hannibal. Two overpasses were constructed, one connecting Fifth and Reservoir streets, and the other at Country Club Drive. According to “The Story of Hannibal” by J. Hurley and Roberta Hagood, “At one auction in April, 1956, 16 (buildings and houses) were sold and later another group of 43 houses were sold to be moved or razed.”
About the same time that the highway department began buying up property on the south side of Mark Twain Avenue for the widening project, Kate learned that she had cancer. She sold the property, and went to live with her daughter, Arzula Ridge Hinks, Sue’s McElroy’s mother. Later, Kate Ridge was cared for at the Clark nursing home on Rock Street, operated by Harvey M. Clark. “They were such wonderful people,” Sue McElroy remembers.
Kate Ridge died Aug. 20, 1958, at the age of 82, and is buried at Holy Family Cemetery in Hannibal. Beside her grave is the grave of her birth mother, Johanna O’Leary O’Connell, 1840-1880.
Note: Mark Twain Avenue was previously known as Palmyra Avenue. The named changed in the late 19-teens.
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
Katherine Ridge and her birth mother, Johanna O’Leary O’Connell, are buried side by side in Hannibal’s Holy Family Cemetery. Photo contributed to Find-A-Grave by Mary Clarkson Turek.
This 1913 Sanborn fire map of Mark Twain Avenue shows the locations of some landmarks, including Katherine Ridge’s grocery store at 1009. She established her store during World War I, and continued operation until circa 1956. Illustration: Mary Lou Montgomery