Hannibal, Mo.: 1884 night fire reshaped 200 block of Broadway
This photo, from Bobby Heiser’s collection, shows the Lackner building at the corner of Main and Broadway in Hannibal, Mo., which burned to the ground in 1884.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
J.F. Wollner, age 54, awoke at 2 a.m. March 4, 1884, to the frantic screams coming from the street below. His bedroom was filled with smoke.
The frame, two-story building - where he both lived and worked - was on fire. The German-born Wollner escaped out the second-story window by walking across a narrow ledge, following that ledge to an awning and a post, and climbing down to safety.
The building that housed Wollner’s store was located at 104 South Main St., and was one of three near the southwest corner of Main and Broadway that burned on that fateful night.
Other frame business buildings destroyed that night housed the Lackner’s jewelry store at 201 Broadway; William Romberg’s cigar manufacturer shop at 201 Broadway; Gannaway and Allen’s insurance and real estate office, on the southwest corner of Main and Broadway; John Young’s eating house; and Clark’s photograph gallery.
The buildings were owned by Joseph J. Johnson and Mrs. Rendlen.
Wollner, born in Germany in 1830, was a music teacher and piano tuner, and also operated a stationery shop in downtown Hannibal throughout his adult life. He was living in Hannibal in 1859 when the first city directory was published, and remained a resident after the Civil War, until his death in 1888.
He was among the merchants to reopen and relocate after the fire. He and his daughter, Nannie, would soon open shop at 211 Broadway. He managed the music end of the business, and she operated a stationery shop in the same building.
All that the Lackner family saved from the fire was a tray of jewelry, valued at $1,000, which had been stored overnight in a safe.
When the store reopened later that year at 215 Broadway, W.C. Lackner was listed as owner, and his son, Robert Lackner, was manager.
W.C. Lackner died in 1891, and the family jewelry business continued under the management of his daughter and son-in-law, Louis W. and Lena Lackner Heiser.
This lineage continues today, with Bobby Heiser operating Crescent Jewelry, 207 Broadway.
William Romberg, a cigar manufacturer, was the oldest of three Romberg brothers who made their homes in Hannibal. William, born in Germany, was working as a cigar maker in Hannibal as early as 1873. By 1880, two of his brothers had joined him in town, and were also boarding with him: Henry Romberg, 20; and August Romberg, 18.
After the fire, William Romberg partnered with William P. Neth, and in 1888, they were operating a cigar shop at 301 Broadway, on the southwest corner of Broadway and South Third. William Romberg died in 1891 at the age of 42, and he was buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery. His brothers continued as cigar makers in Hannibal for a time, before pursuing other occupations.
William’s widow, Ida C. Lackner Romberg, was the daughter of W.C. Lackner, whose jewelry store was destroyed in the 1884 fire. After her husband’s death in 1891, Ida Lackner Romberg assumed the vice presidency in the cigar business, with C.A. Kettering and M.E. Kettering. The cigar business was still located at 301 Broadway in 1900.
Steve Chou has two photos in his historic photo collection that were taken by Davis L. Clark. According to the inscriptions on the photos, one was taken before the fire, and the other was taken after he relocated to 215 Broadway.
In 1877, Davis L. Clark was a photographer in Indianapolis, Ind. He had married Eugenie A. Dewoody on Aug. 10, 1868, at Marion County, Indiana.
He moved to Hannibal in the early 1880s, opening a photography studio on the top floor of one of the buildings that burned in 1884. After the fire, he relocated his studio to 215 Broadway, upstairs over the (also relocated) Lackner Jewelry Store, adjoining the alley. He was included in the 1885 Hannibal city directory, but by 1888, he was no longer listed.
The Stonehammer jewelry store was located at 205 Broadway – the first building to the west of the frame buildings that burned – and the newspapers of the day noted that Olaf Stonehammer’s stock received smoke and water damage, but the brick building itself did not burn.
Olaf Stonehammer didn’t live to see the fire; he died just a month before (in February 1884) and is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery. By 1885, the Stonehamer jewelry store had been replaced by the Trownsell and Russell Jewelry Store.
Mr. Stonehammer is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
William R. Gannaway moved his insurance office to 117 Broadway, and remained in business until his death in 1898. He died at the age of 60, and was survived by his wife and one daughter. He was buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
The frame structures on the southwest corner of Main and Broadway were replaced by a three-story brick building. The Journal Printing office moved from 126 South Main (where it was located at the time of the fire) to the new building. The printing office was on the building’s second floor, and the press and composing room were on the third floor.
This circa 1866 Hannibal photo shows a westward view of the Broadway and Main Street intersections. At left are the frame buildings which would burn to the ground in 1884, displacing merchants and leaving those living on the upper floors fleeing for their lives. STEVE CHOU COLLECTION
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