Rev. E. Porter Little, as pictured in the “Mirror of Hannibal,” by Thomas H. Bacon, and reprinted by J. Hurley and Roberta Hagood in 1990.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
It was bitterly cold in Hannibal, Mo., on Sunday morning, Feb. 3, 1895, the high temperature for the day only reaching to 7 degrees above zero, as recorded by John J. Suter and reported in the Palmyra Spectator. The sky was cloudy and there was a snow cover on the ground.
Just as Hannibal’s Trinity Episcopal Church choir began singing its first hymn for the morning service, a fire broke out in the front of the church. Smoke filled the building, and those inside escaped through the exits.
The fire source was soon discovered: A pipe connected to the furnace overheated, and ignited the carpet.
Congregants went to work shoveling snow onto the fire, extinguishing it before much harm could be done. The Quincy Daily Herald Whig, in its Feb. 5, 1895 edition, reported, “no special damage.”
For the 14 months prior to the fire, and for 14 years after the fire, the Rev. Edward Porter Little, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., led the congregation.
Rev. Little left New England, where he was educated at “Pingrey School,” in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend Knox Academy in Galesburg, Ill. There he earned his bachelor’s degree, before enrolling in General Theological Seminary in New York City. He was ordained Deacon on July 12, 1878, and earned his Bachelor of Sacred Theology degree in May 1880.
His first pastorate was back in the Midwest, at St. Stephens’s Church, Pittsfield, Ill., 1879-80. That’s where he met the woman who would later become his wife, Henrietta Grimshaw, the daughter of one of Pittsfield’s earliest residents and long-established drug merchant, Thomas Conway Grimshaw.
Once established at his second pastorate, at St. Paul’s Church, Concord, N.H., the town’s newspaper, the Independent Statesman, made mention of an important upcoming milestone in the pastor’s life in its May 11, 1882 edition:
“Rev. E.P. Little, rector of St. Paul’s Church, is absent on a vacation, and rumor has it that on his return he will bring with him Mrs. Little.”
The rumor was true; Edward P. Little married Henrietta Nevin Grimshaw on May 9, 1882, in Pike County, Ill. Their first child, Alice, was born there the following year, and daughter Isabella joined the family in 1885.
Their next move was in 1887, to Nantucket, Mass., where Rev. Little assumed the pastorate of St. Paul’s Church, a position he would hold until 1893. Son Harold was born on Nantucket island in 1887, and the family would maintain permanent affiliation with the island.
In 1893, Rev. Little accepted a call to Hannibal, Mo. The family moved, and the following year, they were blessed with the arrival of their fourth child, Margaret Dacre Little, who was born in Mrs. Little’s hometown of Pittsfield, Ill.
Eye witnessing change
During the decade and a half in which the Little family lived in Hannibal, they were witness to much change.
During his years in Hannibal, Rev. Little was a part of the inner workings of the town, which is located on the banks of the Mississippi River, the era sandwiched between the childhood experiences of Sam Clemens and the world-wide popularity of the great author’s writings, which brought significant fame to Hannibal.
In September 1894, the solicitous lawsuit of Dorcas Hampton (aka Madam Shaw) vs. the estate of Dr. John A. Hampton was under way at Hannibal’s courthouse, located on North Fourth Street, just a half block to the north from Rev. Little’s church, Trinity Episcopal.
Likewise, Rev. Little, his wife and four children were in Hannibal in September 1895, when the preliminaries in the Stillwell murder trial took place in the same courthouse.
During his tenure in Hannibal, the new high school was constructed at Broadway and Eleventh streets, which his only son, Harold Little, attended. The high school student was among the boys suspended in 1907 by Miss Gertrude Ashmore, for playing pranks that led to the early dismissal of school. (See related stories published in the Hannibal Courier-Post on March 28 and April 4, 2020.)
The building that houses the Hannibal Free Public Library, at Fifth and Church streets, was constructed during this era. Mrs. Helen K. Garth of Hannibal and Mrs. Garth’s daughter, Mrs. R.M. Goodlet, gifted the building to the city of Hannibal, in honor of her husband, John H. Garth.
In addition, Mrs. Garth, a member of Trinity Episcopal Church, funded the construction of a tower on the church, complete with chime of bells, in 1900, in memory of Mr. Garth.
In 1907 she donated funds for a church parsonage on North Sixth Street, in which the Little family lived during the last years of their residency in Hannibal.
In 1886, the Inter Ocean newspaper, Chicago, Ill., touted the amenities of the Park Hotel, located just a half block south of Trinity Episcopal Church: “The Park Hotel is a strictly first-class hotel, and has passenger elevator, electric bell, electric light, and in fact all the modern conveniences.”
The hotel burned in 1899, while Rev. Little was still serving as Trinity’s rector.
Henrietta Grimshaw Little died on April 27, 1900, at the age of 40. In addition to her husband, she left behind her four children, ages 16, 14, 12 and 6. Following her funeral service at the church on May 1, 1900, her remains were taken to Saint Stephens Episcopal Cemetery in Pittsfield, Ill. for burial.
Rev. Little hired a live-in domestic following his wife’s death - Eliza Miller - and life continued. He didn’t remarry.
Just before 4 p.m. services began on Sunday, Feb. 16, 1902, a fire broke out in the church attic. Firemen responded quickly, but a frozen water plug delayed their ability to quickly extinguish the fire. The Quincy Daily Journal reported that the church was badly damaged, though the fire was contained to the attic and upper part of the edifice.
During his decade and a half in Hannibal, Rev. Little forged numerous friendships. When he announced his resignation in January 1908, many mourned his departure. The Monroe City Democrat on June 11, 1908, reported that Rev. Little and his daughter Margaret had left Hannibal and were en route to Nantucket, where Margaret would spend the summer with Rev. Little’s sisters, Grace and Caroline Little. His three other children, Alice, Isabella and Harold, would remain in Hannibal, at least for the time being. They were socially active in Hannibal, each holding a membership to the Hannibal Country Club.
Two months after Rev. Little left for the East Coast, his second daughter, Isabella, married George H. Share of St. Louis.
The ceremony and reception took place Aug. 18, 1908, at the country home (Woodside) of Mrs. Helen K. Garth. In the absence of her father, the bride was given in marriage by her brother, Harold. Ribbon bearers were Gladys Cruikshank (daughter of lumber baron J.J. Cruikshank Jr.) and Miss Ethel Bacon, (daughter of noted Hannibal attorney, Judge Thomas H. Bacon).
Rev. Edward Porter Little died in 1940, and is buried with his parents and siblings at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.
Alice Little died Jan. 9, 1956, in St. Louis, Mo., and is buried at Valhalla Cemetery, Bel-Nor, St. Louis County.
Isabella Grimshaw Little Share died in 1973, and is buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery, Nantucket.
Harold Little died in 1949, and is buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery, Nantucket.
Margaret D. Little died in 1964, and is buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery, Nantucket.
Trinity Parish, one of Hannibal’s earliest churches, was organized on June 20, 1845. The present church building’s core was constructed pre-Civil War, circa 1859-60. The Rev. E.P. Little was church rector beginning Dec. 1, 1893, and continuing until his resignation in January 1908. The church is located at 213 N. Fourth, Hannibal, Mo. Information: Mirror of Hannibal by Thomas H. Bacon. Artwork by my cousin, Catherine Ann Conner Holstine (1939-2019)
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