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Bowles Clothiers: A Hannibal legacy

This photo shows the east side of the 100 block of North Main Street in 1959. Sonnenbergs Department Store is at left, and Bowles Clothiers is adjoining. Photo by Kathy Threlkeld, from the Steve Chou collection. Republished in Chou’s book, “Images of America, Hannibal, Missouri, Bluff City Memories.” In 1959, the store was owned by the Clarence Lampton family.


John J. Bowles and his brother-in-law, James P. Traynor, partnered circa 1892 in a business venture on Hannibal’s North Main Street.

Bowles, then 27, was married to Traynor’s sister, Maggie (also known as Mary).

The clothing store, originally named “Famous Clothing,” was at first located at 114 N. Main, on the east side of the street. (Sharing the same building was Thomas H. Bacon, prominent attorney and judge of the era.)

Three years later, Bowles and Traynor moved their business across the street, to 119-121 N. Main. They also opened a second store, located in the Masonic Building at Barry, Ill.

This early business venture marks the beginning of what would become the long-standing Bowles Clothiers, which would satisfy the clothing needs of Hannibal’s best dressed business men for many years to come.

John J. Bowles

The son of an Irish-born stonecutter who came to the United States in 1855, John J. Bowles was born at the Civil War’s end in Hannibal, May 1865. His parents were John and Margaret (Corbett) Bowles.

Margaret, also Irish born, later married fellow Irishman Peter Kerns. John J. Bowles and his sister, Mary, were born of the first marriage, and James Kearns and Margaret Kearns were born to Margaret’s second marriage.

In 1885, when John J. Bowles was about 20 years old, he and his sister, Mary, were living with their mother and step-father at 437 Palmyra Road. John J. and Mary each worked for Worthington and Co., dry goods store, owned by J.W. Worthington and C. Voorhis, at 214-218 N. Main. John started as a cash boy, and by 1889 he was employed as head clerk.

During the next two years, John J. Bowles worked for Cobb and Co., (Mellville W. Cobb and Cornelius Voorhis) clothiers at 200-202 N. Main.

In 1892, at about the age of 26, Bowles ventured into the retail trade with his brother-in-law, establishing the aforementioned Bowles and Traynor store, first known as The Famous Clothing Store.

James P. Traynor

James Patrick Traynor was born Dec. 14, 1868, at Quincy, Ill., to James and Jane Hart Traynor. James P. Traynor married Emma Welsh in October 1892, one of the five daughters of Daniel and Elisabeth Welch. Mr. Welsh was born circa 1832, and was a marble cutter by trade. He worked at this trade in Quincy, Ill., Hannibal, and Palmyra, Mo. He also served for a time as Marion County Recorder. His wife, Elisabeth, died in 1882. Mr. Welsh married a second time, in March 1895, to Francis Craigg.

In June 1902, Francis Craigg Welsh met a grueling death after stepping in front of a street car on Broadway in Hannibal. After extraction from beneath the car, she was taken to the office of Dr. W.H. Hays, 511 Broadway, where she died.

Mr. Welsh died four years later, in 1906.

Partnership ends

The business partnership between John J. Bowles and James P. Traynor apparently ended circa 1903. Early in January 1904, Traynor filed for bankruptcy, and by mid decade his wife, Emma, was living in St. Louis, working as a store clerk.

Thereafter the Hannibal clothing store was listed in city directories as John J. Bowles Clothing.

The business, now well established, became an important part of Hannibal’s business culture.

As he had matured in the business by working for other merchants, J.J. Bowles offered employment and advancement opportunities to others. In 1918, his employees included Clement V. Hall, 1207 Paris Ave.; John W. Mahoney, 716 S. Main; James T. Mangels, Central Avenue, Woodlawn addition; and James P. Traynor, (aforementioned brother in law of Bowles, who was also living with the Bowles family).

Extended trip

At the beginning of 1919, J.J. Bowles, by then 54, and his wife set off on an extended trip to the East Coast, New York in particular. He wrote home in mid March, telling that he would return home soon. But that would never be. The last leg of their trip was spent in Chicago, where J.J. Bowles fell ill, possibly with the Spanish Influenza. He developed pneumonia, and subsequently died.

His return home was in a casket, via the 10 a.m. Wabash train. Survivors in included his wife, Mary P. Bowles, two sisters and a brother.

At the dawn of a new decade, Mary P. Bowles tapped her brother, James P. Traynor, to temporarily manage the Bowles Clothing store on her behalf.

J.F. Coyne

In 1905, J.F. Coyne and his wife, Nellie, were living in Hannibal, and residing at the Union Depot Hotel, which Mr. Coyne managed. The family left Hannibal, moving to Burlington, Iowa, where Mr. Coyne managed another hotel.

Nellie Coyne died in 1919, leaving Mr. Coyne with two young children, William J. Coyne and Margaret Coyne.

By 1923, Mr. Coyne had returned to Hannibal and had married John J. Bowles’s widow. He took over management of the Bowles clothing store, and he and his children took up residency in the Bowles’ home, 300 N. Seventh.

By 1937, John W. Mahoney, long-time Bowles employee, had either taken ownership or management of Bowles’ Clothiers. While ownership may have changed, the name remained the same.

In 1940, 24-year-old Clarence James Lampton III was working as a salesman for Bowles Clothing. He would work at (and later own) the business for more than 46 years. (Clarence Lampton died in 2015 at the age of 99.) He would eventually sell the business to Richard and Juanita Rampy.

At rest

Beginning with the winter of 1937, James and Mary Bowles Coyne wintered in St. Petersburg, Fla., where James died at the end of March 1940. He was 64. He was buried at Kewanee, Ill., alongside his first wife.

Mary Bowles Coyne died June 16, 1945, and was buried at Holy Family Cemetery in Hannibal, Mo., with her first husband.

Mrs. Coyne’s brother, James P. Traynor, died Feb. 15, 1945, at the age of 76. He is also buried at Holy Family Cemetery.

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. Books available on by this author: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Her collective works can be found at

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