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A grand Hannibal ceremony launched short-lived marriage


Wearing a floor-length gown of Ottoman silk, custom made at a dressmaker’s shop in St. Louis, Miss Mary Pettibone of Hannibal, Mo., at about the age of 23, exchanged wedding vows with Col. James Tilly Barber, 37, at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6, 1884, at the Fifth Street Baptist Church in Hannibal.

Details of the nuptials are few, but newspapers of the day determined the wedding and subsequent reception to be the society event of the season. The wedding represented the uniting of two lumber families in a community where lumber was significant economic contributor.

Mary Pettibone, an 1882 graduate of the prestigious Smith College in Northampton, Mass., was the daughter of Albert W. and Cordelia Pettibone. Mr. Pettibone was a pioneer lumberman and president of the Hannibal Sawmill Company.

James Tilly Barber was a nephew of Charles Hayward of Hannibal, and was vice president of the Northwestern Lumber Company, with Hannibal offices at 911 Collier.

The Pettibones, who had moved to Hannibal circa 1865, and who subsequently constructed a grand house on North Fifth Street, (often referred to as Millionaire’s Row) hosted the reception in their home.

Following the reception, Mary and John T. Barber left on a month-long tour of the East Coast, where both had extended family.

218 S. Maple

Back home in March 1884, they settled into a two-story, frame, Italianate/Eastlake style house with a wrap-around porch, which had been constructed about three years prior. The house was located on the northwest corner of South Maple and Lyon streets, then numbered 218 S. Maple. (Later renumbered 221.) Built with native timber harvested up north and transported via raft on the Mississippi River to Hannibal for subsequent distribution, the materials were reflective of the construction industry, which brought great wealth to some, and solid employment opportunities to many others.

Not long after their daughter’s marriage, Alfred W. and Cordilia Pettibone moved back to La Crosse, Wis. Mary’s brother, Wilson B., took over management of the Hannibal business concerns, while her father managed the family’s lumber interests up north.

Business finesse

John T. Barber, who began his bookkeeping career working for his maternal uncle’s wholesale grocery business (Hayward and Loomis) in Hannibal circa 1870, became interested in the lumber business early on. In 1873, he was working for the lumber firm of Davis, Bockee and Garth. By 1877, he was working as a bookkeeper for Northwestern Lumber Company, owned by G.E. Porter, D.R. Moon and S.T. McKnight. By the time of his marriage to Miss Pettibone, he had been welcomed into the firm, and was serving as vice president.

During the decade of the 1870s, Barber made his home at various boarding houses, including one operated by Mrs. Hannah W. Mills, 405 Bird, and another, the Green House, operated by Mrs. George R. Green, 515 and 517 Broadway. In 1881, Mr. Barber was serving a term as Third Ward alderman, and was boarding at the Park Hotel.

When, as a couple, the Barbers moved into the spacious house at 218 S. Maple in 1884, Mrs. Sallie Cook, a Hannibal widow (of color) was in charge of the housekeeping duties.

Military, political


J.T. Barber was credited with the establishment of the “Garth Rifles” in Hannibal, an affiliate with the 6th Regiment of the National Guards of Missouri. In the fall of 1883, he was chosen as colonel of the state-wide organization. In addition, he was very active in the Republican party, and participated in state and national nominating conventions.

Wedding attendants

The bride’s attendants included Anna Pettibone, younger sister of the bride, and Josie (Josephine) Milligan, Jacksonville, Ill., who graduated with the new Mrs. Barber from Smith College in 1882.

The bridegroom’s attendants included F.B. Dubach, Hannibal lumber merchant.


Mary Pettibone Barber underwent medical treatment in St. Louis for an unspecified illness. She died July 30, 1886, at about the age of 25. Her remains were taken to La Crosse, Wis., for burial. Not long after her death, her husband moved to Eau Claire, Wis., where he continued work with the Northwestern Lumber Company. He died there in 1926.


The land for Hannibal’s Riverview Park was donated to the city of Hannibal by Mary Pettibone Barber’s brother, Wilson B. Pettibone.

Sources include, but are not limited to: “History of Marion County, Missouri;” La Crosse (Wis.) County Historical Society; Historic Inventory, Office of Historic Preservation, Jefferson City, Mo.; resources available digitally via the Hannibal Free Public Library;; and Catalog of Officers, Graduates and Non Graduates of Smith College, by the Smith College Alumnae Association.

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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