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3 generations of carpenters left their mark on Hannibal


The two-story, five-bedroom house at 3300 St. Mary’s avenue is believed to have been constructed by J. William (Billy) Mefford, along with his father and brothers. The house construction was circa 1911. Spring 2023 photo taken by Mary Lou Montgomery.


MARY LOU MONTGOMERY


A two-story, five-bedroom house constructed on St. Mary’s Avenue circa 1911 - when this important Hannibal corridor was still a dusty lane - serves as a proud reminder of an early Hannibal contracting family for three generations - the Meffords.


But first: Capt. Robert L. Bowles (1832-1906) was a vast land owner (up to 5,000 acres) to the north of Hannibal in 1895, including the area formerly known as Marion City. His land encompassed much of what is today known as the South River Drainage District.

In 1895, three young men were caught trespassing on his land while hunting:

Ben Gill, 23, whose father was a grocer at 252 Market;

William Arnold, 20, whose father was a conductor on the K Line; and

J. William Mefford, 21, whose father was a Hannibal carpenter.

Capt. Bowles had them arrested and they were brought to Palmyra for a hearing. Squire J.A. Thomas fined them each $1, plus court costs.

These charges soon faded from memory, and each of the young men went on to become successful, law-abiding citizens.


Sheriff, carpenter

The aforementioned J. William (Billy) Mefford is perhaps the best remembered of the hunting trio, during his adulthood serving a stint as Marion County Sheriff, deputy sheriff and deputy game warden (1913). In addition, he learned the carpentry trade by working alongside his father, George T. Mefford (1850-1929) at Hunnewell, in Shelby County, Mo., and later in Hannibal, where the extended family settled circa 1890.

Billy, as he was known, gained prominence in the carpentry trade on his own merit, and was a charter member of the Carpenters and Joiners of America, Local 607.


New construction

As for that landmark house at 3300 St. Mary’s Avenue: today that dwelling remains representative of Billy Mefford’s carpentry work. His dad may have helped in the construction, as well as his brothers, but by 1911, Billy was the one living in the house, located in the S.O. Osterhout Subdivision, on lots 1 and 18, consisting of nearly 1/2 acre. The house faces Fairfax Avenue.

Billy Mefford lived there with his family until 1916, when he was elected sheriff of Marion County. At that time, he and his family moved to Palmyra and lived at the jail, as was tradition for the sheriff and his family. Billy and his wife, Ida, had one son, Clarence O. Mefford, born in 1903. Clarence followed in the foot steps of his father and grandfather, also becoming a carpenter.


Browns locate

When Billy Mefford and family moved to Palmyra, the house at 3300 St. Mary’s Avenue was occupied by George A. Brown, co-owner with J.J. Brown of Brown’s Jewelry Store, located at 307 Broadway. George Brown and his wife, Helen Wood Brown, were married in 1916, and had three children: Helen W. Brown, born about 1917; George M. Brown, born about 1920; and Harriett Brown, born about 1923.

By 1939, the family was living at 1302 Bird and George A. Brown was in the life insurance business.


Rupps

Next to occupy this house was the family of George and Lillian Rupp. They had three children, Margaret J. Rupp, Dorothy J. Rupp and George J. Rupp.

George Rupp was in business with his brother, John J. Rupp, for much of his life, first at Rupp Bros. Auto Parts, 813 Broadway; and later as owners of St. Mary’s Court 3441 St. Mary’s Avenue. In 1959, John J. Rupp was president of the motel; Lillian G. Rupp was vice president; and George J. Rupp was secretary-treasurer.

George J. Rupp died in 1954 at the age of 55. Lillian Rupp died in 1992, at the age of 93. They are buried at Grand View Burial Park. John J. Rupp, who never married, died in 1963. He is buried at Holy Family Cemetery.

Lillian Rupp lived out her life at 3300 St. Mary’s Ave.

St. Mary’s Court was demolished to make way for the Clark Service station. Huck’s Convenience Store is now located on that site.


Chicken thieves

On Feb. 26, 1919, the Shelby County Herald reported that Sheriff J. Will Mefford of Marion County was working with his deputies to “round up chicken thieves who have stolen at least 1,000 chickens from Marion County farmers in the last month. One farmer living near Palmyra recently had 200 chickens taken from his place.” It was believed that the thieves used an automobile to conduct the thefts. (At that time, horses were still quite prevalent.) “They have visited almost every portion of the rural district, and usually stage two robberies each week. The robbers thus far have baffled the authorities.”


Deaths

George T. Mefford, of Hannibal, the family patriarch, died in 1929. He was survived by one daughter, Mrs. M.P. Moore; and by three sons, J. Will Mefford and R.R. Mefford of Hannibal and T. Floyd Mefford who established a contracting business in Enid, Okla.


Belle Hall Mefford, 73, the family martiarch, died in Enid, Okla., at the home of her son, T. Floyd Mefford in November 1927. She was no longer married to George T. Mefford. She had gone to her son’s home on a visit about two weeks prior to her death. Survivors included her daughter, Mrs. M. (Flora) Moore of Hannibal, with whom she made her home; and three sons, J. Will Mefford and R.R. Mefford, both of Hannibal, and T.F. Mefford of Enid, Okla. In addition, she was survived by two sisters, Mrs. Media Ute of Hunnewell and Mrs. Laura Kemper of Hannibal.


When Billy Mefford died in 1949, he and his wife, Ida were living at 1607 30th St., in Oakwood.


His obituary offers this biographical information:


He served as deputy sheriff of Marion County under Sheriff William Johnson from 1912 to January 1, 1916, and in 1916 he was elected sheriff, serving one term, until January 1, 1920. During World War I he was president of the Marion County draft board. “After the war Mr. Mefford was again a deputy sheriff, serving under the late Sheriff Pete Turner, and later was elected Constable of Mason Township. Since then he had been engaged in the contracting business and was associated in the work with his son, Clarence O. Mefford.” Billy Mefford was affiliated with the Royal Neighbors of America.


The 1913 Marion County Atlas shows the extent of the S.O. Osterhout Subdivision. The house constructed by J. William (Billy) Mefford and family was constructed on lots 1 and 18, (circled) with the address 3300 St. Mary’s Avenue. Spring Street was renamed Fairfax.


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 Amazon.com by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870,” “Hannibal’s ‘West End,’ and the newest book, “Oakwood: West of Hannibal.” Montgomery can be reached at Montgomery.editor@yahoo.com Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com

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