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Cruikshank descendants are 'coming home' to see mansion

Gladys Cruikshank Warren is pictured with her three sons on Feb. 6, 1940, in St. Paul, Minn. The sons are, from left, Roger, John and Williams. Descendants of Gladys Cruikshank Warren are planning a reunion in Hannibal May 3-5. Photo contributed by John Cruikshank Warren Jr.


John Cruikshank Warren, 83, who lives in Akeley, Minn., spent part of one summer in Hannibal back in 1954, visiting his aunt, Helen Cruikshank Knighton, and her husband, Milton. The memories are still fresh in his mind.

“Hannibal, in my opinion, is a really special place,” he said, “not just because my great grandfather, J.J. Cruikshank Jr., lived there, but because of its history; it is so rich in tradition and lore.”

J.J. Cruikshank Jr. commissioned a mansion atop Hill Street, and it was constructed between 1898-1900. The Cruikshank family lived and entertained in the mansion until J.J. Cruikshank’s death in 1924. The mansion is now owned by Warren Bittner and Juan Ruiz, and serves as a bed and breakfast and Historic House Museum.

On Friday, May 3, John Warren will return to Hannibal, joining other family members for a Cruikshank family reunion. Some will stay at Rockcliffe Mansion, and others will stay at venues nearby.

Attending will be some of the descendants of Gladys Cruikshank Warren, the oldest of J.J. and Louise Cruikshank’s daughters.

Guests will arrive on Friday afternoon and evening, May 3, and on Saturday, May 4, they will tour the Mark Twain sites and the family plot at Riverside Cemetery. From 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Warren Bittner and Juan Ruiz will offer the family members a special tour of the mansion.  There will be a happy hour from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the mansion, and then family members will partake dinner at Fiddlesticks’s Restaurant.

Following a continental breakfast on Sunday morning, May 5, at the mansion, the Cruikshank descendants will head for home.

John Warren and his wife will stay in J.J. Cruikshank’s bedroom.

Childhood memories

Back in 1954, during John Warren’s visit with his aunt, there was a solar eclipse on June 30. “I took Aunt Helen to the observation tower and we looked at the eclipse through film negatives.”

That same summer, “Aunt Helen taught me to play golf. Milton didn’t play, but they were members of the Hannibal Country Club. ‘Come with me,’ she said. I played my first round of golf at Hannibal Country Club.” When he got home, he told his parents he needed a set of golf clubs, and he has been playing ever since. “I played my first round of golf this season (Thursday, April 25) and shot a 97,” he said.

Warren Bittern and Juan Ruiz suggested that John Warren invite Bill and Wendy Craigmiles to gathering on Saturday at the mansion. Bill Craigmiles grew up near the mansion, and had a special friendship with Helen and Milton Knighton.

“I called Bill last week and told him we’d love to have him and Wendy come.” As they talked, John Warren kept thinking that Bill’s name seemed familiar.

“Were you there when we were playing baseball?” John Warren asked of that summer 70 years ago. “I hung around with these guys three or four weeks, and became pretty good friends with them. I’m on the phone with this guy and he remembers me. Unbelievable.”

Those attending the reunion are descendants of  Gladys Cruikshank Warren’s three sons, John, Bill and Roger Warren.

All in attendance will pay special tribute to Warren Bittner and Juan Ruiz, for all the work and money they have put into the restoration of the historic Cruikshank property. 

“We cannot begin to thank Warren and Juan for what they have done,” not only to physically restore the mansion, but also the work they have put into reclaiming artifacts.

“The family is especially grateful for the owner’s great fortune in retrieving many of the fixtures, accent pieces and furniture that graced Rockcliffe in its heyday. The family is indebted to the owners for their incredible diligence, perseverance and love for this historic home,” John Warren said.

Warren Bittner said that the Cruikshank Family descendants’ reunion at Rockcliffe coincides with the (almost) completion of the restoration/repair of the front porch.  "All the carpentry was completed this past April 15, including the front grand staircase and the new bead board ceiling,” he said. “All work is following the original 1898 blueprints (which we have in our Archives) to the letter. Now we’re in the process of painting the front porch.”

They are applying what the Aeratis Porch Flooring company requires be applied to their product, ie PPG (Pittsburg Paint) “Break-Through!” TM. 

“We hope to get at least the porch flooring painted before the reunion. The remainder will be painted over the summer,” Warren Bittner said.

Also in process is the removing of old paint that is peeling, with a heat gun. “We are using Albeck’s Linseed Oil Paint, made in Sweden,” Warren Bittner said,  “which they claim will never peel if you are able to get all the old paint off and get down to bare wood. Up until now, peeling paint has been a real headache for us.”

The carpentry contractor is Mark Chapman of Mark Twain Construction.

Who’s coming

John J. Cruikshank’s great grandchildren attending the May 4th visit to Rockcliffe are: John Cruikshank Warren Jr., of Walker, Minn.; Georgann Warren McClure of St. Paul, Minn.; Judy Warren Brooks of St. Paul, Minn., Sandra Warren Gehrig of St. Paul, Minn.; Stephanie Warren Jusilla of St. Cloud, Minn.; and Suzanne Warren Hamann of Burnsville, Minn. Including spouses and several children, there will be 17 Cruikshank relatives attending the gathering. 

John Cruikshank Warren Jr., will attend a family reunion May 3-5, in Hannibal. He is the great-grandson of John J. Cruikshank Jr., who commissioned the building of Rockcliffe Mansion. Photo contributed by John Cruikshank Warren Jr.

The steps leading to the front porch of Rockcliffe Mansion have been rebuilt, following the original 1898 blueprints to the letter. Photo contributed by Warren Bittner.

Now that the steps are complete, work can begin on removing old paint with a heat gun. They will use Albeck’s Linseed Oil Paint, made in Sweden, Warren Bittner said,  “which they claim will never peel if you are able to get all the old paint off and get down to bare wood. Up until now, peeling paint has been a real headache for us.” Photo contributed by Warren Bittner.

Mary Lou Montgomery retired in 2014 as editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post.


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