top of page

Cyrus R. McDowell: A preacher, entrepreneur

The Eighth and Center Street Baptist Church building, constructed in 1872, is still standing at 722 Church. At the rear of the building is the former church parsonage, where Rev. Cyrus R. McDowell lived with his family, circa 1901-1916. Wikipedia


Rev. Cyrus R. McDowell and his family, including wife Mary, and children Cyrene, Jennie and Eddie, were living in the parsonage attached to the Eighth and Center Baptist Church in July 1904, when Mrs. McDowell noticed a small fire burning on the church roof.

A toy balloon alighted on the roof, and although the shingles were wet, they caught fire. 

Mrs. McDowell turned in an alarm, summoning both of Hannibal’s horse-driven fire companies to the scene. (Theron B. Parks was chief; the companies were housed at 206-208 S. Fourth and at Market and Houston St.)

But by the time of their arrival, a young Hannibal boy had already taken it upon himself to put out the fire. 

The Courier-Post reported, on July 5, 1904: “A colored boy secured a ladder, climbed up on the roof, tore off a few shingles and extinguished the miniature blaze before any damage of consequence resulted. A considerable crowd gathered about the church.”

The McDowells had been living in Hannibal since 1901 or 1902, when the family patriarch took charge of the Eighth and Center Baptist Church.


Circa 1902, three of Hannibal’s most enterprising and respected men of color teamed together with the Rev. C.R. McDowell, D.D., the new minister of the Eighth and Center Baptist Church, in order to establish the Hannibal Co-operative Trading Company, located at 251 Market St.

Touted as “The Poor Man’s Friend,” the cooperative sold wood, coal, flour and feed of all kinds. The store was located on Market, to the west of South Arch Street.

The company’s primaries were Rev. McDowell, as president and general manager; the Rev. Richard L. Beal, presiding elder of the AME Church, as vice president; Joseph H. Pelham, principal of Douglass School, treasurer; and the Rev. John W. Sexton, pastor of the Allen Chapel AME Church, secretary.

The company advertised in the 1903 Hannibal City Directory, (accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s website) but by 1905, the business was no longer mentioned.

This short-lived venture into Hannibal’s business climate may have been Rev. McDowell’s first, but it certainly wouldn’t be his last.

For the next half a century, his name would continue to be associated with property transfers, insurance, business associations and Republican politics. His investments weren’t always profitable, but they certainly made a lasting imprint upon the town which he adopted as his own at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Early years

Cyrus R.  McDowell was born circa 1852 in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The details of his early life remain vague, but according to early newspaper accounts, he was one of the teachers in the “colored department” of the public schools in Louisville, Ky., in June 1886.

In December that year, specifically Dec. 15, 1886, he participated in a called meeting to address an issue involving educational opportunities for the children of color in Hartford, Ky.

The Hartford Weekly Herald quoted McDowell: “He said he claimed equal educational facilities of the colored people as a right, they were entitled to it and should have it. He knew that there were some people who honestly believed that the colored people had no claim on the town money. The colored people can by injunction stop the payment of money until this matter is adjusted, but,” continued the speaker, “they will not resort to that step until forbearance ceases to be a virtue. We do not ask,” said he, “that our children shall attend the same school; we only ask for equal school privileges. Why,” emphasized the speaker, “do they refuse us these facilities? Do they think we don’t know our rights? We are poor, we have no means of giving our children the benefits of an education. We are citizens and entitled to equal rights in this regard.” The speaker went on to say that the colored people “were entitled to their share of the town bonds, the proceeds of the sale of the seminary and the old jail.” He did not claim it because of any tax the colored people paid, but because they were citizens of Kentucky and of Ohio County. After further remarks of the same tenor, a preamble and resolutions were adopted and the little meeting adjoined.

He left Kentucky and resettled in Independence, Mo., where he served the Second Baptist Church. After a decade, more or less, Rev. McDowell moved his family to Hannibal.

Hannibal affiliation

At the time of their move to Hannibal, Cyrene, Rev. McDowell’s oldest daughter, would have been about 16; second daughter, Jennie, about 15; and his only son, Edward T. was about 13. A year later, in 1902, Jennie died at the age of 16. In 1914, his son Edward T. McDowell died, following an explosion at the family’s newspaper plant at 210 Center St.

In 1916, there was a great divide in the Eighth and Center Church, which resulted in the resignation of Rev. McDowell as pastor. The Courier-Post carried the news in its Jan. 20, 1916 edition.

“Rev. C. R. McDowell … has tendered his resignation, to take effect in ninety days. The official board accepted the resignation at once and gave the preacher a ninety-day vacation on full time.

“The resignation of the pastor marks the end of the fight that has been waged with the pastor and a part of the congregation on one hand, and the remainder of the congregation on the other.”

A history of the Helping Hand Missionary Baptist Church, contained upon the Hannibal Free Public Library’s website, states:

“Records revealed that nine members, having received letters of dismissal from Eighth and Center Street Mission Baptist Church, formed a council for the purpose of organizing a Baptist Church. This council met on April 26, 1916 at the Bimetalic Hall. During this meeting, this group chose and adopted the name of Helping Hand Missionary Baptist Church.

“The charter members were Sisters Mary C. McDowell, Nealie Williams, Harriett Griffin, Belle Redford, Mary Griffin, Evalina Slayton, Belle Bell, Mary Miller, Hannah Johnson and Luvenia Harris, and Brothers Simpson Bush, George Williams, Harvey Robinson, Frank Lewis, George Foley, Elliott Harris, Major Turner and William Hawkins.”

The first church was located at 110A North Fourth, led by the Rev. C.R. McDowell. The church was on the second story of a building housing the Hannibal Creamery.

By 1918, C.R. McDowell and the trustees of Helping Hand Baptist Church were occupying a small brick church located at 1020 Lyon, which previously housed St. John’s Lutheran Church.

In this new sanctuary, located at 1020 Lyon St., funeral services for 30-year-old Joseph Alexander White, 612 Mark Twain Avenue, were conducted July 1, 1918, by Rev. McDowell.

By 1937, according to the Hannibal city directory of that year, W.F. Bailey was pastor.

Death calls

Cyrus R. McDowell, who was born in Kentucky during the years of slavery, who was an eye witness to the horrors of the Civil War, who lived through two world wars, and who lived to bury his wife and two of his children, all the while continuing to minister, died on Nov. 16, 1950, at the age of 98. At the time of his death, had been a resident of the Masonic Home, just west of Oakwood, for four years. H.P. McMechen was his physician, and George E. Roberts was the undertaker. Burial, beside the members of his family who preceded him in death, was In Woodlawn Cemetery, Independence, Mo. His daughter, Mrs. Cyrene Trent, died the following year. No members of his immediate family survive.

Home on Center St.

After leaving the employ of the Eighth and Center Baptist Church, Rev. McDowell and his family purchased property at 1228-1230 Center Street. The city of Hannibal purchased the property at 1230 Center for $1,000 in 1945, to facilitate  the widening of Grand Avenue. The house at 1228 Center is still standing and occupied today.

After his wife’s death in 1928, Rev. McDowell continued to live at 1228 Center St. until approximately 1946, when he moved to the Masonic Home.

Maceo and Sylvia Wilson purchased the home from Cyrene McDowell Trent and husband in March 1951. The next year, Maceo Wilson applied for a building permit in order to add a porch to the property.

This photo of 425 Broadway, though poor in quality, is historically significant. The second and third floors of the building served as home to the Home Protective Association, of which Rev. McDowell was a primary investor. The building was on the southeast corner of Fifth and Broadway. It was razed.  The Tom Sawyer Theatre would later be built upon this lot. The photo was published in the Thursday, May 14, 1914, edition of the Home Protective Record newspaper, which was owned by Rev. Cyrus R. McDowell. Newspaper accessed via

The 1913 Hannibal Sanborn map shows the half block located on the southeast corner of Broadway and Fifth Streets. Note the Home Protective Association located on the corner, at 425 Broadway. 

Rev. McDowell and his family made their home at 1228 Center after he left the employ of the Eighth and Center Street Church. His daughter sold the house following his death in 1950. Photo by Meryle Martin Dexheimer.

The McDowell family lived in the parsonage of the Eighth and Center Street Baptist Church from early in the 1900s until 1916. Rev. McDowell's son, Edward T. McDowell, died in this parsonage in 1914, after he was severely burned in an explosion at the family's newspaper plant. Photo by Meryle Martin Dexheimer.

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 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 Her collective works can be found at


 Recent Posts 
bottom of page