Dena Denkler Ryan witnessed many changes during her 92 years living on the ‘avenue’
The former home of Redmond and Dena Denkler Ryan, located at 606 Mark Twain Avenue, still stands as a representation of life on the avenue more than a century ago. Photo contributed by Meryle Martin Dexheimer.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Dena Denkler Ryan closed her eyes in final slumber on Aug. 27, 1961, at the age of 92, in the same house at 606 Mark Twain Avenue where she had lived for some six decades.
Outside her windows, the avenue was undergoing changes the likes of which she likely could never have imagined: While construction crews cleared the avenue for widening to highway standards, buildings central to her upbringing were demolished. There was the moving, stone by stone, of the house where she spent the early years of her marriage. There was the closing of North Fourth Street where it previously intersected with the avenue. Construction of an overpass extended Fifth Street up and over Mark Twain Avenue, forcing the relocation of many of her neighbors.
But inside her house, she was surrounded by family, just as she had been throughout her long life. Most of her generation went before her, but her descendants were plentiful, and filled her home.
Palmyra Avenue (later renamed Mark Twain Avenue/U.S. 36) served as Hannibal’s earliest commercial district, serving Mississippi River travelers heading by stage coach to all points west.
Mitchell and Remington conducted a foundry on Palmyra Avenue back in 1851.
Jacob Coffman made caskets in his shop located in Robard’s addition, on the south side of the avenue, in 1852.
Thomas Jackson operated a grocery store in the Stone Building on the south side of the avenue, in 1854.
In 1855, Jacob R. Harris offered for sale his new frame dwelling house on the north side of Palmyra Avenue, across from Garth’s Tobacco Stemmery, which was located at Fourth and Palmyra Avenue.
And in 1856, Garth’s Tobacco Stemmery burned to the ground, later to be rebuilt with brick.
By the time Bernard Denkler opened a grocery store on Palmyra Avenue in 1869, the avenue itself was well established as a neighborhood conductive to commerce.
Purchasing a frame building owned by a man named Clayman, Denkler went right to work in opening a grocery business which would serve the needs of his neighborhood for five decades.
The frame building was replaced in 1881 by a two-story brick building, which served as both business and home to the elder Denklers and their extended family for for many years to come.
The same year that Bernard Denkler opened the grocery, his wife, Anna Feldkamp Denkler, gave birth to a daughter, also named Anna. The infant joined four other siblings, William, John, Henry and Mary.
The younger Anna would effectively live her entire lifetime on the avenue.
Redmond Ryan, a concrete contractor, grew up in Ralls County, near Oakwood, on a small acreage adjacent to the New London gravel road. His family, who were truck farmers, raised produce on their 14 or so acres, selling their harvest to townsfolk and merchants alike.
Upon winning Dena Denkler’s heart and hand in marriage in 1895, the two set up housekeeping in the stone building adjacent to her father’s store. That building was flush with the southeast corner of Denkler’s Alley, facing Palmyra Avenue.
Within a few years, Redmond Ryan began construction of a two-story house across the street and a bit to the west of the Denkler grocery. By 1897, Redmond and Dena were living in this expansive two-story brick and stone house. Their first child, Joseph Ryan, was born in 1898.
One of Hannibal’s most recognizable structures is situated where North Third and Mark Twain Avenue intersect. The rectangular building, constructed of stone, is owned by the city and today serves as home to Jim’s Journey, the Huck Finn Freedom Center.
While the building is historic in nature, this is not the stone building’s original location.
It once stood on the southeast intersection of Denkler’s Alley and Mark Twain Avenue, and in August 1956 was moved - stone by stone - in order to facilitate the widening of Mark Twain Avenue.
The move was accomplished by the newly organized Marion County Historical Society. Key leaders of the project included Kate Ray Kuhn, Charles Walker and Mrs. Frank Berry.
It is calculated that this is the same stone house where the Ryans began their married life together in 1895.
It is also believed to be the location for the aforementioned grocery store operated by Thomas Jackson in 1854.
Redmond and Anna Denkler Ryan had four children live to adulthood:
* Joseph, born circa 1898; he married Nora Flannagan of Hannibal in 1921. He died in 1967.
* Helen Ryan, born 1900, married Michael Joseph O’Hearn. Their children include: Mary O’Hearn, Mike O’Hearn, Richard O’Hearn, Helen Ann O’Hearn, James O’Hearn, Kenneth O’Hearn, David O’Hearn, Eleanor O’Hearn and Eugene O’Hearn. Helen O’Hearn and her children lived with her mother, Mrs. Ryan, following Michael O’Hearn’s death in 1939. Helen Ryan O’Hearn died in 1994 at the approximate age of 93.
* Viola Ryan, born 1902, married Ralph W. Church. Their children include: Mary F. Church and Francis (Xavier) Church. In 1940, the Church family was also living at 606 Mark Twain Avenue. Mrs. Church died in 1991, at the approximate age of 89.
* Redmond Ryan Jr., born 1908. He was married to Leola Remshardt in 1941. He died Jan. 24, 1958, at St. Charles, Mo.
Mrs. Ryan’s funeral was conducted at St. Mary Catholic church in Hannibal. Her grandson, the Rev. Wenceslaus Church OFM of Chicago, celebrated the solemn requiem mass. Burial followed in the church cemetery.
Note: Information for this story was pieced together from tidbits in “Hannibal, Too,” by J. Hurley and Roberta Hagood; from Kate Ray Kuhn’s book, “The History of Marion County, Missouri,” from early Hannibal and Ralls County newspaper reports, accessed via newspapers.com; from Hannibal city directories, accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s web site; and from the Quincy digital newspapers, accessed via the Quincy Public Library’s web site. Also providing background information was the St. Louis Globe Democrat’s story about Palmyra Avenue in its July 1, 1900 edition.
Dismantling of the old Welshman’s House on Mark Twain Avenue at Denkler’s Alley to be reconstructed at intersection of N. Third and Mark Twain Avenue. Work was conducted by members of the Marion County Historical Society. Woman at far left holding can of paint is Kate Ray Kuhn. Charles Walker holds the paintbrush, and Mrs. Frank Berry stands to his right. August 1956. Otis Howell photo, Steve Chou collection.
Joseph H. and Lulu Denkler took over operation of the Denkler grocery store on Mark Twain Avenue, from his father, Bernard Denkler. Ancestry family tree photo reprinted with permission from Robert Schafer.
The St. Louis Globe Democrat published a story about Hannibal’s Palmyra Avenue in its Sunday, July 1, 1900 edition. This photo of the old stone house on Palmyra Avenue accompanied the story. The Denkler grocery store is at left. Cutline information indicates that the building was more than 50 years old, dating it to pre-1850.
Looking east on Mark Twain Avenue from Denkler’s Alley. Welshman’s House visible at its original location at far right. Beside the Welshman’s house is Denkler’s grocery store. Otis Howell photo, Steve Chou collection. August 1947.
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," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.firstname.lastname@example.org Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com