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Despite physician’s backing, City Hospital closed in 1875

This collage of old buildings on Hannibal’s Palmyra Avenue was published in the St. Louis Globe Democrat on July 1, 1900. The collage is used with this article to illustrate what buildings that were nearby to the Hannibal City Hospital in 1875 might have looked like. Steve Chou collection.


Harvard-educated Dr. John Lancaster Gleason (1838-1904) recognized that environmental conditions and the wellbeing of the population were intertwined. In March 1875, he spoke on the subject to his peers - members of the Hannibal Medical Society. He challenged them to work toward the rectification of poor sanitary conditions in order to improve the overall wellbeing of townsfolk.

He said, in an essay that was published in the Hannibal Clipper on March 27, 1875, “The importance of the subject demands the serious attention of every physician, as well as citizens,” he said. “If, as a city, we are ignorant of the diseases fatal to our population, and in what part of the city death more frequently occurs, it must be that we are ignorant of one of our most important duties, that which is dear to us all, the sanitary condition of the city in which we live.”

He noted that the city had made strides toward rectifying long-standing environmental conditions. He cited two such advancements:

“Ponds have been filled and sewers built; so as to prevent the collection of stagnant water, filled with dead animal and vegetable matter,” and

“Another step in the right direction has been the establishment of a city hospital and dispensary.

“The history of medicine is full of evidence of the value of these institutions and they demand the confidence and support of the public, and it is surely expected of the medical profession that they should uphold and take a peculiar interest in an institution of such incalculable value to the community,” Dr. Gleason said.

Hannibal’s hospital

Hannibal’s hospital, believed to have been opened by the city in 1873, was located at 202-204 Palmyra Ave.

The building consisted of an office sitting room, a kitchen and other rooms on the first floor. (Source, Hannibal Clipper, June 17, 1875.)

The facility was not readily accepted by Hannibal’s general population. Dr. Gleason explained:

“Our hospital is not as favorable located as it should be. The building is not as commodious and well adapted to the wants of its inmates as desirable. Yet to a certain extent it is worthy of admiration and encouragement; it is a fine beginning and promises good results. Let every member of this society whose medical education has been in a great manner derived from these beneficent institutions do all in his power to increase the zeal of our citizens to introduce and carry out many needed improvements, so that as the city increases in population and wealth the facilities afforded by our hospital may be also become improved, a better site selected for a permanent edifice, a building more commodious and in all respects unexceptional where the poorer class in their sickness and misfortune, forgetting their poverty, their filth and debasement, receive the benefit of a well regulated hospital, a blessing to all who may resort to it in their time of need.”

Overseerer of the poor

Lewis B. Webb, born in England about 1816, and married in July 1858 to Julia Monroe, daughter of Harriet Monroe, in Clark, Mo., was a resident of Hannibal’s Fifth Ward when the census taker came to call in August 1870. He was a painter by trade. The Fifth Ward was roughly the western part of Hannibal, south of Broadway, reaching to Bear Creek, and encompassing Griffith’s and Collins’ additions. (Hannibal City Directory 1871-72)

Documents in the 1875 Hannibal City Directory list Lewis B. Webb as steward of the aforementioned city hospital, and overseer of the poor. His wife, Julia, was matron for the city hospital. They made their home at the hospital, 202-204 Palmyra Road.

Dr. Gleason, in his talk before the Hannibal Medical Society, said that between the hospital’s opening in 1873 until March 18, 1875, “About 150 have been admitted for treatment; three of the whole number admitted have died in the building; all have been made more comfortable, with a small mortality than we could have expected had they been exposed to the slums of our city surrounded by poverty and filth.”

Regardless, three months later, in mid June, 1875, the city council members resolved: “That on and after the first day of July, proximo, the present system of a City Hospital be discontinued, and the services of a Keeper of the City Hospital be dispensed with.”

The Daily Clipper, in its Thursday, July 1, 1875 edition, reported: “The ‘City Hospital - 1873’ closed last night as per recommendation of the Mayor and order of the city council, and is now numbered with the things of the past.”

Council representatives for 1875, as listed in that year’s city directory, were:

First ward, Edward Galvin and Philip H. Kornder.

Second ward, Wm. P. Carstarphen and Frank P. Hearne.

Third ward, Loughlin Quealy and Spencer M. Carter.

Fourth ward, L.W. Towne and John Volk.

Fifth ward, John A. Fry and William Miller.

Mayor was Thomas K. Collins.

Residents of the city hospital, as listed in the 1875 Hannibal city directory:

Alice Monroe;

Frank Monroe;

Lizzie Shreeves;

John A. Tolines;

Samuel W. Walton;

Mary Young;

Lydia A. Johnson;

Sarah Hardin;

Timothy Farrell;

Emma J. Evans; and

William Donnelly.

Ironically, Palmyra Avenue was deluged by a “freshnet” before the hospital could close for business. 

The Hannibal Clipper of June 17, 1875, reported: “The city hospital came in for a large share or damage. Not only was the basement filled with mud and water, but the office, sitting room, kitchen and other rooms on the first floor proper, were submerged to a depth of several feet. After the water had subsided mud was found on the floors to the depth of several inches.

On Aug. 3, 1875, the Hannibal Clipper, reported on council action:

“Petition for increase of back salary for L.B. Webb, former keeper of hospital, also asking indemnity for the loss of bedding, clothing, &c., caused by the freshet. Referred to committee on claims.”

Definition from Oxford Languages:  Freshet: The flood of a river from heavy rain or melted snow.

Note: This author was not able to determine the exact location of the city hospital. An educated guess would be on the north side of Palmyra Avenue (now Mark Twain Avenue) between where Hannibal’s Third and Fourth streets would’ve intersected. Likely, Out Lot 90. A long-standing building on the northwest corner of Palmyra Road and Webb Street was numbered 400 Palmyra Road.

Dr. Gleason notes

Dr. John L. Gleason was married to Lois A. Cobb on Jan. 4, 1870, at Hannibal, Mo. He was an 1866 graduate of Harvard Medical School, Boston.

In 1900, he made his home at 119 S. Fifth in Hannibal, with his wife, Lois, and daughters Amy and Margaret Gleason.

He and his wife (1845-1923) are buried at Hannibal’s Riverside Cemetery.

After the hospital closed, Lewis B. Webb returned to his earlier career of painting. In 1885 he and his wife were living at 718 N. Seventh.

In 1897, Mrs. Julia Webb, widow of Lewis B. Webb, made her home at 562 Webb St.

Mrs. Webb died April 13, 1912, at the age of 72. Her physician was Dr. Mary D. Ross.

Lewis B. and Julia Webb are buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Entries for Lewis B. and Julia Webb in the 1875 Hannibal city directory, accessed via the Hannibal Free Public LIbrary's website.

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


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