Bricks needed for a project? Contractors made their own
Robert B. Elgin and Francis D. Richmond advertised their brick yard in the 1901 Hannibal city directory, accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s website.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
A dozen years before the onset of the Civil War, 21-year-old Joseph F. Elgin was conducting business as a brickmason in Palmyra, Marion County, Mo.
In turn, a generation later, his son, Robert B. Elgin, would pick up the trade. By 1885, the father and son were working in tandem at Hannibal and the surrounding area. A year later, the younger Elgin took for his bride Cora Richmond, daughter of Francis and Mary J. Richmond. Her father was a prominent Hannibal stonemason.
In 1894, Robert B. and Joseph F. Elgin were in business together along with Frank D. Richmond, son of Francis and Mary J. Richmond, as brick manufacturers. It is suggested by a listing in the 1894 and subsequent Hannibal City Directories that the brick-making business might have been located near the Elgins’ home, at 222 Division St., (north of Grace Street) Hannibal.
By 1901, the brick plant was in operation on the southwest intersection of Hawkins and Hope Street.
The process of making bricks begins with the accessibility of the raw materials used to make brick, primarily water and clay, and firewood for the kiln. Clay in its raw form is abundant in the hills around Hannibal, and the Hope/Hawkins area - located deep in a valley to the east of what is now U.S. 61, - is no exception. The site is close to Minnow Creek, which offers a dependable source of water as it bends from south to east nearby.
In 1903, the business was listed in the city directory as Richmond Bros. & Elgin brick manufacturers. The Richmond brothers were Frances D., and William E. In 1905, William E. Richmond was the company foreman for Elgin & Richmond, owned by Robert B. Elgin and Frances D. Richmond.
Robert B. Elgin and Frances D. Richmond continued their partnership in the manufacture of bricks at 2701 Hope Street, supplying the bricks needed for their own contracting use, until about 1916, when it became evident that is was cheaper to buy pre-manufactured bricks than it was to produce them.
Circa 1918, when Harry C. and Etta Ham’s oldest son Roy was about 10, the family lived in a small frame bungalow typical of the neighborhood, located on the north side of Hope Street, numbered 2601, adjacent to the Lamb Street intersection.
There were big changes going on in Hannibal during that era. Harry, a cigar maker for Eichenbergers, and later Dryers, saw this business fading and in turn switched careers, becoming at first a machinist for the CB&Q Railroad. (He ultimately went to work for Martin’s Construction Co.)
The house where they settled, toward the western end of Hope Street, was just a block from another previously thriving business - the Elgin & Richmond brick making plant - which closed about the same year.
In both cigar making and brick making, machines were now able to more efficiently produce the desired products, putting previous hand labor to rest.
Roy R. Ham, born in 1908, in later life became a proficient recorder of Hannibal memories from the late teens into the early 1920s. Linda Ham Thompson, his niece, shared her uncle’s story. He described this neighborhood, in part:
“Our street between the walks of our (Hope Street) block was just a dirt road, and had trees growing from it in several places. We got our water from springs and dug wells. Our toilet was an ‘outhouse’ in the corner of our coal shed. We had not even a ‘stepping stone’ crossing to get over the ankle-deep mud streets during the rainy days. We did not have mail delivery as only rural carriers had to walk in mud. City carriers would walk on paved areas only.
“Occasionally someone would telephone the fire department of the city when they saw a flue fire and all who knew about it would then line up and wait to see the team of big ‘fire horses’ pulling a ‘pumper’ at the racing speed out the dust-thick street, throwing a cloud of it high into the air, that could be seen still ‘floating’ for several blocks. The firemen could do nothing about a flue fire, but hung around until the danger of spark-set fires had passed. In the meantime the kids and most of the men got to admire the horses and comment on their weight and condition, etc. The nearest fire plug to our neighborhood was two blocks away; the firemen had only the small water supply the pumper’s reservoir contained and occasionally a hose was put in a hole in a creek bed. Everybody mostly watched the nervous prancing horses.”
Note from Linda Ham Thompson: After my grandparents had passed away, and different people living (at 2601 Hope) they re-did the porch posts and railings. They gave the old posts to my parents. I refinished two of them, they are in front of our fireplace downstairs, under the mantle. And another is made into a floor lamp.
Francis Richmond (1857-1949). Photo taken about 1895 in Hannibal. Photo contributed by Dianne DeLaPorte Campbell, and identified by Shelley LePoudre via Ancestry.com.
This photo was taken on July 4, 1888, on Center Street, adjoining the Park Theater. Pictured in the driver’s seat is Robert B. Elgin, a brickmason who later partnered with Frances D. Richmond in the brick making business, located at the intersection of Hawkins and Hope streets. Also pictured in this photo: top row, on truck, William Glover, William Hubbard, Robert Elgin, John Duple and William J. Grove. Lower row, standing, James Gill, Joe Atkins (captain) Charles Dryer, Edward Nerlich and Frank Gay. Published in the June 30, 1938 edition of the Hannibal Courier-Post.
This photo, published in the June 30, 1938 edition of the Hannibal Courier-Post, shows the remnants of a brick-making plant located south of Hannibal. Charles R. Martin took this photo in the mid 1930s. The plant was located on the south river road near the road leading to the Mark Twain cave. Robert B. Elgin and Francis D. Richmond operated this yard for a year after they closed the Hope Street plant.
Roy R. Ham (1908-2002) and his younger siblings, Harry and Abbie, grew up in this small bungalow, which was located at 2601 Hope St. The house, typical of the neighborhood, was located just a block from the Elgin & Richmond brick yard. Photo contributed by Linda Ham Thompson
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.firstname.lastname@example.org Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com