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Entrepreneurs tapped into hills for valuable limestone

Star Lime Quarry and Kiln area, south bluff of the Oakwood village area, Hannibal, Mo. Early morning visit, Feb. 23, 2008. Walk-about starting north and crossing Bear Creek, going up the trail into the east side of the quarry area, around the north point to the west side, back again to the east side, going south over over the hill crest to look down on the west quarry, to the north point between the east/west quarries, back south down the hill top to the two tunnel entrances and into the large room where limestone was mined out when it became too costly to remove overburden, leaving the east quarry side and returning across Bear Creek. Barry Zbornik/ Reprinted with permission.


In the Bear Creek bottoms, south of what is now known as Market Street in Hannibal, Mo., once existed the Star Lime Company. During the kiln construction in May 1894, creatures of nature did their best to stop the building process.

James F. Reynolds held the contract for construction. He told a reporter for the Hannibal Post newspaper that the bottomland was literally swarming with snakes.

On Wednesday, May 2, 1894, Reynolds’ workers killed a copperhead, which was believed to be the male to a female copperhead which previously bit his employee, John Honnier.

The Hannibal Post reported: “Mr. Reynolds says there are snakes of every size and variety, from the small garter snake to the copperhead and racers. They have not discovered any rattlers yet, but are expecting to do so every day.”

While Mr. Honnier recovered from his injuries and was able to return to work, the kiln construction crew remained justifiably skittish of this particular work site.

Star Lime location

The land which encompassed the Star Lime Company property consisted of Lot 13 in the 1855 plat of the Estate of W. Darr, straddling the Marion and Ralls county line.

Spencer M. Carter, a Hannibal banker, was president of Star Lime Co., and his son, Spencer R. Carter, served as the company’s secretary and treasurer. Carter’s son-in-law, James. E. Priest, was the company’s first manager.

In February, 1896, a fire at the plant consumed the new company’s office, warehouse and sheds. An estimated 900 barrels of lime were stored in the sheds, in addition to cement, hair and cooperage. The loss was estimated at $3,000-$4,000. Arson was suspected.

The company not only rebuilt, but improved its facilities.

T.J. Cousins’ invention

In 1897, Thomas J. Cousins, (1846-1921) partnered with William L. Rose, operated a construction business in Hannibal. The following year, T.J. Cousins is credited with the invention of a steam stone crusher. The equipment, in place at the Star Lime Company’s Oakwood facility, attracted the notice of the Hannibal Post newspaper. A the article was reprinted in the Quincy Daily Journal on Jan. 24, 1899:

“It is a stone conveyor which carries stone from the crushing machine, as fast as it is broken, to the cars without further hand labor, after it leaves the machine. This powerful conveyor is on a frame of thirty four feet in length and the stone carrier consists of an endless six ply rubber belt which is sixteen inches wide, traveling on rollers and propelled by steam. It moves so rapidly that it cannot be easily overloaded and enables the operators to load double the amount of material they did previously to its introduction.”

The machine was built by the E.P. Smith machine shops on Hannibal’s South Main Street.

The newspaper complimented: “… the ingenuity and enterprise reflects much credit on Hannibal inventors and mechanics.”

In 1899, the Cousins’ rock crushing plant was processing 10 rail carloads of rock per day. At that time, the crushed rock was being sold as ballast to the K Line, and was laid down between West Quincy and LaGrange.

In 1909, Mr. Cousins was superintendent of the Star plant, while J.E. Priest remained manager.

Lime in Hannibal’s hills

In 1901, Hannibal had four lime manufacturers, Empire Lime Co., Oakwood, of which Milton Strong was president; Hannibal Lime Co., 623 Collier, William Munger; Star Lime Company, Oakwood; and Waller Lime Co., St. John Street, South Side.

According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Limestone can be found on the surface and subsurface in nearly county of Missouri. Limestone has been mined in Missouri since the mid 1800s. Limestone is used for gravel, as an ingredient in concrete, as foundation support, and in the form of riprap to stop erosion and for stream stabilization. The limestone industry continues to provide some 3,000 jobs in Missouri. (Source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources.)

Hannibal limestone

A prime example of the incorporation of Hannibal-area limestone into the building trades is Hannibal’s courthouse, located at Tenth and Broadway.

On June 20, 1900, the Quincy Daily Journal reported that F.W. Menke, of Quincy, had received the contract for the construction of Hannibal’s new courthouse and would use Hannibal stone in its construction.

“The limestone that abounds in the vicinity of Hannibal is unexcelled for building purposes. It is understood that the stone will be furnished by Munger Bros. from their quarry at Bear Creek. This firm has furnished a great deal of stone used in the buildings in Hannibal and it gives universal satisfaction. Work will be commenced on the courthouse building in a few days.”


A few of the people who worked at the Star Limestone Co., as culled from the Hannibal city directories:

1897: George Cooper, colored, laborer, res 119 Peter St.; Hezekiah Rhodes, laborer, Elzea’s addition; Douglas A. Turner, cooper, 332 Market

1901: Miss Hattie E. Stackhouse, bookkeeper, res 120 N Seventh

1905: Thomas J. Cousins was manager of Star Lime Co., lived at 322 Hope; Miss Hattie L. Stackhouse, stenog. res 120 N. Seventh; Frank B. Wilcox, wife Anna, works Star Lime Kiln, lives 105 Dowling

Note: The Hannibal Post story regarding the snakes was reprinted in the Shelby (Mo.,) County Herald, Shelbyville. “Snakes innumerable.”

This hand-drawn image represents the area of Oakwood that existed in Ralls County in 1904. Note the area which encompassed the limestone hills which were mined by Star Lime Company and Empire Lime Company. Illustration by Mary Lou Montgomery

Note: J.E. Priest, of Clay Township, Ralls County, and Miss Eva D. Carter, Hannibal, daughter of Spencer M. Carter, were married in 1881. She died in 1886, at the age of 27. In 1891 Priest married Leta Long, in Monroe County, Mo., who was some 16 years his junior. His sister, Elizabeth Frazier, and her son, Hal (noted Hannibal photographer), made their home with the Priests. James Priest died in 1915.

Spencer M. Carter, long-time Hannibal banker. Steve Chou collection

Hannibal’s courthouse is a prime example of Hannibal-area limestone used in construction. The Munger Brothers, operating one of four quarries near Hannibal at the turn of the 20th Century, supplied the stone for this building. Steve Chou photo.

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: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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