top of page

Former slave witnessed 'avenue's population

The Osterhout house that once stood at 3254 St. Mary’s Avenue in Hannibal, was sketched in 1953 by Albert Meyer. This sketch shows the original house, built in 1842. Contributed photo


When Silas O. Osterhout purchased a two-story brick house and 18 acres of farm land from the J. Harvey Bradley estate in 1907, his was one of the few houses of note along the dirt-and-rock road.

Osterhout, a real estate developer, divided out a portion of the land, including the establishment of McKinley and Bradley streets, and added a pond to the parcel he kept for his own use.

About the same time that Osterhout and his family moved into the old Bradley house, a farm hand moved onto the premises as well:

Mitchell Simpson.

Born into slavery in Kentucky circa 1840, after Emancipation Simpson worked as a farm hand near Madisonville, Ralls County, Mo.

Simpson was married to Liza Leake (born circa 1855) on Feb. 2, 1873, in a ceremony conducted by William Anderson Shulse, long-time Ralls County justice of the peace.

According to the 1880 census, Mitchell and Liza together had at least four sons, the oldest being William Henry Simpson, born circa 1874.

By 1909, and for more than a decade to come, Mitchell Simpson, by now nearly 70 years of age, was working as a laborer for, and living on the property of the S.O. Osterhout family, along St. Mary’s Avenue. The fate of Mitchell’s wife is unclear, but their son, William Henry Simpson, (1874-1934) lived out his natural life span in Ralls and Marion counties.

Osterhout ties

In 1918, at the same time that Mitchell Simpson was working for Silas O. Osterhout in Hannibal, his son, William Henry Simpson, age 44, was working as a farm hand for Edward Homer Osterhout - S.O. Osterhout’s younger brother - just south of Center, in Ralls County. One could surmise that the Simpson family may have had long-term work relationships with the Osterhouts, who farmed in the Madisonville area of Ralls County as early as 1840.

Silas and his brother Eddie Osterhout were sons of George Webster Osterhout (1842-1893); and George was the son of Hiram Osterhout (1799-1872). Hiram was living in Ralls County prior to 1840, and was appointed Madisonville postmaster in 1863.

Scenery changes

Mitchell Simpson watched, from the vantage point of the Osterhout estate, the development of the vital corridor of St. Mary’s Avenue. Little more than a dirt lane when he moved to this rural area, he witnessed the population growth and the associated horse-driven traffic increase as new houses were constructed along the landscape.

Previous stories by this author tell of early century residents who moved their families “out west” to St. Mary’s Avenue, including A.D. Stowell, whose two-story frame house is still occupied today at 3115; Maurice Velie, a carpenter and descendent of South Hannibal developers, who raised his family at 3000; Ayres Robinson, who constructed two houses on the avenue, the first at 3102 and the second at the northeast corner of St. Mary’s and Earl streets, 3405; James Church Shaw, who lived at 2919 St. Mary’s Avenue; not to mention the Hannibal Railway and Electric Company, which at one time operated street cars along St. Mary’s Avenue, taking passengers to and from Indian Mound Park on McMaster’s Avenue.

In addition, during this time frame, the series of houses located directly to the south of the Osterhout property were constructed, reaching to Hubbard Street. Each unique in their own way, the houses slant slightly to match the road’s topography.

Note: Address numbers along St. Mary’s Avenue changed over the course of the years. The numbers presented today are current numbers of historic homes still standing on the avenue.

William A. Shulse.

William Anderson Shulse, (1819-1895) the justice of the peace who conducted Mitchell Simpson’s wedding ceremony, was a Ralls County farmer with land located to the north and west of Center, Mo. Shulse served as a justice of the peace in Ralls County for 35 years. He died in 1895.

Simpson’s passing

Census records reveal that by 1920, Mitchell Simpson’s status at the Osterhout household had been elevated to that of houseman. By 1927, when he was perhaps 87 years old, Mitchell was making his home with his son, W.H., and wife, Minnie Simpson at 2115 Gordon.

Mitchell Simpson died in March 1930, at the county infirmary at Palmyra at the age of 90. He was buried at Hannibal’s Old Baptist Cemetery.


The Osterhout house continued to occupy a significant presence along St. Mary’s Avenue until the early 1960s, when the house was dismantled and materials used for the reconstruction of a home for Dr. John M. Canella’s family. After the doctor’s death in 1965, Dr. and Mrs. Robert W. Buben purchased the house, and today it remains nestled within the mature trees and sloped landscape along St. Mary’s Avenue, serving as a reminder of the early pioneers - such as S.O. Osterhout and Mitchell Simpson, who were on hand to serve as eye witnesses to the growth and development of this key Hannibal neighborhood.

Ruth Linear remembers:

"When I was a little girl, I remember a woman named Minnie Simpson. She lived on South Arch Street. I would see her sitting on her porch many times. She had a daughter named Lucy. I knew some of her grandkids."

Three houses on lots developed from Osterhout acreage: Pictured from right to left, 3200, 3202 and 3216 St. Mary’s Avenue. 2023 photo by Mary Lou Montgomery

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