Hannibal through the eyes of Artemissia Briggs Marsh
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
This undated photo from Steve Chou’s vast historic collection shows the Marsh house, located on the northeast corner of Sixth and Center streets. Built circa 1858, Mrs. Artemissia Briggs Marsh and her niece, Texie Louise Brooks Davis Waldron, would live in this house from 1858-1939.
Imagine the volume of memories Mrs. Artemissia Briggs Marsh took to the grave when she died at Hannibal, Mo., on June 22, 1910.
Artemissia was born Oct. 20, 1832 in Ralls County, Mo., a middle daughter of William Gilkey Briggs and Rhoda Briggs. She possessed personal recollections of a young friendship with Hannibal’s most famous son, Sam Clemens, and retained fond memories of his well-documented youthful proposal of marriage, which she in turn rejected.
Instead, on March 16, 1853, Artemissia Briggs, 21, was married to William J. Marsh, some 15 years her senior. He was a brick layer hired by R.F. Lakenan and A.W. Lamb for the construction of the Melpontian Hall (later renamed Scyoc Hall) on the northeast corner Third and Center.
A few months after her marriage, Sam Clemens left Hannibal, but she remained, central to the town’s ongoing progression.
She would be an eye-witness to the Civil War as it enveloped Hannibal, with Union forces encamped in Central Park just a block from her home, and the Union Army hospital, established by Col. M.M. Bane, on the same street where she lived.
Also during the war, her (presumed) step-son, Thomas J. Marsh, was a staunch fighter in the Confederate Army who lost a leg to war injuries.
She watched from the vantage point of her home’s architecturally unique front windows as the “new” Federal Building grew from ground up at Sixth and Broadway, completed in 1888.
She assuredly knew all of the primaries involved in the murder of Amos Stillwell on Dec. 30, 1888, and the subsequent trial, and carried opinions on the facts related to Hannibal’s most famous “who-done-it.”
She likely read titillating details in 1894, posted in the daily newspaper, regarding Dorcas Hampton’s life as a former prostitute and madam, which unfolded when Miss Hampton challenged the will of her wealthy father, John Hampton, in the Court of Common Pleas, on North Fourth Street.
Her eyes surely witnessed the fire which destroyed the old Park Hotel, at Fourth and Center, just two blocks from her home, in April 1899.
And she lived to see the 1908 introduction of Henry Ford’s Model T, this country’s first mass-produced automobile.
In all, Mrs. Marsh lived on the northeast corner of Sixth and Center streets for more than 50 years. Upon her death in 1910, her niece, Texie Louise Brooks Davis Waldron, whom she had raised from an infant, continued to live at 520 Center Street until shortly before her own death in 1936.
Now Mrs. Marsh is at rest in section C-51 at Riverside Cemetery, beside her husband and beloved niece.
In February 1983, in a status report for “Identification and Protection of Historic Resources,” Esley Hamilton described the unusual Marsh house: “combines features of the Greek Revival, Gothic Revival and Italianate styles.”
Hamilton also wrote in 1982: “At about the time Trinity Church was under construction, a Gothic cottage was being built at 520 Center Street for William Marsh. It has a central gable and Tudor gables over the front windows, … but it also has a round-headed gable window and Italianate porch, while the doorway and the woodwork in one room are Greek Revival.”
Hamilton then described the dwelling as a “hybrid structure,” which was undergoing restoration in 1982.
Unfortunately, the building later burned and was subsequently torn down to make way for a parking lot for the Presbyterian Church, located directly across the street.
The 1875 Marion County Atlas lists Artemissia’s husband, William J. Marsh, as owner of 158 acres of land along the Mississippi River and the county’s boarder with Ralls County, Mo.
But it doesn’t tell the story of an earlier partnership with his wife, Artemissia, and Jonathan and Lavinia Gore, in 1856. The partners borrowed money against this property through the banking house of J.P. Richards. Two years later, the agreed-to payments past due, the property was seized and sold on March 14, 1856, at the Melpontian Hall, in order to satisfy the debt.
It is unclear who purchased the property, or what transactions evolved over the years, but in 1875, the property was back in Mr. Marsh’s hands.
(In 2022, the acreage is owned by Curry Cave Properties LLC and Continental Cement Company.)
Note: Evidence was offered in a previous story in this series that in 1861 Col. M.M. Bane had rented the home of Jackson Riley, located opposite Central Park on Center Street in Hannibal, to be used as a military hospital and later recruiting offices.
Note: An in-depth story of Thomas J. Marsh’s role in the Civil War was written by John Marsh, the great-great-grandson of T.J. Marsh. Titled “Biography of Thomas J. Marsh, 1st Missouri Brigade - Civil War,” it can be accessed via this link:
This portion of an 1854 map of Hannibal was adapted from the original by Dave Thomson in 2004, and shows the neighborhood where the Marsh house would be built a few years later. Note that the Presbyterian Church had yet to be constructed on the southeast corner of Center and Sixth Street, but the Southern M.E. Church, which became Park Methodist, was standing on the northwest corner of Fifth and Center streets. Notice that what would be called Broadway was named Market at the time this map was drawn. The original map was drawn by Hart and Mapother, civil engineers, in 1854.
The 1871 Hannibal city directory, accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s web site, contained an advertisement for Marsh & Scott wholesale liquor dealership. Mr. W.J. Marsh would operate a saloon, retail and wholesale liquor shop at 108 South Main Street throughout the 1870s. This advertisement was accessed the Hannibal Free Public Library's website.
The advertisement of the marriage of Artemissia Briggs and William J. Marsh was published in the Hannibal Daily Journal on March 16, 1853. The newspaper was accessed via newspapers.com. (Note, there were various spellings of Artemissia. This writer used the spelling associated with her gravestone)
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