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In 1954, voters paved the way for the rerouting of U.S. 36



At left is the Johnston Bros. Shell Service station, 1201 Broadway, Hannibal, circa 1954, operated by G. Arthur and William J. Johnston. Just beyond the Shell station is a two-story house, that served as home and office for Dr. Richard Schmidt.  Toward the center of the photo you see the Wedge. In 1953, the New Cab Company was in the building at the point of the Wedge, operated by Enock and Earl Holman. At far right, at 1200 Broadway, is the Hayden and Nicely Phillip 66 Station, operated by Bryan Hayden and James J. Nicely. As Broadway extends past the Wedge, to the right, you can see the hill that truckers at the time referred to as “Maidrite Hill.” At the time of this photo, U.S. 36 highway  went west from Third Street north on Broadway, and then up “Maidrite Hill” toward James Road. Photo contributed by Richard Griffen, nephew of Merritt Griffen, who headed the committee to re-route U.S. 36 in 1954.


MARY LOU MONTGOMERY


Originally published in the Thursday, March 13, 2003, edition of the Hannibal Courier-Post.


Editor's note: In July 1994, John R. (Jack) Schroder, Hannibal mayor from 1954 to 1957, and a long-time Hannibal businessman, sat down for an interview with Mary Lou Montgomery and her brother, Robert Spaun.

Montgomery and Spaun tape recorded Schroder's conversations about the town's politics, industrial development and business climate. Schroder, who died in 1997, was instrumental in planning for the rerouting of U.S. 36 through Hannibal’s downtown business district, to the path of what is now Mark Twain Avenue and westward.

Until the 1950s, U.S. 36 entered Hannibal at the west end of the old Mark Twain Memorial Bridge. It wound through the town, south on Third Street toward the business district, then turned west onto Broadway toward the Wedge, where the highway continued up Broadway Extension and onto St. Mary's Avenue. The highway route turned west at James Road, crossing U.S. 61 at what is now the Route MM junction. The highway then wound out of town, following the path of Route MM. 

Schroder shared a vision with others that U.S. 36 should instead take a straight path from the bridge approach, following the existing path of the then two-lane Mark Twain Avenue. This route at the time stopped at the intersection of Harrison Hill. He foresaw continuing Mark Twain Avenue in a straight path westward toward Monroe City. 

The following is his story, in his own words, of how the city contributed to this successful rerouting of U.S. 36. Editor's notes are in parentheses. 


By John R. Schroder 

(1994) 


For several years, (in the 1950s, U.S.) 36 was coming through Hannibal, down James Road and St. Mary's Avenue. It had been a bottle neck and was getting worse and worse and worse all the time. The state had been suggesting that something be done about it. Their plan was to run the highway out through Oakwood and someway connect in (to U.S. 36 west of Hannibal) that way, but still bring it down onto Broadway at the Wedge. 

For one thing, there was Maidrite Hill. You remember when the Maidrite was where the Dollar store is now. (In 2024, The Muffler Shop is located at that site, 1325 Broadway.) You come down Broadway and go on down and get down there onto the stop lights, where the National's (Save-A-Lot, 1222 Broadway) over here, and the Dollar store over there, that was the Maidrite shack where you got sandwiches and things like that. All the truck drivers in this part of the country who came through here called that the Maidrite Hill. Because whenever there was ice or snow on there, they just couldn't get up the hill, or if they were coming down, they would slide into the restaurant. So that Maidrite Hill was a bottleneck. 

(In 1954) I had two things on my (election) platform, St. Elizabeth's Hospital was having flood conditions. Every time that there was a heavy rain, they had water, their sewer over there wasn't big enough to take care of it. So I said we're going to get a sewer down the street there, Virginia Street, tie it around behind the hospital and zig it on down and put it in Minnow Creek, which we did, eventually, and the other thing was to get U.S. 36 moved. The first thing was to get the highway in, the second thing was to get that sewer in. 

That was smart politics in one way, because St. Elizabeth's Hospital had a lot of Catholics and they voted, and if they could get a sewer around there, maybe they would vote for Schroder to get that sewer in there. 

(Schroder won the election against opponent William B. Spaun. After the election, Schroder set out to fulfill his election promises. As far as the highway department was concerned, U.S. 36 was going to remain routed through downtown Hannibal.) 

Frank Stuckey was the manager of the state highway engineers. He was a good friend of mine, and we talked about it (moving U.S. 36) several times, and he said that ‘“you can't get it done, he said you can't get it done ...” 

Well Frank, were gonna get it done, we gotta get it done. 

He said, "Well, if you do, that's going to put a load on us because we're going to have to improve highway 61 and we're going to have to improve the river road going on down to Louisiana." 

I said, Well, we gotta get it done, Frank. 

So I asked the council to give me the names of at least 10 people in each one of their wards so we'd have about 100 people to start. About three of the councilmen gave me their names, some of them gave me a couple of three, they weren't enthusiastic about it. They said “it's been tried a half a dozen times. It's not going to go over.” I said well, that was my campaign thing, that I was going to get that highway 36 through here. 

Well, anyway, I had about 10 or 15 names out of the ones that I wanted, out of 100, so I got the roster from the Lions Club and the Optimists and this and that and everything else and I had the roster of course from the Rotary Club, and I went down there and I picked out people in there and I went to Merrittt Griffen - he was living up on River Road outside the city limits, and told Merrittt: I want to make you the chairman of this steering committee. Well he objected for a while, and the next morning he called and said, "OK, I'll take it." Cause he was tired of that traffic, too, in front of his flower shop there on Broadway. So we got together and picked out about 12 people that we figured would be on that steering committee that could do a lot of good. (U.S. 36 came down James Road, then down St. Mary's and Broadway, and then went to Third Street and turned to the right over the bridge.) Anyway, we got these 12 people down. I said we're going to get this done this year. I was kinda rough. This was two weeks after I got in office, (1954) and I said we were going to have the election in September. 

"Oh my golly, you can't possibly have it in September," they said. 

We're going to have it when school resumes, I said. 

"What are you asking for on the ballot?" they asked. 

$200,000. 

"In local taxes?" 

To buy the right of way. 

"And how would that be paid for?" 

Bonds, I said. 

Well, these people fanned out along with the people from the lists of the Lions and the Rotary and the Optimists and so forth. People we figured were good went through the city directory and picked out people that I knew, people that came down to the (Schroder gasoline) station. I asked them if they would be on the committee, and we finally ended up with a committee of two or three hundred. 

Was there any road along where 36 is now? No. It stopped, it went on Mark Twain Avenue, then on Harrison Hill. It was a two-lane road from the bridge to Harrison Hill. The same bridge we've got now (until it was demolished in 2001). 

Anyway, I've had fellows come up to me, some of them even had tears in their eyes, now this sounds funny, but they had lived here in Hannibal all their lives and lived in the bottoms or worked at the shoe factory and had had no recognition at all. The fact that I put them on that committee, they were so proud of that, and they got out and worked. They went from house to house, clear on up to the night of the election. Chubby Conners, he got a form that he took around with the rest of them. He would come up to your house and get your name and your address and everything else. The election is coming up the day after Labor Day, because that was the first Tuesday after the first Monday. They wanted to know why it was going to be that soon and that fast and when. I said it's simple: Our proposed route over Mark Twain Avenue is going to take away the traffic from so many schools, so many churches, so many funeral parlors, we brought (the funeral parlors) in because there would be funerals and all this heavy traffic going along Broadway would be disturbing to the people who were having their funerals at Schwartz or at Smith's or wherever, and the churches were in session, maybe a wedding would be going on or a funeral being conducted there, and the main thing is, every street in town, is a cross walk for kids going to one school or another, and yet off of Broadway. They're cutting up to Mark Twain Avenue, to Central School, or going to McCooey School or going this or that, and have that thing (the election) on the day that school opens, the mothers are going to be taking their kids to school. And the polling places are in the schools. Which is logical that you got them there, they will vote. It worked. 

When the results came out about eight or nine o'clock I called Frank Stuckey in and said, Frank, get busy. 

He said, "What do you mean?” 

I said, It passed.

He said it couldn't have passed. 

It passed 7 to 1, I told him. 

"Oh My God," he said. 

So the next day he came around and said, "Well, I'm getting the boys started on these highways. We've got to get it done." 


Reroute U.S. 36 

This other thing about the 36 going down Broadway and turning at Third Street and going to the bridge: Once in a while the kids that worked for me at night (at the gas station, which was located on Broadway) - they weren't wild; they were nice, they were just kids. But at night after they got off from work they would, like they do now, they'd hot rod up and down Broadway. And this one couple of kids were cruising along there and here came a car from Ohio that was going a little bit faster than it should have been. And so my kids said, "Well come on, let's go if you're going." And they took off on down Broadway. Well, my kids knew when to stop. This Ohio car didn't know when to stop and it wound up 30 feet out in the Mississippi River. When one of my kids saw what was going to happen - they knew that this car was going to keep on going - so he slowed down enough so the other one could jump out and he ran over to the police station (located on South Fourth and Church streets) and told them what was happening. And so the police and the fire department and everything got down there. One of the kids who followed the car on down there, he went in the water and helped get them out. Well, that came out and a picture of it was in Kansas paper, or Nebraska or somewhere out in there, two or three pictures, we got notices from Ohio and different places, it went out over the Associated Press, I guess. And I got letters back from people who said they had almost made the same mistake, that that's a very dangerous thing down there at night, you don't know that you're supposed to turn there to go over to the bridge, you just think it is a nice great big wide street and the first thing you know you've got your front wheels in that water down there before you know what's going on. Either that or run into the railroad and almost get hit by a train. So that was one of the things to get that (Route 36) off Broadway. 

Well, the city paid for the property acquisition. $200,000. It was appraised that it would cost us $175,000 and I said that that's an odd figure, $175,000. If people are going to vote for $175,000, they'll vote for $200,000. So we made it $200,000. 


Fifth Street 

We had to put in the Fifth Street overpass, but that wasn't in the original $200,000, and I think that cost $25,000 to buy the right of way for both sides of the overpass. But that has been a life saver since then. But the board didn't want to do that. They didn't want to come up with the money. All we had to pay for was the right of way - for the highway and also for the overpass. All construction work, the overpass, the pavement, the road and all that, was at the expense of the state and federal government. In the meantime, when they fixed Mark Twain Avenue, that storm sewer over there had been there for 100 years, and it was decaying and falling down and everything else - that was rebuilt during the paving, so that was another plus that the city got. If the highway hadn't gone over there, if it had gone down through James Road and down through Market Street and St. Mary's Avenue, the city would have to had tear up Mark Twain Avenue and put in that big storm sewer. There's a creek that goes down there, it's almost as big as this room. This big one came down Mark Twain Avenue, and it carries everything from the college on down as far as storm water is concerned.





A close up of the photo of the Wedge shows a details that some people will remember: A newspaper box. A man would stand at this box on Sunday mornings and sell the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the St. Louis Globe Democrat to people en route to or from Church. My parents didn't buy their papers here, because our newspapers were delivered to our house at 2929 McKinley. But I remember those paper hawkers. Photo contributed by Richard Griffen.




This 1954 photo, used in the campaign to pass a bond issue in order to reroute U.S. 36 away from St. Mary’s avenue and Broadway, shows Broadway, facing east. At left is the building which housed Hannibal High School into the 1930s. In 1954, the building housed the Board of Education and the U.S. Naval Reserve Training Center. Just beyond the Board of Education building was Schwartz Funeral Home. Out of view, to the right, was McCooey High School and First Christian Church. Photo contributed by Richard Griffen, nephew of Merritt Griffen, who headed the committee to re-route U.S. 36 in 1954.



In 1954, U.S. 36 was routed through downtown Hannibal, turning north  at Third Street toward the old Mark Twain Memorial Bridge. Merrittt Griffen headed a campaign to convince Hannibal voters to pass a $200,000 bond issue to purchase right-away property on Mark Twain Avenue, to allow the highway to be route west from the bridge approach. Griffen’s flower shop was on the southwest corner of Third and Broadway.  Photo contributed by Richard Griffen, nephew of Merritt Griffen, who headed the committee to re-route U.S. 36 in 1954.



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.editor@yahoo.com Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com

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