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In the days of early automobiles, Clay fulfilled supply and demand

A representative of the LL Cook Company took this real photo image for a post card series. Clay’s Motor Court is pictured sometime before the onset of World War II. The motor court and gas station were located at 3604 McMaster’s Avenue, and owned by Frank B. Clay. Three of Mr. Clay’s four sons were called to serve during the war. In the mid 1940s, the establishment was rebranded as Beam’s Motor Court, operated by Sam Beam. Steve Chou collection.


In 1929, Frank B. Clay, 42, a mechanic for the St. Joseph and Hannibal Railroad, saw an opportunity. Automobiles had all but replaced horse power on the roadways, a federal highway system was in the works, concrete driving surfaces were gaining predominance over gravel, and Americans were on the move.

Knowing that gasoline was necessary to keep the cars moving on those ever improving streets and highways, circa 1929 he opened a gasoline station on the northwest intersection of West Ely Road and McMaster’s Avenue in Hannibal, Mo.: 3601 McMaster’s Avenue.

In 1929, he and his wife, Corinne, had four sons at home: Frank Jr., 16; Henry B., 13; Joseph, 10; and Howard, 1. Those boys would help provide the manpower needed to keep the station open, while Mr. Clay continued to maintain his job with the railroad.

And that’s how the Clay family business presence on McMaster’s Avenue began. The Clay family settled into a home not far from the gas station, located at 3220 West Ely Road, which was owned in 1925 by Vernon E. Green.

By the mid 1930s, Frank Clay had extended his business operation across the street, to 3604 McMaster’s Ave. There, he offered gasoline for sale, as well as a few cabins to rent to tourists.

Tragedy strikes

The Quincy Herald Whig reported on Oct. 19, 1936, that Bradley Adolphus Sutton, 34, and Mrs. Olive Lucas, 36, a widow, both of Audrain County, had been dating about a year. On Saturday evening, they decided to visit a dine and dance establishment in Hannibal. At about midnight, they stopped at the Clay filling station and inquired about cabins. Frank B. Clay rented them a cabin with a gas heater.

Mr. Clay later said that, “he showed Sutton how to operate the heater and left.”

The next morning, when friends traveling with couple couldn’t wake them, they went to the filling station and asked for a pass key. Joe Clay, the 16-year-old son of the owner of the camp, went with them to the cabin, the newspaper reported. Once the door to the cabin was opened, “a gray mist floated out of the room.” They left the door open several minutes before entering the cabin and finding the two bodies on the bed.

The gas heater was turned on and the windows were closed.

A coroner’s inquest was held that afternoon, and a jury concluded that the couple was accidentally asphyxiated by gas from the heater.

Clay’s presence on the avenue would continue until the mid 1940s, when he sold much of the property he had accumulated in the neighborhood; some to Walter L. and Leo Harrison, and other property to his son, Joe.

Clay sons

Frank Clay Jr., graduated from Hannibal High School in 1932, and from Hannibal-LaGrange College in 1934. He also attended the University of Missouri. He was commissioned as ensign in the U.S. Navy on Sept. 12, 1942. He received an honorable discharge, after contracting polio. He was married to Rosetta Racine Rush of Hannibal. He died in 1948 at Riverside County, Calif. Racine Clay’s brother, Eugene F. Rush, was a 1949 graduate of McCooey High School, and was killed in action in March 1952. He was a machine gunner attached to an infantry company during the Korean Conflict. Racine and Eugene were children of Mr. and Mrs. Clarence E. Rush of Hannibal.

Henry Burke Clay graduated from Hannibal High School in 1934, and subsequently Hannibal-LaGrange College. He was married to Iona Harris of Quincy, Ill., in 1940. She was a Quincy High School graduate, and later attended Hannibal-LaGrange College and the University of Illinois. She graduated from Culver-Stockton College at Canton. Subsequently, she was a physical education teacher for 35 years. At the time of their marriage, she was teaching primary grades and music at Ursa, Ill. She died Feb. 28, 2007, at the age of 90, in Melbourne, Fla. In 1940, they made their home at 3430 St. Mary’s Ave., Hannibal. In 1950 they were living in Los Angeles, Calif. In 1964, they were living in Florida. Henry B. Clay died April 28, 1985, at Sarasota, Florida.

Joseph Edmund Clay was born circa 1919. He was married to Florence Dorthulia King in 1940. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II from Feb. 18, 1944, to May 13, 1946. Before his military tour of duty, he worked with his father operating Clay’s Service Station. in May 1943, he took a CAA war training course at Northeast Missouri State Teachers’ College at Kirksville, giving initial training for all Navy and Army fliers. After the war, he worked for B.J. Rupp’s Plumbing and Heating business for 15 years. He became a master pipefitter, and in the early 1950s worked as a supervisor at the Paduka Atomic Plant. He died Oct. 8, 1970, and his wife died Jan. 25, 2005.

Howard Eugene Clay, born in 1928, was the youngest of the family, but regardless he followed in his brothers’ footsteps, as an attendant at the family’s filling station. During his adulthood, he worked for Lockheed Aircraft in California, farmed in rural Marion County, and was a signal switcher mechanic for the CB and Q Railroad. He was then an agent for Metropolitan Life Insurance for more than 25 years. He was married to Catherine Ann Engle in Hannibal, 1948. When he died in 2006, he was survived by his wife and six children. In 2023, his wife survives.

In 1937

The 1937 Hannibal city directory lists as affiliated with Clay’s Service station and Cottage Camp, 3401 McMaster’s:

Frank B. Clay, owner

Frank B. Clay Jr., attendant

Henry B. Clay, attendant

Joseph E. Clay, attendant

Also: Clay’s Service Station, 3601 McMaster’s.

Civic duty

In 1943, Frank Berry Clay Sr., won a seat representing the First Ward on the Hannibal City Council.

In 1946, the Clays were living at 3712 Mohawk St., in the Indian Mound Subdivision; property later claimed by the U.S. 36 construction project.

Also in 1946, as three of the Clay sons were serving their country, the Clay motor court and filling station were rebranded as Beam’s Motor Court and Service Station, operated by Sam Beam.

Family recollections

Cindy Clay Craven of Hannibal is a daughter of Howard Eugene Clay (1928-2006) and Catherine Ann Engle Clay.

Cindy explained that the Clays operated two more motels after selling out of the business at 3604 McMaster’s avenue.

“My grandfather was an entrepreneur and dabbled in a lot of stuff,” she said. She doesn’t have much memory of him, but when he died in 1958, she knows that he and her grandmother were living at Clay’s motel, which was at the end of Earl Street. It was a two-story building. The basement, where the family lived, was numbered 209 Earl and faced east. The second floor faced west to U.S. 61, and that’s where guests stayed. It faced Paris Motors across the highway, which was by the (still-present) Minnow Creek waterfall. The motel building was taken when U.S. 61 was widened.

The next motel venture for the family was Clay’s Avenue Motel, 1400 Mark Twain Avenue. It was operated by Corinne B. Clay, Cindy’s grandmother, and Mrs. Clay's son, Joseph E. Clay, into the 1970s.

“My grandmother wore a hat always,” Cindy said. Mrs. Clay’s desk was near a big picture window facing Mark Twain Avenue. “People called her the hat lady,” Cindy said, and when she was in junior high and high school, her friends would tease her.

Corrine Clay died in 1977.

L.L. Cook Company

The L.L. Cook Company was founded in 1921 and was one of the two largest postcard publishing companies in Milwaukee, Wisconsin up to the 1960s, producing thousands of postcards with scenes from different cities and states across the country.

Frank B. Clay Sr., is pictured on his tractor. Cindy Clay Craven of Hannibal, Frank’s granddaughter, said that he owned two farms, one out by West Ely, Mo., and another just north of Palmyra. Photo posted on Ancestry by FEsposito20

Corinne Clay, wife of Frank B. Clay, is pictured in front of her family’s tourist cabins. The business was known in the 1930s and early 1940s as Clay’s Motor Court, and was located at 3604 McMaster’s Avenue, Hannibal, Mo. Photo posted on by FEsposito20, and identified by Cindy Clay Craven of Hannibal, Mo., granddaughter of Corrine Clay.

Howard Eugene Clay, right, and Catherine Ann Engle were married in 1948. Mrs. Clay is the last surviving member of the generation of four Clay brothers and their wives, featured in today's story. She makes her home in Quincy, Ill. Photo shared by her daughter, Cindy Clay Craven.

Henry Burke Clay, left, and Iona Harris were married in 1940. A close look at this photo shows the Dutch Mill establishment to the right, and a peek at the left shows one of the Clay tourist cabins. Clay’s Service Station was located at 3601 McMaster’s Avenue, The Dutch Mill was at 3600 McMaster’s Avenue, and the Clay Service Station and Cottage Camp was at 3604 McMaster’s. The Dutch Mill (which was featured in this column on Feb. 18, 2023, is easily identifiable by the criss-cross boards on the building’s exterior. Photo posted on by FEsposito20, and identified by Cindy Clay Craven of Hannibal, Mo., niece of Henry Burke Clay.

Iona Harris is pictured in the 1934 Quincy High School yearbook. In 1940 she was married to Henry Burke Clay, son of Frank B. and Corinne Clay of Hannibal, Mo. Photo accessed via

Frank B. Clay Jr., is pictured in his military uniform. Photo posted on by FEsposito20, and identified by Cindy Clay Craven of Hannibal, Mo., niece of Frank B. Clay Jr.

Frank B. Clay Jr., is pictured in the 1934 Hannibal High School yearbook. He was the oldest son born to Frank B. and Corinne Clay, operators of clay’s Motor Court in Hannibal, Mo.

Corinne Clay, wife of Frank B. Clay. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she manned the desk at the family motel, known as Avenue Motel, on Mark Twain Avenue. Because she always wore a hat, and was visible via a picture window along the avenue, she became known as "The Hat Lady." Photo contributed by Carol Clay-Mann, Mrs. Clay's granddaughter.

The Clay filling station, when it was located at 3601 McMaster's Avenue. Pictured are, from left, Frank B. Clay Jr., Frank B. Clay Sr., and at left, in the shadows, Henry B. Clay. Photo contributed by Carol Clay-Mann, Frank B. Clay Sr.'s granddaughter.

Frank B. Clay Jr., left, and Frank B. Clay Sr., are pictured at the Clay Service Station, 3601 McMaster's Avenue, in this undated photo, Identified by Corinne Clay Fessenden. Photo submitted by Carol Clay-Mann.

From left, Racine, wife of Frank Clay Jr., and Iona, wife of Henry Clay. Photo submitted by Carol Clay-Mann.

From left, Howard Clay, Frank Clay Jr., and Frank Clay Sr. Photo submitted by Carol Clay-Mann.

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,” and “Hannibal’s ‘West End,’” 47 stories of the Market Street Wedge and on west to Lindell Avenue. Montgomery can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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