top of page

In the early days of railroading, the Shaw brothers left a legacy

Enclosed in dark ink is the Hawkins Subdivision, originally platted in 1866. This image is based upon Integrity, Marion County, Mo., GIS services. The house, at 2819 St. Mary’s Avenue, is believed to be the same house occupied by James C. and Myra Shaw during the first decade of the 20th Century. After Mr. Shaw’s death, much of the land in block 1 (containing lots 1-9) was sold, including some of the property deeded to Ralph C. Young, who owned the homestead until his death in 1968. Illustration by Mary Lou Montgomery.


Back in the days when steam was used to power trains, there was a stretch of Burlington rail in Macon County, Mo., near the Chariton River, where the grade was pitched so that heavy trains needed a “push” to climb the incline.

Brothers John and James Church Shaw, both engineers for the Burlington’s steam trains for the Brookfield division, in turn worked the job as “pusher” between Bevier and New Cambria.

The brothers were born circa 1853 and 1856, respectively, in Onondaga County, New York.

James C. Shaw

James Church Shaw came to Missouri in 1883, and was married to Palmyra (Myra) Davenport the same year. In 1885, he was a fireman for the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, and he and his wife lived at 519 Walnut on Hannibal’s South Side. He had been promoted to engineer by 1888, and was living at 210 S. Tenth. In 1894, he and Myra had purchased a home at 1213 Lyon, two lots west of St. John’s Lutheran Church.

(The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad acquired the H&St. Joe lines in 1883: Wikipedia.)

James C. and Myra sold their house on Lyon Street in 1905, for $5,000, to Fallie T. Smith, who operated the west Side Department Store at 132 Market.

The Shaws in turn moved to the Hawkins Addition, a single-story frame house still standing (in 2023) at 2918 St. Mary’s Avenue. That was where they were living when they adopted a daughter, Isabella, who was born in 1902.

James C. Shaw continued working for the railroad, primarily on Burlington trains Nos. 12 and 15. While working out of Brookfield, he made his home in Hannibal, until moving to New Cambria circa 1911 to take the vacant aforementioned “pusher” position.

In addition to his career with the railroad, James C. Shaw led a very interesting life.


In April 1894, James C. Shaw was granted a patent for a feed water pipe heater for steam boilers. “The object of the same is to prove an improved device whereby steam and to water may be conducted from the boiler to the outer end of the feed pipe heater and from thence inward through said pipe to the supply tank.”

Planned resort

In 1901, James Shaw owned a “naphtha launch” which he named Davenport. On Aug. 15, 1901, he told a reporter for the Hannibal Journal that he had an option on “Stillwell’s island,” located about one mile north of Hannibal’s railroad bridge.

He planned to use the “naphtha launch” to transport visitors to the island, on which he planned to build a resort, along with a pavilion, dance floor, refreshment stand and comfortable seating.

It is unclear if this plan came to fruition.

Naphtha launch

Boating before gasoline. A naphtha launch was a small motor boat, powered by a naphtha engine. Its invention was brought about by a law that made it impractical to use a steam engine to power a small boat intended for private use.

Around the turn of the 20th Century, small steam engines had become the norm in powering small boats. Tragedies caused by boiler explosions prompted the United States to implement a law requiring a licensed engineer be on board all steam boats - large or small - at all times.

This presented a big problem for small craft operators. An alternative was to use a fuel with a lower-boiling point range than water. Naphtha, a precursor to gasoline, was used in an external combustion engine.

Sources: “Refinery products and byproducts," by James G. Speight;


Bimetallic League

James C. Shaw was elected president of the Hannibal Bimetallic League, which formed in April 1897. C.D. Hurd was chosen secretary and J. M. Gibbs was elected treasurer.

The group advocated the return of gold and silver coinage as legal tender in the United States.

The campaign grew during the next few years, and in 1900, the membership was growing rapidly.

In February 1900, R.H. Goodier was president, and appointed the following committees to serve for a term of one year:

Finance, Sidney J. Roy, Joseph Deuser, S.J. Harrison, Joe Bassen and Geo. W. Munson.

Membership, J.W. Dawson, Arthur Conklin, Richard Settles, John T. Fuqua, James C. Shaw and Charles Camery.

House, J.M. Gibbs, Geo. R. McCullough and Theo. Waelder.

Information and publication, A.C. RoBards, J.T. O’Connor and Gus. A Seidler.

State hatchery

On July 5, 1912, the Bevier Appeal newspaper announced that James C. Shaw had purchased the ballast pits on the Chariton River near Kern, in Macon County.

He had plans to convert the pits into a state fish hatchery.

“Game Warden Geo. W. Bailey of Brookfield, to whose district Macon county has been attached recently, was much impressed with the idea and has promised his hearty cooperation,” the newspaper reported.

“A more ideal location for a fish hatchery than these ballast pits would be hard to find and the necessary expense to the state in establishing the hatchery would be but a mere trifle. The state authorities will doubtless accept Mr. Shaw’s offer and establish the hatchery in the near future.”

The area was already a popular fishing spot, and Shaw’s purchase came with the placing of “no trespassing” signs on the property.

It is unclear if this plan came to fruition.

Unexpected death

James C. Shaw worked until midnight on “the pusher” on Sunday, Dec. 17, 1916. Back at home, he had finished his breakfast, and 8:30 a.m. Monday morning was reading the newspaper. “Mrs. Shaw heard him call her. Rushing to his side she found him gasping and unable to speak. Medical aid was called but he died only a few minutes after the attack. Death was due to heart failure.”

He was 58 years old.

Funeral services were conducted at the home of Mrs. Shaw’s brother, D.R. Davenport, at Monroe City. Burial followed at St. Jude’s Cemetery.

A year and a half later, on Aug. 12, 1918, Myra Shaw followed her husband in death, leaving Isabella Shaw, age circa 16, parentless.

Hannibal property

In September 1917, the Palmyra Spectator reported the sale of James C. Shaw’s property in the Hawkin’s addition in Hannibal.

* Palmyra M. Shaw to Ralph C. Young and wife and 1/2 lots 7 and 9 block 1, Hawkin’s subdivision W 1/2 SE 1/4 (30-57-1) $1,500.

* Guardian and curator of I. Shaw, a minor, to Ralph C. Young and wife lot 6 and and 1/2 lots 7-8-9- block 1 Hawkins subdivision Lot 5 in original subdivision W 1/2 SE 1/4 section 30-57-4, $1,500.

Next week:

John Shaw’s Hannibal ties.

The 1930 plat book of Macon County shows the path of the CB&Q tracks through Lingo and Calleo Townships. John Shaw, brother of James C. Shaw, lived in Lingo, Mo., in 1910. James C. Shaw and his family lived in New Cambria at the time of his death in 1916. The ballast pits that James C. Shaw purchased were near Kern. The “pusher” engine operated between Bevier and New Cambria. Map obtained from MU Digital Library.

Archie Hayden of Hannibal shared this entry in the CB&Q trainman’s call, dated Oct. 26, 1910. James C. Shaw was assigned to Train 74, leaving Hannibal at 9:05 a.m., aboard engine 1920.

In April 1894, James C. Shaw was granted a patent for a feed water pipe heater for steam boilers. Source: United States Patent Office.

Myra Shaw, widow of James C. Shaw, posted a no trespassing notice in the Bevier Appeal, Dec. 14, 1917. This was in conjunction with the ballast pits on the Chariton River, which her husband purchased before his death.

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,’ the newest book, Oakwood: West of Hannibal.” Montgomery can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


 Recent Posts 
bottom of page