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Mark Twain expansion among school enhancements in 1925

This undated photo, from the Steve Chou collection, shows the front of the school, facing west, after the 1925 building expansion. Hosting plays and performances on the front lawn was a common event during this school’s early years.


A major expansion of Mark Twain elementary school was completed in time for the start of the school year on Sept. 14, 1925. 

The original portion of the building, which contained just four classrooms, was expanded by adding a three-story wing to the north of the original south-facing school.

Once completed, the Mark Twain School addition reportedly had 10 class rooms, a library, kindergarten, lunch room, gymnasium and an assembly hall.

“The plans and specifications for the new structure were prepared by Malcolm S. Martin, the Hannibal architect,” according to the Hannibal Labor Press of July 11, 1924.  “His estimate for the erection of the building was $110,994.00, being exactly $885.00 more than the bid made by the successful contractors.”

The contract for construction was awarded the Gerhardt Construction Co., of Cape Girardeau, Mo. Subcontracts were expected to be awarded to Hannibal contractors as time progressed.

One of the laborers working on the building was J.E. Selvey, an officer in the City Electrical Workers Union. He was installing electric light fixtures in late May 1925, when he fell a distance of 16 feet. He fractured bones in his left arm near the wrist.

Once the building was complete, the school expansion required the hiring of new teachers for the school. One of those teachers would remain on the staff for at least the next 37 years.

Nell Henderson Smarr, a 1915 graduate of Hannibal High School, was hired as second-grade teacher at the beginning of the 1925 school year. Previously, she taught at Ilasco.

She attended summer sessions at Kirksville State Teacher’s College, and earned her bachelor’s of science degree in June 1939. Other Hannibal women receiving their diplomas at the same time were Pauline Taylor Kramer, Virginia Bartlett Latham and Mildred Davis Wood.

While it is unclear when Mrs. Smarr retired from teaching, she did, in fact, teach second graders at Mark Twain School through the 1961-62 school year.

Jack Osterloh, who was born in 1922, was one of Nell Smarr’s second-grade students at Mark Twain School circa 1929, as was his daughter, Laura, circa 1958.

Jack’s parents, Percy F. and Lola P. Osterloh, lived to the west of the school, at 3102 St. Mary’s Avenue.

Harry H. Ham, born in 1926, and his daughter, Linda Ham Thompson, were both second grade students in Mrs. Smarr’s class.

For most of her Hannibal teaching career, Mrs. Smarr lived with her husband Ted Smarr, at 2401 Chestnut St., a house which they shared with her father, Samuel Franklin Henderson, during his lifetime. He died in 1932. Mrs. Smarr’s mother, Sarah Elizabeth Henderson, died in 1914, when her daughter was still in high school. Mrs. Smarr died Nov. 21, 1983, at the age of 86. Her husband, Ted, died in 1986, at the age of 91. They are buried at Grand View Burial Park.

Teaching staff

The Quincy Whig Journal, in its Sept. 14, 1925 edition, listed the staff for new newly expanded Mark Twain School. The building expansion allowed for the school to offer classes through eighth grade. Previously, students in seventh and eighth grades attended Central School.

Leolia Reynolds, principal

Home room teachers:

Viola M. Lovett, Grade 1

Nell Henderson Smarr, Grade 2

Eva Louise Mayes, Grade 3

Lucy V. Williams, Grade 4

Sarah Head, Grade 5

Helen C. Ellis, Grade 5-6

Martina Barber, Grade 6

LuEtta Roe, Grade 7

Hattie Barber, Grade 7-8

Department Work - Ruth Beilstein, physical education

Rachael Strong, auditorium and music

Alva Pritchett, science, geography

Lois C. Grove, drawing, industrial arts

Francis Harvey, library, literature


A state-wide campaign was afloat in 1924, regarding the acquisition and equipping of school playgrounds. Hannibal was no exception.

The concept of school playgrounds was new in Missouri. On April 16, 1924, while the Mark Twain School was under expansion in the St. Mary’s district, Hannibal’s Chamber of Commerce heard a discussion on the subject.

Dr. H.S. Curtis, Missouri director of hygiene and physical training, spoke to the chamber members about the importance of physical activity as it relates to education.

While in Hannibal, Dr. Curtis observed a number of desirable sites for playgrounds, and parks, including Lover’s Leap, the old circus grounds, the former city dump south of the Cruikshank lumber yards, and ground east of the South School, behind the Eugene Field school, on both sides of the Central school, and west of the Mark Twain School.

In September 1924, in speaking on the same subject at the Marion County teachers’ meeting, Dr. Curtis, “contends that it is as much the duty of the school boards to furnish the children with balls and bats and other play equipment as it is to furnish them with books. Every school should be provided with play equipment and every teacher should be required to supervise the children as zealously at their play as at their study.” (Marion County Herald, Friday, Sept. 19, 1924)

In 1924, Ellen Van Evercooren, whose family long operated grocery stores in Oakwood and in downtown Hannibal, owned two parcels of land to the west of the Mark Twain School, each 180 feet long and 350 wide. In July 1924, W.B. Pettibone, Hannibal philanthropist,  purchased lot 10, Hubbard’s Subdivision (to the west of Hawkins Street), from Ellen Van Evercooren. The land was purchased to be used as a playground for Mark Twain Elementary School, situated on Lots 7, 8 and 9 in the same subdivision. His expenditure was approximately $8,000.

Bond issue

Hannibal voters approved a $600,000 bond issue on Tuesday, July 3, 1923. The issue passed on a 4-1 vote basis.

After voters passed the bond issue, W.B. Pettibone pledged $200,000 for the replacement of North School, which had been destroyed by fire some months prior. His pledge allowed the school district to use their available funds for the enrichment of the other Hannibal schools.


A new building to replace the old Central School;

the construction of a new Eugene Field School;

tearing down the the old portion of the South School and erecting a new unit in its stead;

additions to Mark Twain and Washington schools; and

general improvements to Douglass School.

Nell Henderson was among the 1915 graduates of Hannibal High School. This photo was taken in the high school auditorium, when the high school was located at 1020 Broadway. Nell Henderson Smarr taught second grade at the Mark Twain Elementary school from the time the new wing opened in September 1925, until she retired in the 1960s. Steve Chou photo collection.

A close look at the background of this photo shows Mark Twain School, possibly when the north wing was under construction circa 1925. If you look in front of the school, you can see the shadowy image of a single-story white frame building, which was known as the Mark Twain School annex. This building, which contained lower-grade classes, was most likely torn down when the school expansion was complete. The annex was constructed circa 1911, before work on the main school building began. The photo was quite possibly taken by Hal and Jean Frazer, who lived at 3004 St. Mary’s Avenue as early as 1922. Photo contributed to the Hannibal Courier-Post in 2011 by Laura Osterloh. That’s her father, Jack Osterloh, born in 1922, in the foreground. He lived with his parents at 3102 St. Mary’s.

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


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