Nov. 14, 1901: Fire left Oakwood in ashes
This headline described the fire at Oakwood, Mo., on Nov. 14, 1901. The image, published in the Hannibal Morning Journal, is from Steve Chou’s collection.
In order to define placement on this 1902 map of “South Oakwood” in Ralls County, Mo., look for the point where the Hannibal to Paris Gravel Road connects with the New London Gravel Road connect in a “V”. That intersection remains today, as it was in 1902. The fire that devastated Oakwood in November 1901 was in this vicinity. Note the location of the Standard Oil Company, which was spared from the fire. Also note that W.Z. and J.W. Link owned various pieces of land in this area.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
William Zeller (Buzz) Link (1859-1950) was a realtor, banker, farmer and an entrepreneur. He played an important role in the development of the small village to the west of Hannibal, Missouri, known as Oakwood.
Later incorporated into Hannibal, the village of Oakwood was once a community unto itself, with an extensive commercial base, as well as houses of worship, a school district, and its own service providers.
Oakwood, at the turn of the 20th century, was served by three railroads, and was situated at the intersection of two major connector roads: the Hannibal and Paris Gravel Road and the Hannibal and New London Gravel Road. W.Z. Link, his father, James William Link, and W.Z.’s brothers recognized the potential of this hamlet, and invested heavily in its infrastructure and commercial endeavors.
Today’s story represents one day in the life of Oakwood, and demonstrates how the community came together … when sparks flew.
In an unincorporated area such as Oakwood in 1901, the sounding of the fire alarm translated into all hands on deck. That’s exactly what transpired between 12:30 and 1 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 14.
Dr. Robert J. Heavenridge, 29, a bachelor, was a native of Monroe County, Mo., who both lived in and operated a drug store inside a two-story wood building along the Hannibal and Paris Gravel Road (later renamed Market Street). He yelled out for help when he saw sparks from a nearby bonfire blow beneath the building.
The windy conditions at midday left little doubt in Dr. Heavenridge’s mind that the consumption of the building by flames was imminent.
The young doctor’s cry was for his neighbors’ help in removing his possessions before the embers transformed the building into a pile of ashes.
It is believed that Oakwood (which wouldn’t be incorporated into the city of Hannibal for some years to come) had no fire engine company. (Oakwood’s distance from Hannibal, along a gravel road, and Hannibal’s dependence upon horses to pull the steam fire engine, would have made it impractical, at best, to respond to this fire in a timely manner. If in deed they did not respond.)
Instead, neighbors gathered to help, removing the drug store’s stock and the doctor’s household goods, while others formed a bucket brigade in an attempt to stay ahead of the embers that were blowing wildly through the air.
The wind, blowing from the west, spread the flames next door to another two-story frame building, this one owned by J.W. Link and Son, operators of a nearby mercantile store. This building had three occupants: The Oakwood Post office; a jewelry store operated by Postmaster Harrison A. Owens; and warehouse space used by J.W. Link and Son.
Like the frame building before it, this building also went up in flames, but not before citizens helped the postmaster move all government property and most of the jewelry store’s merchandise out of harm’s way.
There was no time to consider the consequences of the buildings that had thus been consumed, because embers jumped the street and threatened three buildings on the other side of the road, all owned by Link and Son: a grocery store, a horse stable and a building previously used as a blacksmith shop, currently in use to store farm implements.
A small building just to the east of that building, owned by J.W. Link, burned next. It formerly been an art hall at the old fair grounds nearby.
Next in the fire’s path was the large Link and Son grocery store. The Hannibal Morning Journal, in the next day’s edition, reported:
“It was evident to all that when the flames crossed the road that the store building was doomed, and the work of removing the stock to the vacant lot on the opposite side of the road was commenced. Scores of men and boys worked like beavers to save the stock.”
The still-hungry fire continued on. Once it consumed the Link grocery store, it moved across the road, to the home and barn of Berryman H. Henwood, (1858-1915) a conductor on the MK&T, and then on to the house adjoining, occupied by Mrs. T.N. Glascock. In each case, the buildings were lost, but most of the contents were saved.
Of critical interest was the Standard Oil Company’s plant, located on the south side of the plank road in Ralls County. (The road still partially serves as the dividing line between Marion and Ralls counties.)
The Morning Journal reported: “It was only by superhuman efforts that the plant of the Standard Oil Company, located in close proximity to the Henwood and Glascock residences, was saved from the fire. By the tearing down of fences and outbuildings the plant was saved from complete destruction.”
The oil company’s nearby barn was destroyed in the blaze.
Finally, at 3 o’clock, “it was evident at that hour that the fire had spent it force,” the Morning Journal reported.
W.Z. (Buzz) Link told the Ralls County Record newspaper that he would begin right away to build a brick store on the property occupied by the warehouse that had just burned. Immediate plans called for renting a building at the intersection of the two gravel roads as a temporary store. (While Oakwood addresses were vague at the turn of the century, in 1918 the store’s address was 3432 Market, on the northeast corner of 35th and Market.)
Note of interest
The Ralls County Record reported that ten minutes before the fire occurred at Oakwood, Link and Son had finished putting in their cellar $560 worth of potatoes. Six of the 12 buildings consumed by the fire were owned by members of the Link family.
At the time of the fire, Link and Son sold China glass and Queensware, farm implements, flour and feed, hardware and cutlery, in addition to groceries.
Harrison A. Owens, Oakwood postmaster in 1901, continued with is postal duties until 1903, when Charles Link was named postmaster. At that time the post office was moved into the Links’ new grocery store. Mr. Owens died in September 1927, at the age of 90. He is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
Berryman Henwood later moved to Callaway County, where he continued to work as a railroad conductor. He died in 1915 at the age of 57. His son, Berryman Henwood, became a prominent attorney and judge.
W.Z. Link (1860-1950) W.Z. Link sold out of the grocery business in 1903, transferring his share of the company stock to his brother, Charles Link. W.Z. Link later devoted is attention to real estate, banking and farming.
James W. Link (1833-1909) had settled with his family in Oakwood in 1883, and at the time of his retirement in 1905, he had been a grocery merchant in Oakwood for 25 years. He sold his interest in the business to his son, Eugene Link. At the time of his retirement, J.W. Link said he would devote his future attention to his real estate and other business interests. He died in January 1909, and was buried at Hannibal’s Catholic cemetery. His wife, Annie, died in 1923 and is buried with her husband. Their children who lived to adulthood included: Charles T., Leon L., Albert L., Eugene A., Mattie and Alice Link, and William Z. Link.
Dr. Robert J. Heavenridge was born circa 1872, the son of Samuel and Mary Heavenridge of Monroe County, Mo. He continued to practice medicine in Oakwood and Hannibal, and died in 1949. He is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
Charles T. Link was named postmaster for Oakwood in 1903, and established the postoffice inside the Link & Son store on the northeast corner of 35th and what would later be named Market Street in Oakwood. Photo contributed by Jimmy Link, nephew of Charles T. Link.
James W. Link (1833-1909) settled with his family in Oakwood in 1883, and for the next 25 years, he operated a grocery and mercantile business in conjunction with his sons. Photo from ancestry.com, reproduced with the permission of T.K. Schlueter.
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: "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