Old staircase gains new life during restoration process
The maple staircase, reclaimed from 218 S. Maple during demolition in 2020 has been replaced into the newly restored house at 308 N. Sixth. Photo courtesy of Gordon Harrison.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
A curved staircase, hand crafted from native maple harvested when this nation was still in its infancy, was reduced to ashes in the late afternoon of Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, when a major fire gutted the interior of the Hannibal house numbered 308 N. Sixth St.
Neighbors watched, during the supper hour, as a full command of Hannibal’s firefighters focused attention not so much on the fully engulfed two-story brick structure, but rather on the neighboring houses to the north and south, standing hardly more than an arm’s reach away on each side.
Save the adjoining houses they did; but when the embers died down, wet rubble was all that remained within the brick frame at 308 N. Sixth.
Because of the building’s proximity to the nearby houses, insurance regulators deemed that demolition would have to be brick by brick, rather than by machine, in order to protect the integrity of the nearby structures.
Gordon Harrison, a soft-spoken Hannibal businessman, has a vast appreciation for the past. An entrepreneur, his mission leans, whenever possible, toward reclamation. He visualized the charred remains as an opportunity to restore this shell of a house, which was built during the heyday of Hannibal’s lumber years, and which once served as home to some of Hannibal’s noteworthy citizens.
Harrison purchased the structure and committed to transforming the old house into new, rebuilding the interior by using reclaimed materials from other old buildings which were unable to be saved.
After removing 40 dump truck loads of debris from within the structure, Harrison went to work.
Now, nearly two years after the fire, the most unique feature of this nearly restored house is its maple staircase.
To fully understand the significance of replacing the staircase which burned to ashes in the January 2020 fire, one needs to go back in time to October 2020, when the city had ordered the demolition of a dilapidated house: a two-story frame structure, located at 218 S. Maple.
Gordon Harrison undertook the task of demolishing that house, board by board. He salvaged the wood in conjunction with his business, the Mark Twain Architectural Salvage Supply Company, 901 Lyon.
That task included the dismantling of the maple staircase, which, coincidentally, was an exact duplicate of the staircase which burned in the January 2020 fire.
“It had the same twist and the same steps,” as the staircase that burned. “It could have been made by the same person. It fit like a glove,” into the house on North Sixth Street, Harrison said.
Now, with restoration of 308 N. Sixth nearly complete, he looks forward to returning the house to Hannibal’s tax base as an occupied residence.
“It is in perfect condition,” Harrison said. “The structure is rock solid, with a cut limestone foundation. You will not see a single brick or stone which has settled.”
He tuck-pointed the interior, rewired and plumbed it, insulated the house, and used all period moldings. Every window - destroyed by the fire - was rebuilt to period style.
Research undertaken by Esley Hamilton in the 1980s, and by this author, reveals that this house was most likely constructed circa 1885. It is situated in Hannibal’s Central Park Historic District.
Originally, a pre-Civil War house stood on Lot 7, and utilized the whole of the town lot.
Joseph Rowe, who lived at 420 N. Fifth in 1885, commissioned two brick houses to be built on Lot 7, Block 31, and those two houses remain in place today, thanks to the recent efforts of Hannibal firefighters, and Gordon Harrison.
Who walked those stairs?
So, who walked up and down the original maple staircase - in all its grandeur - in the house which was originally numbered 306, and in 1913 would become known as 308 N. Sixth St.?
(Address was 306)
1888: Mrs. Honnour Brady and her grandchildren, Charles B., H. Honnour and Mary V. Williamson.
1892: Charles T. Hayward, president of Hayward Grocery Company.
1894-97 Rev. James H. Malcolm, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, and Lily M. Davison, domestic.
1901: Philip H., Anna, Milton P. and Miss Mary Knighton.
1903: Joshua P. Richards Jr. and his wife, Ella Richards.
1907: The Rev. Edward P. Little, rector, Trinity Episcopal Church, and his children, Harold L., and Miss Isabel.
1909: Rev. Hunter Davidson and his wife, Elizabeth, pastor Trinity Episcopal Church.
(Address changed to 308)
1914, 1918: Rev. A.G. Van Elden, rector Trinity Episcopal Church.
1920-1923: Rev. Wm. S.W. and Mabel Raymond, rector, Trinity Episcopal Church.
1937: Edward Billings.
1959: Guy D. Riddle
Maple Avenue staircase
Regular readers of this column will remember a story published in 2020 regarding the house at 218 S. Maple. Miss Mary Pettibone, as a new bride of Col. James Tilly Barber, lived in this Italianate/Eastlake style home, on the northwest corner of South Maple and Lyon, Hannibal, at the time of her marriage in 1884. She died two years later.
Today, the stairway in the house where she lived as a newlywed has new life at 308 N. Sixth.
Note: The 218 S.Maple story can be accessed at:
Note: The story about Rev. Little’s tenure at the Trinity Episcopal Church can be accessed at: https://www.maryloumontgomery.com/single-post/2020/04/11/rev-little-s-family-witnessed-hannibal-s-history-in-progress
This recent photo of 308 N. Sixth, provided by Gordon Harrison, shows the house as it appears today, following reconstructive work, using reclaimed wood details. Note that Harrison has taken the front porch back to it’s original 1885 footprint.
218 S. Maple, prior to the 2020 demolition of the structure. Gordon Harrison of Mark Twain Architectural Salvage Supply Company salvaged the staircase from this structure and installed in into the house at 308 N. Sixth, which was fire-gutted in January 2020.
Hannibal Sanborn fire prevention maps, representing the years 1885, 1890, 1899, 1906 and 1913, show the progression of the houses located in the western half of Out Lot 31, Lots 5, 6, 7 and 8. The house featured in today’s story is circled. It was first numbered 306 N. Sixth, and circa 1913 was renumbered 308. Gordon Harrison rebuilt the interior of the house following a devastating 2020 fire, replacing the original maple staircase with one reclaimed from a demolished house at 218 S. Maple.
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," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.email@example.com Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com