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Population growth prompts construction of new school

Mark Twain School is pictured during construction, in December 1911. The Hannibal Courier-Post, in its December 15, 1911 edition, reported: "The work of putting the roof on the new Mark Twain School building has been finished and the work of plastering the rooms will be started at once." A close look through the windows shows interior bricks, which will soon be replaced by plaster. This picture of the front of the school was taken from Bird Street, looking northward. The house visible in the background was occupied at the time by Oscar and Ella Hile. Oscar Hile worked for the Burlington Railroad. Photo contributed by Robert Spaun and Kim White.


When plans were formulated for the current Mark Twain elementary school in the early years of the 21st Century, there was one unique aspect of the design and construction: No additional land purchase was required. That’s because 100 years prior, forward-thinking leaders acquired the land that the new school now sits upon.

Lots 7-8-9

The history of the land purchase goes back some 120 years. William H. Howell, about 26 years of age, a trained lithographer, relocated from Chicago to Hannibal soon after 1900. Practicing his trade, he accepted a coveted job with Standard Printing Company, located 201-205 N. Third.

By June 22, 1904, Howell had the resources to purchase a small house and four lots in the rapidly developing St. Mary’s Avenue district, located several miles to the west of downtown. The owner of the land was John H. Hill, a respected Hannibal furniture dealer, who had moved to Grand Junction, Colo., a few years prior.

The lots, numbered 6, 7, 8 and 9 in Hubbard’s addition, featured both shade and fruit trees, and the lots themselves were situated on a slightly sloping hill, thus were well drained.

It was here, on Jamison Street (later renamed West Bird), near the intersection with Levering Avenue, that William Howell settled into a single-story frame house. He was joined in Hannibal by two of his sisters, Miss Zella Howell, born in 1866, and Miss Ethel Howell, born in 1885.

(Their mother, Villa Elizabeth Tolley Howell, died in 1889, and their father died the following year, both in Ontario, Canada. The older children were left to raise their younger siblings.)

By mid 1904, Miss Nettie Newberry, a bookkeeper at Milton Strong’s dry goods store, 102-104 N. Main, had caught the eye of William H. Howell. She was a popular, estimable and pretty young lady. 

In the summer of 1904, The Louisiana Purchase Exposition was under way in St. Louis. In mid August, Nettie, (possibly accompanied by William H. Howell) took a week off work and attended the great fair.

Then, one year later, in its Oct. 6, 1905 edition, the Hannibal Courier-Post announced that Mr. Howell had abruptly resigned his position with the printing establishment, and planned to leave the next morning via train for Chicago.

A month later, in mid November 1905, William Howell sold his home on Lot 6 in Hubbard’s addition, to N.E. Woodcock, for $2,350. (One year after that, in October 1906, N.E. Woodcock sold the same property to Samuel Watson, a molder for D.T. Stove Co.)

William Howell and Miss Nettie Newberry were married Nov. 29, 1905, at the home of the bride’s aunt, Mrs. Winders, in Chicago. The bride was the daughter of Mrs. N.L. Saunders, of Bridge street, in Hannibal.

Five years later, in 1910, William Howell was working as lithographer for a Bank note company in Chicago, and he still owned three of the lots in Hubbard Addition that he purchased in 1904.

The property

The St. Mary’s Avenue district and Oakwood were growing rapidly by 1909, fueled in great part by the accessibility of transportation via the Hannibal street cars, which served both neighborhoods.

Hannibal made two major annexations prior to the 1910 census: The up-and-coming St. Mary’s Avenue district, and the sprawling Oakwood district. These annexations made it necessary to construct two new school buildings, one in each of these two Hannibal neighborhoods.

Two identical school buildings were planned. In the Mark Twain district, the directors of the Board of Education had their eye on vacant property known as the “Howell tract.” 

The proposal submitted to the firm of Bassen and Spencer, representing Mr. Howell, was for $3,000 for the three Howell lots. The Hannibal Courier-Post reported in its Jan. 18, 1910, edition: “and it is thought that the proposition will be accepted.”

But they thought wrong. The asking price from Mr. Howell, now living in Chicago, was $4,000 for the three lots. “Neither party will yield an inch and the prospective deal is off for good,” the Courier-Post reported in its Jan. 21 edition. “The school board now has no site in view and the members declare that they will not pay an exorbitant price for a site.”

It would take three months of negotiating, but finally, on April 27, 1910, the deal was made. The final price for Lots 7, 8 and 9 was $3,700.

(In Oakwood, John M. Evans and wife sold property for the school to School District of the City of Hannibal, lots in Oakwood; consideration $1,550).

The board members agreed to name the St. Mary’s District school in honor of Mark Twain; and the Oakwood school in honor of George Washington.

Officers of the Board of Education in 1910 were: Dr. J.N. Baskett, president; Capt. W.F. Chamberlain, vice president; John J. Cruikshank, treasurer; Ernest Mangles, secretary; and W.P. Johnson, superintendent.

The St. Mary’s Avenue district school property was bounded by Cleveland Street on the north (later renamed Hill Street); Jamison Street on the south (later remained West Bird); and St. Paul Avenue (later renamed Hawkins) to the west.

Even before the first shovel of dirt was turned for the St. Mary’s district school, overcrowding existed.

School annex

Before work could start on the new school building, a temporary school building was to be constructed on the west end of the property, at the corner of Bird and St. Paul (aka Hawkins) streets.

The Courier-Post reported on Aug. 30, 1910: “The temporary building, a commodious frame structure, will be used for the smaller children until the handsome and well appointed school house is completed.” The cost of this temporary building was $600.

As of Aug. 30, 1910,  there were 125 children of school age living within the boundaries of the St. Mary’s Avenue district. Of those, 85 were small children, in the primary grades.

“These are the little tots who will go to school this year at the Mark Twain,” the newspaper reported. “It is more than likely that Miss (Minnie) LaFon, who taught at Centenary Academy (in Palmyra) last year, will be the teacher.”


The new Mark Twain School was designed by Malcolm S. Martin, architect, who resided at 3227 St. Mary’s Ave.

The Courier-Post described the building in its Oct 24, 1911 edition:

“The building is so designed that three units, of which only the first is being erected now, can be made to constitute it, the others being added as the needs of the district require. Many years in the future are thus being planned for and as new sections are added any appearance of a patch work structure will be eliminated.

“Four class rooms, one recitation room, principal’s office, toilet rooms and broad corridors will make up the various departments of the building. Among the conveniences will be bubbling drinking fountains, genuine slate black boards and ventilators in connection with an excellent heating system. The interior finishes will be of ivory enamel while on the exterior, Indiana cut stone as high as the first floor window sills will be used with rough English bond brick extending to the cornices which will be very broad. The roof will be covered with asbestos tile and will have a low sweeping effect. The vestibules will be tiled and the trimmings will be of marble.”

Water for the school was supplied via a well, drilled to a dept of 312 feet.

The lower lots, to the west of the school, were later donated for use as the school’s playground, and it is on these lots that the current Mark Twain School stand.


This map, based upon the Marion County map provided by, shows the neighborhood where the current Mark Twain School (see outline) is located in 2024. The shaded area, to the left, was the 1912 Mark Twain School building (not to scale) on Lots 7 and 8, Hubbard subdivision. Lot 6, with its shaded area, was home to William H. Howell and his two sisters, circa 1904. Behind the original Mark Twain School (marked by an X) was the home of Oscar and Ella Hill, when the school was constructed in 1911-1912. That house is visible in the accompanying photo. Note that the three streets connecting the school property all changed names: Jamison became West Bird; Cleveland became Hill Street; and St. John became Hawkins. Illustration by Mary Lou Montgomery.

Malcolm S. Martin, 1877-1927, architect, of the Mark Twain and Washington elementary schools, circa 1911. Photo from the files of the Hannibal Courier-Post.

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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