Scyoc (Melpontian) Hall played important role in Hannibal’s past



David R. Scyoc operated Farmers’ Custom Mill and the D.R. Scyoc grocery store in this building located at 200-206 North Third Street, circa 1905. At left, the house located at 208 N. Third, was his family’s home. He rented out the upstairs of the building, which he called Scyoc Hall. Steve Chou collection.


MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

The building in which Melpontian Hall was contained was standing on the northeast corner of Third and Center streets in Hannibal, Mo., as early as April 1855, when the Episcopal and Universalist churches held services there, and the City Council met on the first Monday of every month.

In July 1857, Miss Lizzie Horr’s school examinations took place in the same building.

And in 1858, both city hall and Hannibal’s probate court were housed in the two-story structure.

And on a darker note, prior to the Civil War, in 1856, Jno. Armstrong operated a general agency office on the first floor of the building, which included buying and selling Negroes.

After the Civil War, the second floor of this building served as Hannibal’s first public high school, in which Sarah Francis Fisher Archer was the principal.

Noting this building’s historic stature, circa 1895, David R. Scyoc, a farmer of significance in Ralls and Marion counties, deemed the Melpontian Hall building to be a good investment. He purchased the building, moved his family to a two-story brick house next door to the north, at 208 North Third St. (which previously housed Mrs. R.B. Warren’s boarding house) and opened his first in a series of businesses in this key Hannibal structure.

During February 1895, Scyoc leased the building’s second story to the Hannibal Court of Common Pleas for a period of three years. The court agreed to pay Scyoc $65 per month, for a term of three years. The Quincy Daily Journal reported in its Feb. 14, 1895 edition: “It is said that least $2000 will be expended in putting the building in condition.”

In June of 1895, Scyoc changed the long-standing name of Melpontian Hall, calling it instead: Scyoc Hall. The entrance to the second-story hall was at 220 Center St., while the first story businesses were located at 200-206 North Third St.

Scyoc’s grocery business occupied the key location of 200 N. Third.

Col. W. H. Hatch of Marion County, and Congressman U.S. Hall, an old line Democrat of Randolph County, Missouri, conducted a debate at Scyoc Hall in September 1895. The topic was “the financial question.” The Palmyra Spectator of Sept. 26, 1895, briefly described the subject: “Col. Hatch favors the free and unlimited coinage of silver at a rate of 16 to 1 and Mr. Hall doesn’t. If we understand Mr. Hall’s position correctly he favors the use of silver to a certain extent, but doesn’t like the 16 to 1 ratio. The chances are that a good deal of old straw will be threshed out.”

Paper bags

in August 1896, Scyoc opened a paper bag manufacturing firm, known as Hannibal Bag Company, in his row of business buildings on North Third Street.

By 1897, Scyoc had expanded his business interests, selling wholesale and retail groceries, feed, commission seeds, wood and coal, in addition to his ownership of The Hannibal Bag Company at 204 N. Third. He was joined in his business enterprises by his son, J. Robert (Bob) Scyoc, clerk, and by Miss Nannette Scyoc, his bookkeeper.

In 1912 Lingle & Lingle Bag company of Clinton, Mo., purchased the Hannibal Bag Company, by then owned by C.R. and D.E. Hamilton, and planned to move the stock and equipment to Clinton.

Debt collection

Unbeknownst to him at the time, David R. Scyoc’s efforts to collect money owed to his retail grocery business would land him at the heart of a history-making lawsuit. Scyoc, (1849-1920) over the course of three years, doggedly pursued legal avenues in order to collect $14.20 owed to him by Charles F. Cooper, who was unable, or refused, to make good on his indebtedness.

The legal option Scyoc followed was the garnishment of Cooper’s wages as a mechanic for the St. Louis and Hannibal Railroad (which later became the Burlington Railroad). Cooper, in turn, was protected by an exemption from garnishment based upon the fact that he was the head of a family of four children, owned a house which was heavily mortgaged, and depended entirely upon his wages of $52 a month for the support of his family.

Scyoc utilized legal channels nine times over a three-year period, each time initiating garnishment proceedings. Each time, Cooper, in turn, paid George H. Harrison, Hannibal attorney, $5 to respond to the court documents by claiming the exemption.

Finally, Scyoc took action to a higher level, reaching out to railroad representatives, and according to court documents, threatening to pull his business away from the railroad unless action was taken to get Mr. Cooper to pay his outstanding debt.

The railroad, by now the Burlington Route, in turn terminated Mr. Cooper’s employment.

In response, two of Hannibal’s most noteworthy attorneys, F.L. Schofield and George W. Whitecotton, initiated a suit in the Hannibal Court of Common Pleas for $5,000 in damages against Scyoc.

The Quincy Daily Herald described the court documents in its Tuesday, Feb. 25, 1902 edition:

“The petition alleges that the garnishment suits were brought by the defendant for the purpose of vexing the railroad company so that the plaintiff would be compelled to forego his right of exemption to pay the debt or be discharged and as he has lost his position he has no means of support for his family.”

Noteworthy is that this was the first case of its kind to be brought forward in a Missouri court.

During the trial, the jury found in favor of Mr. Cooper, setting both actual and punitive damages. The case was later reviewed by the St. Louis Court of Appeals.

Note: To read about Sarah Francis Fisher Archer’s experiences at Hannibal’s first public high school, go to: https://www.maryloumontgomery.com/single-post/2014/03/01/sarah-francis-fisher-archer-principal-of-hannibals-first-public-high-school-1866

Note: To read about the court case in The Southwestern Reporter, Volume 79,

https://books.google.com/books?id=YQs8AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA753&lpg=PA753&dq=%22D.R.+scyoc%22&source=bl&ots=Z_2rKCilx8&sig=ACfU3U1jEouZ8QAh1awMmLLwAsVGicKXpw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwidmavqiIvxAhWYbs0KHeucBLQQ6AEwD3oECBIQAw#v=onepage&q=%22D.R.%20scyoc%22&f=false

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.editor@yahoo.com Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com

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