The Park: A strictly first-class hostelry
This image of the Park Hotel was published in “History of Marion County, Missouri, 1884.”
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
John B. Price, (1822-1895) a wholesale lumber dealer, was the primary owner of Hannibal’s Park Hotel. The building stood on the northwest corner of Center and Fourth streets from roughly 1880, until the building was consumed by fire in mid April 1899.
While Price and his partner, Dubach, maintained ownership of the hotel, a long series of lessees tried their hand at turning a profit from the business.
On Aug. 24, 1893, the Palmyra Spectator surmised: “This hotel seems to be a Jonah as almost every man who leases it loses money.”
Lessees of the Park Hotel, as culled from various digitized newspaper articles, include:
1880-1884 (roughly) The Bliss Brothers, N.J. and and Henry D.
1885-June 1886 (roughly) A.K. Criley and A.M. Deming
June 1886 - spring of 1887 (roughly) Charles E. Gunn
1888 (roughly) Henry A. Newman
1892 W.B. Titus, propr. Park Hotel
1894 T.C. Lamey and Co.
1895-1898 J.B. Price and Co.
Today’s story will focus on Charles Elihu Gunn, who was born at Keokuk, Iowa, in 1851, the son of a pioneer Baptist minister, Rev. Elihu Gunn, and Amy Barker Barrett Gunn.
The Gunn family relocated frequently during Charles’ youth, from Pella, Iowa, to Atchison, Kansas, and finally to Lawrence/Fort Scott, Kansas.
In the late 1870s, Charles E. Gunn settled in Calhoun, Henry County, Mo., operating a store on the east side of the town square, and serving as the town’s postmaster.
Jolt in the night
At 2:30 a.m. Nov. 26, 1879, robbers entered the store and Calhoun post office, operated by Gunn. They procured a drill and sledge from David Clark’s blacksmith shop, and used the chisel to pry open the door to the storeroom. They drilled a hole in the the top of the safe, and poured in blasting powder. Subsequently, the door to the safe was blown off.
The sound of the explosion alerted the family of Mr. David Ping, but by the time police responded to the alarm, the robbers were long gone.
Reported missing was $300 in cash and about $75 in stamps, together with post office money orders.
The Henry County Democrat reported in the next day’s edition, “The loss falls heavily on Mr. Gunn, who is bound to the government for all losses.”
The newspaper noted, “The explosion shattered all the glass in the post office boxes, and also the glass in one of the front windows.”
It’s little wonder that Mr. Gunn, some five years later, (September 1885) decided to sell his store and resign the title of postmaster. Max McCann was subsequently named postmaster of Calhoun.
About a hundred miles to the southwest, in Fort Scott, Kan., Gunn’s parents lived. It seems likely that Gunn became acquainted with A.K. Criley and A.M. Deming, who operated the Huntington Hotel in Fort Scott. Those two men were also lease holders for the Park Hotel in Hannibal.
In June 1886, Gunn took possession of the Park Hotel.
After exchanging vows with Ida (Idee) Wilson at Calhoun in September 1886, Chas. E. Gunn brought his new bride to Hannibal.
The following month, he was lucky enough to obtain a favorable review, published in the Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper on Oct. 30, 1886:
“Mr. Charles E. Gunn is one of the very gentlemen who knows how to run a hotel not only successfully, but also to the satisfaction of his guests. He personally superintends the management of affairs, and even in the dining room his eagle eye is ever alert for the welfare of his guests. There are a great many hotel proprietors in the great State of Illinois who could learn a few chapters in the art of politeness, true hospitality, and hotel management from the affable and experienced proprietor of (Hannibal’s) Park Hotel.”
That publicity, however, wasn’t enough to entice Mr. and Mrs. Gunn to stay in Hannibal for more than a year.
The young couple next moved to Lamar, Mo., where they would live out their lives together, Mr. Gunn working in the real estate and investment business. They had one son, C. Groshon Gunn. Chas. E. Gunn died in 1922, at the age of 70, and Mrs. Gunn died in 1946. They are buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis.
According to the aforementioned article in The Inter Ocean newspaper, the Hannibal Park Hotel featured:
A passenger elevator;
an electric bell; and
(Note the word ‘light’ is singular. The 1885 and 1890 Sanborn fire prevention maps indicate the building had gas lighting.)
The Chicago newspaper also noted:
“The Park Hotel, being situated in front of a beautiful park covering an entire square in which, during the summer and fall season, a local band of considerable repute as musicians, discourses favorite airs to the delight of thousands of the people. The Park Hotel is a strictly first-class hotel.”
The 1885 Sanborn Map shows that the brick hotel was heated by steam. The building encompassed most of the area from the corner of Center and Fourth Streets, on north to the property line of the Trinity Episcopal Church, which is still standing today.
The dining room was on the first floor, facing east, on the north side of the building. The office was on the south side of the first floor. There were separate entrances provided for men and women. The elevator and stairs were located in the office area.
The kitchen was to the north, to the west of the dining room. The laundry area was in the basement.
At the time of the disastrous fire in 1899, the hotel had 100 rooms, divided among four stories. (The fire reportedly started in the basement laundry room, and spread to upper floors via the elevator shaft.)
The 1897 Hannibal city directory lists the following members of the Price family associated with the hotel:
Mrs. Susan M. Price, widow of John B, resident.
Eugene H. Price, cigars and news dealer, resident.
George H. Price, clerk, Park Hotel.
John B. Price Jr., resident
William A. Price, manager.
By 1905, the Sanborn map shows that two structures had been constructed on the former site of the Park Hotel, both of which are still standing today.
A two-story brick building, referred to as flats, at 205 and 207 N. Fourth; and
a five-dwelling brick apartment building, addressed 201 N. Fourth, and 404-410 Center St.
Members of the Price family lived at 201 N. Fourth (facing east) in 1903, including:
Miss Agnes Price;
Susan M. Price (widow of J.B.); and
John B. Price Jr., manager of the Park Opera House.
Charles E. Gunn is pictured when he was 21 years old, circa 1872. Photo contributed by his great-grandson, G. Wilson Gunn Jr.
Pictured are members of the Rev. Elihu Gunn’s family, pictured in 1886 in Fort Scott, Kan. Seated, from left, Abby Gunn Baker, Amy Barrett Gunn, Rev. Elihu Gunn and Ida Wilson Gunn. Standing, from left, Will Baker, Ann Gunn, Ed Gunn, Gilbert Warn, Amy Gunn Warn, William Crowell Gunn, Loula Rice Gunn, and at far right, Charles Elihu Gunn and Ida Wilson Gunn. Photo contributed by Chas. E. Gunn’s great-grandson, G. Wilson Gunn Jr.
1890 Sanborn map of Hannibal, Mo., depicting the Park Hotel, located on the northwest corner of Center and N. Fourth Street. The building was destroyed by fire in 1899. Note the Trinity Episcopal Church to the north of the hotel. The church building is still standing today.
The 1906 Hannibal Sanborn map shows the buildings that were constructed on the lots which previously housed the Park Hotel.
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," "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 Montgomery.firstname.lastname@example.org Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com