Why Local History Matters (for Hannibal)
In the December issue of Hannibal Magazine, we wrote an article concerning the potential future of vacant historic buildings in our downtown area, and how supporting a historic district or maintaining local history can provide real benefits to a town whose interest to the outside world is its heritage. Thanks to publisher Rich Heiser, we are able to post the article in full below....
(By Ken and Lisa Marks)
building formerly known as the Murphy’s Motors building on North Main Street
has been purchased by the City of Hannibal. One of the prospective plans being
considered for the property is to raze the structure and create a space meant
to augment several festivals held downtown each year. One problem: the over-130-year
old building happens to be part of the Mark Twain Historic District and does
not show signs of immediate distress. Moreover, acre after acre of
underutilized open space exists just on the opposite side of the downtown levy
wall that could be used for additional festival space. The concern that
demolition of a building considered by many to be ‘historic’ in a part of town
venerated for its historical content begs the question: why should local history
matter to Hannibalians?
|A view of North Main Street looking south from Holiday's Hill (now Cardiff Hill), c. 1900-1910; what eventually became known as the Murphy's Motors building is in the left foreground below as a wagon factory. Photo courtesy Steve Chou.|
Hannibal’s history is more than its past – it is what sets the town apart from most other small communities.
If a small town is like an extended family, then history is its version of genealogy, a lineage that answers the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of Hannibal’s development. Thanks to so many local resources, from the Missouri Room in the Hannibal Free Public Library and the volumes of information chronicled by Roberta and J. Hurley Hagood to the ephemera and photographic archives of Steve Chou, access to pieces of the past are more available in Hannibal than in most communities of similar size. The trick is to synthesize these materials into a cohesive narrative that is accessible to all and representative of the town’s character; without this, all of these elements can be seen separately as trivial or nostalgic, rather than taken as a whole as the living DNA of today’s Hannibal.
In other words, what we look like today as a community is not our full identity. Though our economy has suffered in the past few decades, for many years throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Hannibal was surprisingly strong in manufacturing. While most Mississippi river towns were known for one major industry in their past, Hannibal experienced industrial ‘booms’ repeatedly throughout its history. Initially, the steamboat trade brought commerce to Hannibal’s shore. Next, Hannibal became a major railroad hub; these railroads facilitated the massive lumber firms of the Reconstruction years that brought great wealth and prosperity. By the end of the 1920s, mostly because of the International Shoe Company and related industries, Hannibal had the fourth largest industrial base in Missouri despite having a population in the low-20,000s. For decades, Hannibal managed to overachieve in spite of its population, a small city that accomplished big things. To be aware of what those who came before us were able to accomplish can inspire today’s Hannibalians to strive to achieve the same level of civic progress.
The Hannibal History Museum is interested in artifacts, documents, photographs, furniture, clothing and other items related to Hannibal. We are eager to display your items either as a temporary loan to the museum, or you may donate your items (all donations are tax-deductible!). PHOTOGRAPHS and PAPER ITEMS may be brought in for us to digitally scan, then you can keep the originals! For more information on how you can be a part of the Hannibal History Museum, contact Ken at (573) 248-1819 or stop by the Museum, we'd love to hear from you!