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Hannibal and the River and Railroads

North Main Street is a National Register District, and the buildings house a bunch of businesses that cater to the tourist crowd that comes from around the world to see the hometown of Mark Twain.

General View of 209 Center Street (Old Bank), Hannibal, Marion County, Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress, HABS MO,64-HANIB,9–2

The houses are humble right by the water, as well, as you’d expect for the wharf stevedores (does anyone use that word anymore?).

Of course, a major part of the whole Mark Twain mythos is the steamboat, and rightfully so. But as I began to look up old photographs of Hannibal, a familiar theme began to develop.

Much like St. Louis, which boasts a steamboat on its city seal, Hannibal moved on from that mode of commercial transport and became a railroad town. Just look at the empty wharf below: there’s not a single steamboat to be seen but there are railroad warehouses blocking the city from the river.

Hannibal, Missouri, View from Across Mississippi, Burlington Railroad Freight House Behind Riverbank, c. 1890, Missouri History Museum, N37227

Look at the two historic photographs below; it has become obvious that the citizens who photographed their town had many different promontories from which to capture the Platonic Ideal of their city, and they both chose to place, front and center, the massive railroad infrastructure of their community.

Hannibal, Missouri, Burlington Railroad Roundhouse from Lovers’ Leap, 1900-04, Photograph by Anna Schnitzlein, Missouri History Museum, N37226

There are still rail lines going through the city, and it still has a prominent crossing (which very ingeniously cuts through a cliff before going across the river), but everything you see is largely gone now that once made up the rail yards along the Mississippi.

View of Hannibal from Cardiff Hill, Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress, HABS MO,64-HANIB,1–3

One Comment

  1. I sat on a bench gazing out over the Mississippi River in Hannibal, and was horrified to notice the boats being dropped into the water from the Hull, IL area.
    It is evolving into the civil unrest ahead in which the MO home owners parade about with, “I Can’t Walk On Water!” signs and little boats dangling off. It just eats at the soul.

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