THE HISTORY OF HANNIBAL
Its people are its story...
Every town is the sum of its history, and Hannibal's history is evident everywhere you look. The hills and bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River suggest the reason early settlers chose this spot to call home. However, before their arrival, the earliest residents were Mound Builders and Missouri Indians.
European explorers arrived in the 17th century, but Hannibal wasn't established until 1819, two years before Missouri would become a state. Early founders settled in Hannibal using the work of slaves, and the town's history is fraught with that legacy as are so many American communities. Its most famous native son, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), lived in Hannibal from 1839 to 1853. He penned the great American classic, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, whose characters were drawn from real people, places, and circumstances in pre-Civil War Hannibal. Visitors still stand in awe on the bank of the great river and gaze across to the Illinois side contemplating the boundary between a free state and a slave state. It is America's story, and it is Hannibal's story.
Many of Hannibal's early residents were immigrants or children of immigrants, as were the majority of Americans at the outset. They carved out livings here in various industries, including lumber, pork, hemp (rope making), leather tanning, and other hands-on endeavors. In the 20th century, shoe-making and cement manufacturing added to the town's growing economy. The population grew quickly. By 1850, Hannibal boasted 2,000+ residents. By 1870, there were 13,000 inhabitants, and today there are 18,000+ Hannibal residents.
We invite you to come and discover Hannibal, a centerpiece of American culture and history. Today the town is known for its remarkable historic preservation efforts, both in architecture and the authentic telling of its complicated and personal stories. We embrace the past to preserve its richness and prevent its tragedies from recurring. As the home of America's greatest storyteller, it is our legacy.
The name "Missouri" is a Siouan Indian word that comes from the tribal name "Missouria," which means "big canoe people." Mound builders were the earliest known residents. Many of their ancient formations are still evident in the area.
Mark Twain, pictured here with friend John Lewis, captured history's authentic voices in literature that catapulted Hannibal into a tourist destination while forever reminding the world of the horrors of slavery and the power of friendship.
Missourian Henry Dant was born into slavery in 1835, the same year Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) was born. Jim's Journey: The Huck Finn Freedom Center in Hannibal enshrines the legacy of Dant and others, including Jim, the runaway slave from Twain's greatest work.
Pictured here is Elba Martin speaking to Hannibal residents who had gathered in Central Park on Veterans Day in 1967. Hannibal's parks are an important part of the town's history, providing ample space for public and private events.
As Hannibal was turning 30, gold was being discovered in California. Hundreds of thousands of dreamers and adventurers, including Hannibal residents, headed west to make their fortune. In a short time, Hannibal would no longer be a frontier town, but a midwestern town.
Trinity Episcopal Church, the Eighth and Center Streets Baptist, and the first Catholic Church were established in the 1850s and still stand today. Pictured here is the Cherub Choir at the Fifth Street Baptist Church on Oct. 6, 1957. Today, Hannibal has 55 churches of many denominations.
The Hannibal High School basketball team of 1956-57 shows a desegregated student body. Hannibal's first school was built in 1830; the first high school opened in 1866. Douglass School opened in 1885 to serve African American children. Today, 7 public schools serve the town's children.