An Extract from a Forthcoming Work to be Entitled

“Twenty Four Years View of Palmyra and Marion County in Missouri”

By J. P. Rutter

Jan 1856

The general pressure that prevailed for several years during and succeeding the disasters that marked the unfortunate epoch of the college and its attachees, as we have before shown, was sensibly felt by the whole community, as all had partaken of the excitement consequent on the hopes inspired by its advent, so all shared in the loss which caused and attended its exit. The whole country had participated in the wild schemes of adventurous speculation to which it gave rise. The pressure, therefore, found almost every man involved in debt, beyond his means of immediate liquidation. The necessities of the times would admit of no parley or delay; hence the court was the arbiter before whom that liquidation had to be made. Forced sales of property, at a mere nominal price, had the double effect of bringing ruin to its former owner, and of inducing a general fall in the price of property of like description. In fact a rapid decline in the price of property of every kind speedily succeeded, and families supposed to be wealthy, became bankrupt, and adversity drove its black chariot over the land: despondency, pecuniary distress, and general desolation marching in its train. On no place or part of the community did these calamities fall more heavily than on the hitherto flourishing town of Palmyra. All improvements ceased in the town, –mechanics thrown out of employment, sought it elsewhere, and left the place; town property became almost worthless, houses became vacant, nor could they be sold for a fifth of their former value.

Necessity, it is said, is the mother of invention. Those persons who desired a town life, either for business or by inclination, turned their attention to Hannibal, a town situated on the Mississippi River, in the southeast part of Marion county, twelve miles distant from Palmyra. Here, it was thought that, although its improvement might be retarded during the continuance of the present adverse state of things, that had crippled everything, yet, from the advantages of its river location, its future prospective improvement would justify the outlay of funds in the purchase of property. Hence that town, which had never improved much previously, began to advance in population and in buildings, and has continued steadily to grow from that time to the present, with one temporary cessation. An unfortunate rivalry between the two places had sprung up, at a very early period, dating from the time of the first location of Palmyra, which for some years far outstripped its rival in the race for consideration and distinction. Situated more immediately in the center of a fine body of rich land, then just beginning to settle, the attention

Of emigrants was naturally drawn thither, and as the rapid influx of emigration afforded to the farmer an excellent market at home for all the surplus they could raise on their newly opened and of course limited farms. The advantage of a river location was at that time not fully appreciated, and Hannibal was overlooked and forgotten. But as the country became filled up, and the flood of immigration ceased to flow with such rapid current, and as the farms became enlarged, their owners naturally began to look for a mart for the profitable disposal of their surplus products.

These considerations, together with those to which we have adverted above, gave an impetus to Hannibal, and she shot ahead of Palmyra with great speed, in her turn indemnifying herself by way of retaliation, and canceling the old score. Each place, however, still cherishing the old rancorous enmity, which to the disgrace of both places was suffered to foster and annoy each itself as well as its rival.

Palmyra, it may be said, for about the period of ten years did not improve at all. The few buildings erected not more than balancing the general dilapidation of others; the business of the country gradually and partially left it, and sought new channels of trade at Hannibal, LaGrange, in Lewis county, and at Quincy, Illinois—while Hannibal, during the same period of ten years, continued to advance with giant strides in all the elements of prosperity, trade, population, and improvement, and from a small village of a few houses, has grown so as to become an incorporated city, with about four thousand inhabitants. About four since, the scale again turned in favor of Palmyra. Some lawyers raked up from the rubbish of old musty books and papers a claim to a part of the Hannibal property, and instituted suit for its recovery, and although the claim was believed not to be founded in equity, yet, favored by the forms of law, it had the effect of completely paralyzing the efforts of the place in the way of improvement, during the several years of the pendency of the suit—emigrants and others being afraid to risk either purchases or the erections of buildings.

During this time of stagnation and suspension, Palmyra, in her turn, again took advantage of the defenceless attitude of her antagonist, and made another bold start to overtake her, and for the last three or four years has rapidly improved, having had erected within her limits many splendid buildings, together with a magnificent new Courthouse, which is now nearly completed, erected on the site of the old one, at the cost of about eighteen thousand dollars. Hannibal, in the meantime, has succeeded in shaking off the incubus which for years has weighed down her energies, and held the young giant in bondage. Her citizens, although they believed the claim to the property sued for was unjust, yet, wisely deemed it the best policy to buy up the claims, which they accordingly did at the price of many thousand dollars, taking deeds, and relieving the city from that obstacle to its improvement. The title to the property there is now complete and undisputed, and she stands, so far as that is concerned, “redeemed, regenerated and disenthralled,” and is rejoicing as a strong man to run a race for eminence and renown amongst here sister cities of the west, rapid strides, in which race she is again making in improvements of various kinds, particularly in those precautionary, preliminary and preparatory measures of arrangement, which must ever be the precursors of future prosperity. With a keen foresight and indominable energy her citizens have wisely entered upon that system of preparation necessary to prepare the way, and make her path straight for the race of emulation and laudable rivalry, which lies before here, in the erection of plank roads and other improvements, looking to, as they will inevitably produce the future development of her resources and importance. Already they have two plank roads leading into the city: one from New London, the county seat of the adjoining county of Ralls, the other from Paris, the county seat of the large, fertile, populous and flourishing county of Monroe, Paris being distant from Hannibal about fifty miles, thus they have timely, well adapted the means to secure the end had in view.

The situation of the two rival places is quite dissimilar, and yet, each has its advantages adapted to its peculiar location. The situation of Palmyra is generally admired as very beautiful, being mostly level, and gently undulating with a beautiful rivulet running through it, dividing it into two nearly equal parts, and being well watered by seven never failing springs of pure cold water with its limits. The natural beauty of its situation is set off to the best advantage, and greatly increased and heightened by the large number of shade and ornamental trees, mostly black locusts, that are set out around and before most of the buildings throughout the entire town, giving it the aspect of a city in the woods.

The situation of Hannibal is broken or rolling, and agreeably diversified by hills and dales, by lofty eminences, graceful slopes, and pleasant valleys. The eminences, of which there are many, consist of hills of considerable height, yet, of convenient ascent, with regular and handsome, though some of them steep, sides, and fine situations for building on top, from whence they command beautiful and extensive views and prospects of the surrounding country and of the river, both above, and below, for a great distance. Their romantic and picturesque situation and scenery must make them for building of private residences very desirable and valuable. There is a creek, called Bear creek, running through the city, and emptying in to the Mississippi, dividing Hannibal proper from what is called “south Hannibal.”

The business statistics of the city show that a large business is annually transacted in the reception and shipment of tobacco, hemp and all other staple commodities of commerce raised in the country. There is also a very large business done in the slaughtering of beef and pork; several large establishments for the purpose being crowded during the whole of the packing season. Indeed, from the commercial situation of the place, and the extensive, fertile back country, this must necessarily be the case. Perhaps no place in America enjoys a more extensive, extremely fertile country in its rear, without any navigable stream to divert its trade in other directions, than does the city of Hannibal. The whole country back from the Mississippi to the Missouri river, a distance of two hundred miles, may be said to be a rich country; what poor land may be found not being in greater proportion than may be found in any other country whatever. If we were to make Hannibal or Palmyra the center, and describe a circle two hundred miles in extent, every way from the center, or four hundred miles in diameter, the circumference would perhaps include as much good land as can be found within the same boundary on the face of the globe. It would extend to the Missouri river, and take in a part of the best portions of Illinois and Iowa. Again, were we to extend the circumference, and describe a circle four hundred miles from the center, every way, we have no doubt it would include a greater proportion of good land, than can be found in the same greater proportion of good land, than can be found in the same extent of country in the world. It would, in addition, to much the best part of Missouri, take in also the best portions of Kansas and Nebraska, as well as of Iowa and Illinois. All this extent of country is now being settled, and when densely populated, there is not calculation to be made of the immense amount of commercial intercourse that must flow through its different channels of trade, and it is not too much to anticipate that, unless some unforeseen causes interpose as barriers, both Palmyra and Hannibal will participate in their just proportion in the benefits of the whole.

The business of Palmyra has always been good, for an interior town, though for a few years temporarily and comparatively lessened; particularly has it been always found for the amount of goods sold by its merchants, which is further demonstrated by the fact of their general solvency—few ever having failed in business here. There is likewise a considerable amount of packing done, particularly of pork, together with a due proportion in all the departments of mechanical labor and other industrial pursuits, as well as in the artistical lines of business, besides several blacksmith shops, several cabinet shops, tailors, bakers with many merchants and grocers; we have three jewelry stores, and in the list of fine arts, several excellent painters stand conspicuous to vindicate their character. There are two good taverns; the Virginia Hotel,  kept by the gentlemanly landlords, McLeod & Kimsley, opposite the Courthouse, may be emphatically denominated the “Epicure’s Elysium” of the place for genius and taste.

The unfortunate rivalry between the two places, however, is not yet entirely extinct, but is gradually, we think, wearing itself out in it unnatural and unwarrantable course; for there is in truth no reason why it should exist at all; the interests of both are inseparably connected by their natural and relative positions, and ought not be severed by jealousies or fancied interests of ambitious individuals—they ought rather to be assistants to each other, blessing and being blessed.