Dena Denkler Ryan closed her eyes in a last sleep on August 27, 1961, at the age of 92, in the same house at 606 Mark Twain Avenue where she had lived for about six decades.
Outside her windows, the avenue was undergoing changes as she probably never could have imagined: as construction crews cleared the avenue to widen it to road standards, the buildings central to her education were demolished. . There was the move, stone by stone, of the house where she spent the first years of her marriage. There was the closure of North Fourth Street where it previously crossed the avenue. The construction of a viaduct extended Fifth Street to Mark Twain Avenue, forcing the relocation of several of its neighbors.
But inside her house, she was surrounded by her family, as she had been throughout her long life. Most of her generation predated her, but her descendants were numerous and filled her house.
The first years
Palmyra Avenue (later renamed Mark Twain Avenue / US 36) was Hannibal’s first commercial district, serving Mississippi travelers traveling by stagecoach to all points west.
Mitchell and Remington ran a foundry on Palmyra Avenue in 1851.
Jacob Coffman made coffins in his shop located in the Robard Annex on the south side of the avenue in 1852.
Thomas Jackson operated a grocery store in the Stone Building on the south side of the avenue in 1854.
In 1855, Jacob R. Harris offered for sale his new frame dwelling on the north side of Palmyra Avenue, across from Garth’s Tobacco Stemmery, which was located at Fourth and Palmyra Avenue.
And in 1856, Garth’s Tobacco Stemmery burned to the ground, before being later rebuilt with brick.
By the time Bernard Denkler opened a grocery store on Palmyre Avenue in 1869, the avenue itself was well established as a business district.
Purchasing a frame building owned by a man named Clayman, Denkler immediately embarked on opening a grocery store that would serve the needs of his neighborhood for five decades.
The frame building was replaced in 1881 by a two-story brick building, which served as both a business and a home for the elderly Denklers and their extended family for many years to come.
The same year Bernard Denkler opened the grocery store, his wife, Anna Feldkamp Denkler, gave birth to a daughter, also named Anna. The child joined four other siblings, William, John, Henry and Mary.
Young Anna would indeed live her whole life on the avenue.
Redmond Ryan, a concrete contractor, grew up in Ralls County, near Oakwood, on a small area adjacent to New London’s Gravel Road. His family, who were market gardeners, raised produce on their approximately 14 acres, selling their harvest to townspeople and traders.
After winning the heart and hand of Dena Denkler in 1895, the two set up housekeeping in the stone building adjacent to her father’s store. This building was aligned with the southeast corner of Denkler’s Alley, facing Palmyra Avenue.
Within a few years, Redmond Ryan began building a two-story house across the street and a little west of the Denkler grocery store. In 1897, Redmond and Dena were living in this expansive two-story brick and stone house. Their first child, Joseph Ryan, was born in 1898.
One of Hannibal’s most recognizable structures is located at the intersection of North Third and Mark Twain Avenue. The rectangular, stone-built building is owned by the city and today houses Jim’s Journey, the Huck Finn Freedom Center.
Although the building is historic in nature, this is not the original location of the stone building.
It once stood at the southeast intersection of Denkler’s Alley and Mark Twain Avenue, and in August 1956 it was moved – stone by stone – to facilitate the widening of Mark Twain Avenue.
The move was accomplished by the New Marion County Historical Society. The main leaders of the project included Kate Ray Kuhn, Charles Walker and Ms. Frank Berry.
It is calculated that this is the same stone house where the Ryan’s began their married life together in 1895.
It is also believed to be the location of the aforementioned grocery store operated by Thomas Jackson in 1854.
Redmond and Anna Denkler Ryan had four children to adulthood:
• Joseph, born circa 1898; he married Nora Flannagan of Hannibal in 1921. He died in 1967.
• Helen Ryan, born in 1900, married Michael Joseph O’Hearn. Their children are: Mary O’Hearn, Mike O’Hearn, Richard O’Hearn, Helen Ann O’Hearn, James O’Hearn, Kenneth O’Hearn, David O’Hearn, Eleanor O’Hearn and Eugene O’Hearn. Helen O’Hearn and her children lived with her mother, Mrs. Ryan, after the death of Michael O’Hearn in 1939. Helen Ryan O’Hearn died in 1994 at the age of approximately 93.
• Viola Ryan, born in 1902, married Ralph W. Church. Their children are: Mary F. Church and Francis (Xavier) Church. In 1940, the Church family also lived at 606 Mark Twain Avenue. Mrs. Church died in 1991, at the approximate age of 89.
• Redmond Ryan Jr., born 1908. He married Leola Remshardt in 1941. He died January 24, 1958 in St. Charles, Missouri.
Ms. Ryan’s funeral was held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Hannibal. His grandson, the Rev. Wenceslaus Church OFM, Chicago, celebrated the solemn requiem mass. Burial followed in the church cemetery.
Note: The information for this story has been pieced together from pieces in “Hannibal, Too”, by J. Hurley and Roberta Hagood; from Kate Ray Kuhn’s book, “The History of Marion County, Missouri,” from early Hannibal and Ralls County newspaper articles, accessible via journals.com; from Hannibal City Directories, accessible through the Hannibal Free Public Library website; and Quincy Digital Journals, accessible through the Quincy Public Library website. The St. Louis Globe Democrat’s article on Palmyra Avenue in its July 1, 1900 edition also provided background information.
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 the foundation for the founding of this region. Books available on Amazon.com by this author include, but are not limited to: “The Notorious Madam Shaw”, “Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri” and “The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870.” She can be contacted at [email protected] Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com