Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum History

The Mark Twain Boyhood Home was given to the City of Hannibal, Missouri, on May 15, 1912. A City agency, the Mark Twain Home Board evolved to oversee the Boyhood Home. Additions came through the years: a stone museum building was constructed by the WPA to serve as the Mark Twain Museum (1939); the John M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office and the Pilaster House (Grant’s Drug Store) were given to the City (1955), and a former pizza restaurant was acquired and remodeled to serve as an Interpretative Center (1983). These City properties, along with the Tom & Huck Statue grounds (1926) were leased to the Mark Twain Home Foundation in 1989. 

The Mark Twain Home Foundation was incorporated in 1974. In 1989 the Mark Twain Home Foundation approached the City of Hannibal and leased the City-owned properties for operation and maintenance. Since assuming that lease, the Foundation: acquired, planned, and opened the 18,000-square foot Museum Gallery Building (1995); acquired the Becky Thatcher House (2001), and reconstructed the Huckleberry Finn (Tom Blankenship) House (2007) on the original site using period materials. The Interpretative Center was purchased from the City of Hannibal and now is Foundation property. The Pilaster House and Justice of the Peace Building were transferred to the Foundation in 2018. Today, the Foundation maintains and oversees the operation of eight buildings and accompanying sites in Hannibal that are related to Mark Twain. The restoration of the Becky Thatcher House was completed in June 2013, and a new interpretation was installed in 2020. The John M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office was restored in 2016. The Pilaster House restoration was completed in 2019.

“Hannibal has had a hard time of it ever since I can recollect, and I was ‘raised' there. First, it had me for a citizen, but I was too young then to really hurt the place.”

- Letter to the Alta California published May 26, 1867

Mark Twain Boyhood Home

The frame house known as the Mark Twain Boyhood Home was constructed about 1843 or 1844. The Clemens family lived here until leaving town in 1853. Following their departure, this became a rental property. In 1911 it was scheduled for demolition to make way for a larger building.

The Hannibal Commercial Club (forerunner to the Chamber of Commerce) started a fund drive to save the house. Mr. George Mahan stepped forward and purchased the house, fixed it up, and gave it to the City of Hannibal on May 15, 1912. For a number of years, a caretaker lived in most of the rooms and showed the parlor to the public.

The 1935 Mark Twain Centennial celebration included a museum in the lobby of the B & L Building, Fourth and Broadway. The museum was popular and led to the erection of the stone museum adjacent to the Boyhood Home. This museum included living quarters above the museum and the caretaker moved out of the Boyhood Home. The remaining rooms of the home were then opened to the public.

The metal viewing platform was installed over the winter of 1984-1985 in preparation for the Mark Twain Sesquicentennial. A full restoration of the Boyhood Home occurred in 1990-1991. This included rebuilding two rooms at the rear that had been removed in about 1885.

The Boyhood Home has been open to the public since 1912, making it one of the earliest historic house preservations in the country. It is on the National Register of Historic Buildings and is designated as a National Historic Landmark. The interpretation was updated in 2020.

Tom & Huck Statue Grounds

The statue of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn was conceived by Mr. George Mahan. He engaged Frederick Hibbard to sculpt the representation. The statue was dedicated on May 27, 1926.

For some time, there was a house on the property and a caretaker dwelled there and took care of the property. Eventually, the house was removed, and care of the statue and grounds turned over to the Home Board. The property begins at North Street and extends up the hill to the State right of way. The steps are part of the city property. The property extends behind the building immediately to the East of the statue.

In 2009, the masonry background for the statue was beyond repair. The original walls were removed, and a new rock structure was installed to stabilize and set off the statue grouping.

Museum Store – Original Stone Museum Building

The Mark Twain Centennial celebration of 1935 was a year-long event. One element was the formation of displays in the lobby of the B & L Building. The idea of a permanent museum evolved. The stone building next to the Boyhood Home was constructed as a WPA project and formally opened on November 30, 1937, as the Mark Twain Museum. Beginning in 1937, a caretaker lived upstairs.

Recently all displays were removed from the building and conversion was made to a store. The name has been changed from Old Mark Twain Museum to Museum Store.

Stone Wall & Museum Garden

The WPA project that built the museum was extended to include the erection of the present stone wall along the lot line behind the Boyhood Home. At the time, there was a lumber yard to the North and wooden buildings along Main Street. This was constructed as a fire wall between the properties.

The Mahan’s son, Dulany D. Mahan, passed away. His wife, Sarah Marshall Mahan, cleared off the buildings on the corner lot and prepared a garden area that was presented to the City of Hannibal in 1941. This was given “to aid in perpetuating the name and fame of that world's beloved author [Mark Twain], and shall be a memorial to my late husband Dulany D. Mahan.”

John M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office

The office John Marshall Clemens used was located on Bird Street in the 100 block. It was fairly neglected into the 1940s. Warner Brothers Studios was working on a film biography of Mark Twain “The Adventures of Mark Twain.” Representatives were in Hannibal on several occasions and received a warm welcome. As a thank you, Warner Brothers bought the office and gave it to the City of Hannibal on November 30, 1943.

In 1955, the office was moved to its current location on Hill Street to a piece of land donated by Sarah Marshall Mahan. It was rehabilitated and dedicated on Law Day, May 1, 1959.

A major restoration of the building was undertaken in late 2015 and completed in 2016. A new interpretation was installed in 2020. This building was transferred to the Foundation from the City in 2018.

Pilaster House / Grant’s Drug Store

The building known as Grant’s Drug Store is an early Hannibal structure. It is reported that the interior timbers were fitted together in Cincinnati, Ohio, and shipped in a knocked-down fashion. They arrived during the flood that inundated Marion City, its intended destination, in 1836, and were unloaded in Hannibal. James Brady, later the first mayor of Hannibal, erected the structure. The term “pilaster” refers to the flat columns on the outside.

Dr. Orville Grant and his wife lived here. In 1846, the Clemens family moved in with the Grants. John Clemens died in one of the rooms on March 24, 1847. Sam Clemens makes several references to the Grants and to the building in his autobiography.

The building was given to the City of Hannibal by Mrs. Sarah Marshall Mahan in 1955. It underwent extensive rehabilitation and was opened to the public in 1959. Major restoration of the building was begun in January 2017. The building restoration is nearly complete. The new interpretation was installed in 2020. This building was transferred to the Foundation from the City in 2018.

Museum Mall

The idea of closing off the area in front of the Boyhood Home to vehicular traffic was formed in the early 1960s. About 1967, some temporary barricades were used to close the area during the summer months for a trial. Apparently, this met with minimal opposition. In about 1970 the mall area was bricked and the mall area was turned over to the Home Board for control.

Selmes-Sonis Building Site

Additional museum space had been discussed for a long time. In 1980, discussions with the city led to the purchase of the building on the northeast corner of Hill and Main. This has been the store of T. R. Selmes. When it was acquired, promises of city money to help with renovation were made. Such monies did not materialize, and the building was returned to the city as the museum could not finance the project by itself. Eventually, the building was razed.

The lot was leased to Murphy Motor Company for several years. It is included in the lease with the Mark Twain Home Foundation.

Interpretive Center

The property containing Cassano’s Pizza King Restaurant was an area for expansion. In 1983, this property was purchased, and the Museum Annex was opened to the public on September 18, 1983, with the name of Mark Twain Museum Visitor Center. This was later changed to Museum Annex. It is now known as our Interpretive Center. The property was transferred to the Foundation from the City.

Huckleberry Finn House Site

Local tradition places the Blankenship family in a house on North Street. The structure identified as the Blankenships’ was demolished in 1911. The property came under the ownership of the Coons family. Chris Coons left the land to the Mark Twain Home Foundation in 1998 with the provision that the house be reconstructed.

Architect Laurent Torno planned the reconstruction of the Huckleberry Finn House. The original plan of erecting a log cabin covered with siding was altered with the discovery of a photograph. This photo showed the house was framed. Plans were revised to provide a frame structure and the Huckleberry Finn House reconstruction was completed with a dedication on May 26, 2007. This project was funded by the Parham family.

Becky Thatcher House

Across the street from the Clemens’ house was one occupied by the Elijah Hawkins family. His daughter, Laura, was identified by Mark Twain as the model for Becky Thatcher. In the late 1940s, part of the house was occupied by the Becky Thatcher book Shop. Later this occupied the entire house.

The Becky Thatcher House was purchased by the Mark Twain Home Foundation and ownership was assumed in January 2001. A full restoration of the building was undertaken that was completed in 2013. A new interpretation was installed in 2020.

Maintenance Building

The museum’s maintenance crew needed work and storage space. In 2018, the maintenance building was purchased. This has a separate work area for projects and a large storage area.

City Properties

Boyhood Home & Garden
Old Stone Museum Building
Museum Mall
Tom & Huck Statue
Selmes-Sonis Grounds

Foundation Properties

Interpretative Center
Huckleberry Finn House
Justice of the Peace Building
Pilaster House/Grant's Drug Store
Becky Thatcher House
Museum Gallery
Maintenance Building