Saturday, May 17, 2014

Wils Allison, Hatcher House, horse races & whiskey

It's a fairly easy matter to come up with information about Chariton's early lawyers, bankers and business people, but not so easy to penetrate the lives of the less exalted men and women who built the buildings they occupied and clerked in their offices and mercantile establishments. So I was happy to find this little article in The Chariton Patriot of Feb. 13, 1896, written after its editor and publisher, Elijah Lewis, had spent some time visiting with an old acquaintance named Wilson Allison, a carpenter who had helped to build many of the original frame buildings on the square in the 1850s and 1860s. 

The largest of these would have been the old Hatcher House hotel, a big two-story frame building constructed entirely of native lumber on the southwest corner the square --- on the lots now occupied by the U.S. Bank drive-up --- ca. 1856-57. The main block of the hotel faced the square to the north; an "L" stretched south along South Main Street; and stables also were located on the lot. Lodging rooms were upstairs; the first floor contained business rooms facing the street, the big hotel dining room, kitchen and other business, guest and service areas.

The business card here from the Hatcher House, which probably dates from the 1870s, was found among my maternal grandfather's papers.

The building lasted only 40 years and was being torn down to make way for Henry Kubitshek's big four-storefront brick block when this brief article was written (the Kubitshek block was destroyed by fire during March of 1965). Here's the article, published under the headline, "A Chariton Pioneer."


Wilson Allison came into the Patriot office one day last week and we sat down to talk of old days in Chariton and of the many changes time has wrought. Wils was an early settler, coming here from Indiana in 1851. Chariton had eleven shanties as a somewhat unpromising start for our present live and well built young city, when Wils Allison came, an adventurous pioneer into a new land of promise called Lucas county.

He was a carpenter by trade and helped to build the town; and perhaps carried away by the enthusiasm and good fellowship of the early settler, sometimes assisted the boys in painting the new town a bright red upon some specially hilarious occasion. It was a free life, and one, too, full of its own peculiar flavor, happy in the present, and careless of the future.

Wils worked on most of the buildings and was one of the mechanics who helped to build, in 1857, the old two story frame known in later years as the Hatcher House. When assisting in putting up the rafters he met with a singular accident. His foot slipped (and) he shot like an arrow from the top of the second story to the basement, passing between the joists without touching them and landing in the cellar a good bit shaken up naturally but not seriously injured. He says there have been a good many lies told about that famous tumble, but this is the straight story of it.

He has been absent from Chariton twelve years, living at Beloit, Kansas, and just as he returned, the building he helped to construct, and which was the pride of the town in those days, was being torn down to make room for a new and handsome brick structure. So changes come, but this old pioneer does not change.

He talks only of the past and laughs heartily when he recalls the scenes of the days when Chariton was an ambitious youngster. The town had some active citizens then, prominent in their way, who kept things in a pretty lively state, by what the more sober and retiring citizens called their "infernal activity."

Horse racing was the leading sport and excitement. They had a track starting down about the creamery and stretching straight a mile away to Hickory Point. There they raced and the whole town turned out to see the sport. The leading spirit was whiskey. It was cheaper in those days and lavishly dispensed. Wils says he remembers one particular horse race, when the head of a barrel of whiskey was knocked in and a tin cup hung handy, and to every comer it was free as water.

There were good and pious people in those days as there are now, but the other crowd made the biggest noise and attracted the most attention. A good many fights in a barrel of that whiskey to be sure, but not so many headaches as in a quart of the vile stuff dished out at a dollar a pint from behind prescription cases in these enlightened prohibitory times. Wils said he preferred the old times and the old ways; it was both better and cheaper.

The old pioneer fell into a reminiscent mood. The old fellows are nearly all gone, said he. (Alkana) Malone, somewhat famous in his day, was killed at Shiloh. Van Sickle, George Hopkins, Abe White, Hugh Larimer, and a host of others; all dead. Only a few of the old timers left and growing less as the years go by.


Wilson Allison, born Jan. 18, 1828, in Indiana, would have been 23 when he arrived in Chariton with his mother during 1851. He married Eliza Jacobs in Chariton on Oct. 25, 1859, and they had 9 or 10 children, eight of whom survived but only one of whom, James, made his home in Chariton.

Wilson and Eliza moved their family to Missouri during the 1880s, then returned to Chariton in the late 1890s. She died at 59 on May 29, 1905; and Wilson died on May 28, 1907, at the age of 79. Both are buried in the Chariton Cemetery but in unmarked graves.

1 comment:

karen608 said...

I bought a little house east of Chariton, near Lake Ellis, and two former residents, who were kids at the time they lived here, told me there was a horse racing track in now what is a corn field. Will never know if this is true, but I can tell you my yard is packed hard, and we can drive all over it unless we get 5 inches of rain all of a sudden. There used to be another house attached to this one, and this one moved from another location to a foundation. In the walls we could tell the living room was the oldest, and kitchen maybe added on in the 20s. My house in town, in renovation, had square nails in the middle part. Older than the deed said.