An Area At The End of D Road Along The Mississippi River in Eastern Perry County
Seventy-Six Missouri is now a ghost town, but was once a bustling thriving town that existed along the banks of the Mississippi River. There are several different versions of how the town got its name. One story is that it received its name because it was the 76th boat landing after leaving St. Louis. Another is that the first man to land a boat at the location was celebrating his 76th birthday. Still another story is that John Wilkinson, who was to later found the town, sank his boat on the river two miles up from the future town of Seventy-Six, Missouri, after previously making 75 successful landings. Legend has it that Mr. Wilkinson painted a board on the opposite bank “76 LDG,” from which the town took its name.
Whether the legend of John Wilkinson naming the town is correct or not, he was certainly the wealthiest man in the area. Wilkinson, born August 23, 1813, in Yorkshire England and came to America around 1816 when his parents emigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Soon afterward the family moved to Jeffersonville, Indiana, and by the age of 16 he became apprenticed to the ship building trade in new Albany, Indiana. In 1835 he invested in the ship “The Laurel” with his father, for trade between Louisville, Kentucky and Alton, Illinois. This represented his total earnings to that time. The Laurel made on successful trip from Louisville to Alton, however, on the second trip it met with misfortune and was sunk in the Mississippi River a few miles from what would be know as Seventy-Six, Missouri. Wading ashore after the accident, his only possession the clothes he wore, he exclaimed “here is where I lost it and here is where I’ll get it back.”
It was a desolate and unpromising spot that he thus chose for the regaining of his fortune. The high bluffs which were separated from the river by only a narrow shelf, had nothing to offer in an agricultural way and the country was too sparsely settled for the trader. Had he so desired, Wilkinson might have made a wiser selection. Not far up stream was St. Genevieve, already 100 years old. Down the stream was Cape Girardeau. Between the two town, on either side of the river was rich bottom land.
But Wilkinson, who all his life had depended upon the river for his livelihood, apparently decided to trust it awhile longer, and it is a curious coincidence that the same stream that had robbed him, gave him a new start in life and eventually returned to him hundreds of dollars for every one lost.
A shanty was constructed from the wreckage of the “Laurel” and he immediately became a dealer in cord wood, the sole fuel then used by river craft.
The boatman began the reprieving of his fortune by chopping cord wood for the steam boats, and at first was obliged to haul it to the river bank in winter on a hand sled, and in summer time on a wheelbarrow. Later he conceived the idea of loading the wood on flat boats which the up stream packetys would pick up without making a stop, and then would return to him after unloading by catching them adrift. He worked in this way until he was able to buy a yolk of oxen, and from this time forth prosperity smiled upon him. Business soon became so good that he eventually employed between forty and fifty men, some of whom were Negro slaves.
John Wilkinson built up a thriving trade, as soon
as he had accumulated a little surplus money, invested it in land. In this way,
he added acre after acre, and tract after tract, until he became the owner of
120,000 acres (Note: history of Southeast Missouri says only 12,000 acres)
valued at that time at more than $100,000. Wilkinson was the largest single tax
payer in Perry County, Missouri. A part of his estate, a 1,600 acre tract, was
an island on the river, then known as Wilkinson’s Island, but which now is
Illinois mainland. He also acquired land in Illinois and Texas.
At the end of twenty years he had command of the largest cord wood business on the river. His circular saw was the first constructed and used in Southern Missouri. He also erected a water power mill near Altenburg, which was later operated by his son
John Wilkinson was a Presbyterian, and served in several major positions in Masonry. He was thrice married, and when he died in 1876 he left a large estate to Amelia, William and Martha Jane, the only survivors of a large family.
His first wife was Ann Hay. From this union came seven children, of whom only one, Amelia, survived him. His second marriage was to Elizabeth Littleton, whose maiden name was Lawson, and who had one son, Thomas Littleton. Four children were born to this union, two of whom (William known as W.R. and Martha Jane, known as "Jennie") survived their father.
In 1860 a new home was erected on the river bank. The house, in its time it was one of the finest residences to be found on the river. The heavy columns supporting the wide colonial porch were of two inch poplar nailed together, and the doors were of black walnut. Inside were four larger rooms and the same number of smaller ones. The fireplace was bordered with marble and the mantle piece above was of the same material. A wide staircase lead to the upper rooms, which were replicas of those on the first floor, and a smaller flight of steps led to the “pilot house”. Its windows commanded a view down river for about fifteen miles. After moving into the new house, before it was entirely finished, his wife Elizabeth died at the age of 31.
The third wife, Louise Adams, nee McPike raised the three living children, but had none of her own.
John Wilkinson died in 1876 and was buried in the family cemetery high on the know of the great hill which rises 20 feet above the house. In the same burial ground are the graves of three of their children, who died early in live, and that of Wilkinson’s father who died in 1871 at the age of 82 years. The old homestead, symbol of regained fortune, was burned September 20, 1934 after having served as a river landmark for more than seventy years.
Martha Jane, the second child of the second
marriage, was married to James Henry McPike at “The White House” on November 28,
1877. This was the event of a double wedding, her cousin Eliza Howard being
married to George Lawson. There was a River Boat tied in front of the house
named the “Emma C. Elliot”, and the boat’s steward and waiters served the
wedding dinner in the House. Two cakes as large a barrels were furnished at a
cost of eighteen dollars each by Louise Wilkinson, the stepmother of Martha and
the aunt of Eliza. Afterward James and his bride, Martha, boarded the boat
commanded by Captain Lightner and traveled to Alton, Illinois, where he was
engaged in the real estate
He lived only three years, being stricken with typhoid fever, leaving besides his widow and two baby daughters, Birdie and Gertrude.
Martha immediately returned to the “White House” and later to Brazeau, Missouri, where she met and five years later married George S. Hatch on August 20, 1885. He was known as Professor Hatch, and was teaching in the Brazau High School. To this union came five children; Alonzo Earl (March 18, 1887), George William (July 18, 1888), Sanford Wilkinson (Jr.) (March 18, 1891), Harriet Winifred(February 16, 1894) and Genevieve Elizabeth (March 7, 1897). George and Sanford (Jr.) died at the ages of one and three years respectively.
Shortly after their wedding a home was built on
the heights above Seventy-Six landing. This was a square two-story frame
building with a wide veranda completely encircling it. On Friday, February 16,
around 1920, Mr. Hatch was just about to be discharged from the hospital at Cape
Girardeau (he had an operation for a hernia) when word came that his home had
been burned. Apparently an overheated flue had started the fire which made such
headway in the dry framework that very little of the furniture from the first
floor could be salvaged, and practically everything on the second floor,
including nearly all their clothing was lost. Another river landmark was
G.S. Hatch originally arrived in Seventy-Six as a schoolteacher, and later opened a store and became the Postmaster of Seventy-Six. He also turned the large acreage of timber land into fruit orchards, and pioneered the fruit industry in this locality. Fruit grown on the northerly slopes developed a firmness and flavor equal to that grown in the more northern districts. The landing business continued fairly good until 1903, when the Frisco system built a railroad along the river and made river traffic less lucrative.
Through his wife, George acquired large land holdings and became the leading citizen of Seventy-Six. He owned the town of Seventy-Six, and most of the town residents worked in his orchard business, run by W.L. Pulliam, or for Hatch’s Grain Company. Then General Store was also owned By George Hatch, and a stockyard provided additional industry.
G.S. Hatch built a new general store, and the old abandoned store was converted into a saloon. Eventually, this saloon caved off into the Mississippi River as the water lapping at the store wore the bank away. A house was then turned into a saloon. Legend has it that this saloon was closed by Mr. Hatch after someone had too much to drink in it one night.
Above the new general store and post office was a large hall, where church and school programs were held. Upstairs also, were several smaller rooms where G.S. Hatch let the modern Woodmen members meet. In two of the smaller upstairs rooms, two of the daughters of Mr. Hatch had a dress shop and a hat shop. There was also room for storage for the general store. During World War I rooms above the store were used for the making of Red Cross supplies for the soldiers.
On the first floor there was a four-sided pyramid-shaped window on the lower front corner with two holes, one on each side of the panels. This was an egg-candeler. The people running the store could hold an egg up to those two holes and with the he sun shining on the egg they could tell a good egg from a bad one.
There was a dirt floored basement under the store and a huge shed attached at the back. Mr. Hatch stored lumber, kegs of nails, and other supplies in the shed. Back of the store was a 10 room house where Joe Schneier lived. He was Mr. Hatch’s main worker. His wife ran “The Hotel”, serving meals to the train crews and providing accommodations on those occasions when someone needed a place to stay.
Children from the area received their education at the Union School, which went throughout the 8th grade. They would walk to school. carrying their lunch in a bucket. Those parents who wanted their children educated beyond the 8th grade sent them to Brazeau.
The Union School’s annual Christmas program was held in the hall over the G.S. Hatch store. The tree was always a big live cedar on which real candles were lit and burned. Coal oil lamps, several on each side, were attached to the wall. The hall was heated by a big, heavy, cast iron box stove. Church services were also held in the G.S. Hatch store. Baptisms were held in the creek about a quarter mile out of Seventy-Six.
Boats landing in Seventy-Six would carry goods up north. and each day at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. passenger trains stopped at the depot. Seventy-Six received mail from both the north and the south because of these daily trains, and as the only town in the area with a post office, it became an important attraction to the citizens of the nearby towns of Frohna, Altenburg, Brazeau, Wittenberg, and Menfro.
The town had no law, and its main claim to notoriety consists of a mail train robbery which started in Seventy-Six and ended just north of Wittenberg. In October, 1922 the St. Louis - San Francisco train was robbed two miles north of Wittenberg. Over $100,000 was taken before the robbers were shot at the little bridge in Whittenberg. One of the Robbers turned out to be Jack Kennedy, also known as “Quail Hunter” Kennedy, the last of the Jesse James gang.
Jack Kennedy had become a member of the James gang at 17. Although frequently incarcerated over the years, he was never convicted of murder and always managed to win parole. He went weeks before the train robbery roaming the Fronah area, where he lived in the woods and plied a trade of knife and scissor sharpening. He knew that each fall money was sent from St. Louis banks to Memphis, Tennessee.
After determining the best location for a bank robbery would be between Seventy-Six and Wittenberg, he and his two accomplices board the train and put their plan into action. While on gunman held the passengers captive, another searched the mail bags and located the packages earmarked for a certain bank in Memphis. The train was then disconnected from the locomotive and a baggage car while Kennedy, with a young dark-haired accomplice, got on the locomotive and took off into the night.
About 100 yards south of the Wittenburg bridge, the robbers, each carrying a mail bag, left the train after opening the engine throttle and sending the locomotive and baggage car onward. Unfortunately, Jack Kennedy made a judgment error in choosing his third accomplice. This accomplice, chosen by Jack Kennedy because he had a car - essential to the getaway plan, was to wait for Jack Kennedy and his on-board accomplice to complete the robbery. What Jack Kennedy didn’t know was the accomplice he had so carefully selected was a Federal Marshall.
On that October night, the conductor, engineer, and the firemen on the train were aware of the planned robbery. Expecting Kennedy to release the locomotive, they made sure the fire was burned down when the robbery occurred. Quickly running out of steam, the locomotive stopped just seven miles down the track. The bank robbers, thinking they had successfully gotten away with the robbery, were surprised after leaping from the train to hear voice shouting “Halt!” Jack Kennedy didn’t halt. Instead, he pulled his six-shooter out, and he and his young accomplice were shot dead. Their bodies were taken to Mr. P.J. Lueder’s studio, where they propped up and photographed while onlookers gazed at the gory sight.
The young accomplice turned out to be Robert Ford, an Oaklahoman who had idolized Jesse James and, in an effort to imitate him, couldn’t resist joining with Jack Kennedy when a chance meeting put them together.
Another crime occurred in 1911 when the Seventy-Six Post Office was robbed. A reported $600 in stamps was taken.
For the most part though, residents were law-abiding citizens who enjoyed the simple pleasures of the small town. Barn dances were popular with the townspeople and farmers. The town celebrated every Fourth of July with a picnic sponsored by Mr. Hatch, who furnished ice cream and strawberry sodas.
The railroad was the life blood of the town, bringing new faces to replace the ones who moved on to bigger towns and better jobs than could be had in Seventy-Six. young girls would wander up and down the tracks when the train stopped in town to ply the passengers heading to exotic cities like Memphis with fresh strawberries from their gardens.
After attending school at Cape Girardeau, George’s fourth child, Harriet Winifred married George Klobe of Perry County on May 23, 1929. They had three children, Jerry Sanford (December 26, 1929), William Dale (August 29, 1931), and Martha Patricia Jane (September 19, 1932).
George and Harriet built their house at the site where the original Hatch House had burned, overlooking the Mississippi River.
In 1936 George Hatch died and was laid to rest in the Brazeau Presbyterian Church cemetery in Brazeau. After his death the enterprises he owned, which had been the mainstay of the town declined. By 1940 Seventy-Six had a population of only 35 people. In 1957 the post office closed, and the town began its decent into history. The last letter postmarked from the Seventy-Six post office was written by George Klobe, to his son William Dale who was attending school in Cape Girardeau.