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Couple renovating home of Mark Twain's girlfriend

Monday, January 2, 2012 | 3:45 p.m. CST

HANNIBAL — At the corner of Fifth and Center streets in downtown Hannibal, local history is coming down section by section, brick by brick.

After years of sitting empty, the old YMCA has met its fate with construction workers and equipment.

Two houses away though, where the dust of the former recreation center settles and blows by in the wind, another historical structure is being brought back to life through passion, determination and care.

To some, 210 Fifth St. is just another house standing among the many older homes in the neighborhood. It's been there for a century or more, has had a number of residents call it home, and eventually it suffered damage and fell into dire straits.

But Nora Creason wanted this house. She had purchased the Cerretti House next door, and when this house became available she went after it. After all, this was the home of a famous Hannibal resident, Laura Hawkins Frazer. It's where she lived her remaining years with her son; it's where she was living when the world found out who she really was; it's where she died and went from popular citizen to Hannibal legend.

"That opportunity just dropped in my lap," said Creason, who divides her time between Seattle and Hannibal. "We knew it was the famous Laura Hawkins home, so we jumped on it, made an offer to F&M Bank and got it."

If you're not familiar with who Hawkins Frazer was, it's probably because you know her under a different name. She's better known as Becky Thatcher.

Hawkins was the childhood sweetheart of Samuel Clemens, and when he grew up and began writing stories under the name Mark Twain, he used his old flame as the model of the girl who steals the heart of Tom Sawyer in the classic novel, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." Twain modeled Sawyer after himself from his youthful days.

"We learned quite a bit of history, although there's very little written history about her. We know of that stuff about her that you can find if you scour history books," Creason said.

"The thing about Laura Hawkins, is after she got married and saved her husband (Dr. James Frazer) — her husband was supposed to be shot during the Civil War — after that, there's no written information about Laura Hawkins until way after (her husband died), and she became matron of the friends of the homeless. Since we bought the Laura Hawkins house, our interests have turned more toward restoring historical Hannibal and really educating ourselves on a lot of the history in Hannibal other than Mark Twain, and that's how we came to restoring the Laura Hawkins house."

Creason and her husband, Don Metcalf, bought the home in 2007 and have been working to restore it to the days of Hawkins Frazer's residency. The house had previously been foreclosed on by F&M Bank and was gutted out by Ron Smith who was hired by Creason and Metcalf to renovate it. Previous owners didn't leave the structure in the best shape.

"It was nasty," Smith said. "There was junk everywhere, old wood, old clothes, it was a shamble. I took three 40-yard dumpsters out of this place and a 20-yard dumpster out of the garage. There was so much (stuff) in here, it was like everybody left everything they owned in here."

With the trash cleared and a plan in place, the former home of Laura Hawkins Frazer is being rehabbed back to life. Within the next year, Creason hopes to be 90 percent of the way done. Once again, the staircase in the front of the house will stand grand, the fireplaces will burn long trails of smoke out of the chimney tops, and the custom windows will bring sunshine into the home for the first time in years.

"Our restoration plan is to restore it as Laura had lived there. We would keep all the old radiators, and we would do it in a way people would not notice that. We'll be putting a new efficient furnace in there, but at the same time we will still be keeping the old heating registers," Creason said. "We're going to get something as similar, historical in reproduction as what was originally there. The only wallpaper we were able to match, almost exactly, is the wallpaper that's going to be put along the hallways. We were able to find that with a little more embellishment.

"The plan is to make it a museum. We want this to be as period as possible, trying to replace everything as close as possible. Of course, that's hard to do, and I have to rely on folks who used to live in the house, what their memories were of it. We're basing the interior of the house on those sources."

 


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