Molly Brown Birthplace & Museum
Address:Mark Twain Avenue & Denkler Avenue, Hannibal, MO 63401
OPEN: 10 - 4 Memorial Day Weekend - Labor Day, then weekends only until end of October
Growing up Molly Brown
John Tobin, Molly's father, was born in 1823 in Ireland. At this time most native Irish lived as tenants of British landowners. The Irish were dependent upon a single species of potato, which they grew in small plots as the main staple of their diet. In the 1840's the potato crops repeatedly failed due to a blight or disease. The British government did not respond to the resulting famine. Hundreds of thousands of people starved to death. Even more were evicted from their homes because the landlords did not want to pay for food relief for their tenants. Young men and women left Ireland in droves, crossing to America in the cheapest fashion possible, often booking passage on so-called coffin ships. These ships earned their names because of the unsanitary conditions on board. Many thousands died en route and were buried at sea. From these horrific roots came Margaret Tobin Brown's devotion to helping oppressed people.
Molly Brown Birthplace Museum
Built in the early 1860's by a Hannibal lumberman named Robards to sell to the ever-growing numbers of immigrants, the Molly Brown birthplace is a simple vernacular structure built on a hill above what was then Palmyra Road. The little structure, 16-foot by 30-foot was but a step above a pioneer's log cabin. Built into the side of the hill so that the east side of the brick basement was at ground level, the upper level was simple board and batten construction. This meant that the exterior was milled planks nailed perpendicularly (up and down) to the framework. The gaps were then covered with a smaller piece of wood called the batten--thus the term board and batten. White-washed, it was similar to the majority of wooden structures in Hannibal, described later by Mark Twain as a "white town drowsing in the sun."
Board and batten was an unsatisfactory exterior because the bottom of the boards was prone to rot and as the boards contracted and expanded, they allowed wind to come through the walls. John Tobin is the first owner of record after Robard. It is likely that as soon as he was able, the house was clapboarded. In this process, the battens were removed and clapboards were nailed horizontally onto the wall with the top board overlapping the bottom. This provided for better drainage of water and wind protection.
The house stayed in the Tobin family until the 1890's when John and Johanna Tobin went to Colorado to work in Leadville near Molly and J.J. Brown. Later Molly's parents moved into the House of Lions mansion in Denver with Molly where she cared for them until their deaths.
The Hannibal house remained occupied into the 1950's. The Marion County Historical Society acquired the house in 1964 when Mr. & Mrs. Riney bought it at a tax sale, and donated it to the Society that began an extensive renovation. It literally was on the verge of collapse. It was saved from demolition and was open to the public for about 10 years. Between 1978 and 1998 the house was boarded up and slid into serious disrepair again. A community effort was launched to rehabilitate the house again. A hundred people, including high school students and the Hannibal mayor volunteered time to do carpentry, painting and garden work. A local hardware store donated paint. Other citizens contributed money to acquire period stoves for the kitchen and parlor. All the work was done in an astounding four months.
Efforts were made to restore the house as accurately as possible for the period from 1867 to 1885 when Molly lived in Hannibal. Paint and materials were researched. Three rooms have been restored as living areas. The whitewash on the walls and ceilings of the kitchen, bedroom and parlor was made by Robert Christie who consulted on the Abraham Lincoln Home in Springfield, Illinois, and the Mark Twain Home in Hannibal. The furnishings are mid-nineteenth century and reflect the Irish-Catholic culture of the Tobins. The two remaining rooms are galleries. The Titanic Room is dedicated tot he voyage and sinking of the great ship. Photographs, newspaper accounts and displays tell the story of Molly's trip to Europe and the role she played in the sinking and subsequent efforts to help the widows and orphans that resulted. Some time after the Tobins moved to Colorado, a small, eight by thirty-foot addition was added to the house. This portion of the house, houses a gallery of photographs depicting the history of the Tobins, Browns and Hannibal.
Great attention was also paid to the exterior. A board and Batten outhouse, cistern and pump, and picket fence were installed. In addition, a local group, the Master Gardeners, researched Victorian gardens and planted appropriate 19th Century flowers, plants and vegetables around the house. The Tobin house, like Molly, has proven unsinkable.