My wife Pat and I moved to Hannibal, Missouri in July, 2008. We’ve been here over a year now and feel more than ever it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. I was born in St. Louis and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. Pat was born in Peoria, Illinois and raised in Rock Island, Illinois. We’ve both travelled extensively and lived in many different communities, large and small since those times.
When I met Pat I was a single father of two and had just taken a management position with the Rock Island Economic Growth Corporation. Pat had burned out on big city life in Chicago, moved back to Rock Island and purchased half a block of abandoned, historic houses to restore. Being a historic property developer I fell in love instantly, we married and raised my kids in the Quad Cities (Rock Island & Moline, Illinois and Davenport & Bettendorf, Iowa) until they left for college.
As empty nesters it quickly became apparent we could take advantage of several career goals I had if we were willing to move, so we did. Moving is not fun and once I’d accomplished these goals we decided it was time to stop the insanity of moving.
We were determined to adopt a community that fit our needs now and into the future. We went on every website, read all the magazines and broke our search down from twenty communities to ten and then to five. We then visited all five, stayed in B&B’s, roamed around, talked to people and looked at houses with Realtors. Finally, we picked Hannibal because it fit our needs better than all the rest.
We didn’t want to live in a big city again. I’d lived in San Francisco and Pat in Chicago. While we loved the cultural aspects and diversity of a big city, there are just too many additional layers to living in them. Traffic jams, pollution, violent crime, expensive housing, high property taxes etc. So, we decided we wanted a community with a population of 12,000 to 50,000 that was within two hours of a major city. Hannibal is about 18,000 people and an hour and a half from St. Louis. I travel a lot by plane so the St. Louis Airport was also a bonus.
Since one of the things I do is design and build functional art furniture and we’re both art fans, we wanted a strong art community. Artist are moving to Hannibal and there are galleries, 50 Miles of Art events, potters, painters and a cadre of local artist as well as many who have moved here from all over the country. Score another point for Hannibal
We’re both historic preservationist so we really needed a town with a good preservation ethic. Not just an ethic but also a track record to go with it. The Mark Twain Museum, the downtown historic district as well as several other National Register residential historic districts showed a commitment that appealed to us. There is also a large preservation group in Hannibal called, “Friends of Historic Hannibal”. This group is primarily made up of people who have moved to Hannibal over the last 30 years.
What’s interesting about Hannibal is the central city historic districts have a very urban feel to them. Fabulous and affordable historic houses and buildings abound both restored and un-restored. The hilly streets above the downtown reminded me of my early days in San Francisco.
We both love the Mississippi River and the culture that surrounds it. Hannibal with its long river history and Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain connection make it the quintessential Mississippi river town.
The availability of affordable historic housing, extremely low property taxes and a relatively low cost of living were high on our list. Our intention was to find a very large historic property to live in but also to operate as a school to teach the hands-on preservation trades with students from all over the country. Again, Hannibal fit the bill.
We found the perfect property as soon as we decided on Hannibal. We purchased the 7,600 square feet, four-story brick, Lamb-Munger House on 6th & Bird. Built circa 1859, this home had all its original windows, woodwork and most of its exterior. Yet, there was enough rehab work to do to keep my students and me busy for a long time.
Quality economic development was also very important to us. Most small Midwestern towns the size of Hannibal have had a hard time re-inventing themselves. Factories have closed, Wal-Mart has caused the demise of most of the family owned retail businesses and populations have plummeted. Hannibal is just the opposite. Great factories are expanding, unemployment is traditionally low, family owned retailing is strong, and tourism is vibrant.
New construction continues with projects like the new digital, 8-plex movie theater that was built last summer on a vacant lot in our historic Main Street downtown. The design of this structure was done in a way that blends in with the historic brick commercial buildings surrounding it. In my business this is called good in-fill. How many small towns do you know of that have a new digital 8-plex movie theater in the historic downtown?
Another positive sign of things to come in Hannibal are the upper story lofts in the downtown. These spaces have been largely unused for decades and are now being converted into upscale, Chicago/New York style lofts at an amazing pace.
Finally, the form of government was very important to us. As a community planning consultant I work with cities all over the country helping them figure out how utilize historic preservation as an economic development tool. The most functional communities I’ve worked with have a city manager form of government. While this is fairly new to Hannibal, hiring a professional manager shows me the town is serious about good governing and less concerned with the so-called, “good ole boy” way of running things.
In my experience the best governments in medium to small communities have a part time Mayor who sets the tone through leadership, works with the city manager and the city council. A good Mayor is the ambassador for any community. Rarely is an elected Mayor a professional city manager. Hannibal fit this need for us perfectly.
There are challenges for Hannibal as there are with any community. It wouldn’t be much fun if there wasn’t work to do to keep Hannibal the great town it is. So many people have worked hard to make this an exceptional place to live and we’re grateful to be here as a result.
If you’re boomers like us and are ready to leave big city life, you really should consider moving to Hannibal. If you love historic houses, lofts, low cost of living, accessibility, mild weather, art, great business opportunities and the Mississippi River, come join the fun.
Here are some contacts if your interest is peaked.
McKenzie Disselhorst -Executive Director