Museum History

Museum History

 Mark Twain Boyhood Home

Mark Twain Boyhood Home

The frame house known as the Mark Twain Boyhood Home was constructed around 1843 or 1844. The John Marshall Clemens family lived here until leaving town in 1853. Following their departure, this became a rental property. In 1911, it was scheduled for demolition to make way for a larger building.

The Hannibal Commercial Club (forerunner to the Chamber of Commerce) started a fund drive to save the house. Mr. George A. Mahan stepped forward and purchased the house, fixed it up, and gave it to the City of Hannibal on May 15, 1912. At that time Mr. Mahan said:

"Mr. Mayor, I take pleasure in presenting the boyhood home of Mark Twain to the city and the people of Hannibal with the hope and in the full belief that it will be so maintained and used, as to be an inspiration to them, to the people of Missouri and to the world as well."

For a number of years, a caretaker lived in most of the rooms and showed the parlor to the public. The Mark Twain Centennial in 1935 was very successful. One feature was a temporary Mark Twain Museum. This led to the erection of the stone building just uphill of the Boyhood Home to serve as a museum. The caretaker moved into upstairs rooms of the museum in 1937 and the remainder of the Boyhood Home was opened to the public.

Preparation for the Mark Twain Sesquicentennial in 1985 led to installation of the metal viewing platform along the uphill side of the home. A full restoration of the home was planned and occurred in 1990-1991. This included rebuilding two rooms at the rear that had been removed about 1885.

The Boyhood Home has been open to the public since 1912, making it one of the earliest historic house preservation efforts in the country. It is on both the National Register of Historic Places and is designated as a National Historic Landmark.

View the home on a live webcam!

 Tom and Huck Statue

Tom & Huck Statue

The statue of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn was conceived by Mr. George Mahan. He engaged Frederick Hibbard to sculpt the representation. The statue was dedicated on May 27, 1926, one of the earliest statues depicting fictional characters.

Local historian Rev. C. J. Armstrong, interviewed Mr. Mahan as to the purpose of the statue. As a statue can only convey one moment:

"Mr. Mahan decided that the moment should be WHEN TOM AWOKE TO THE WORLD and wanted to go out into it and see for himself all that it contained. Hence, the knapsack, the advanced foot, the gleam in his eyes, and the whole posture of his body. But Huck was perfectly contented to stay right where they were; hence, his posture with his hand on Tom's arm, the look on his countenance as though trying to persuade Tom not to venture forth, but to stay right there."  The Museum currently maintains the property and landscaping around the statue.

Boyhood Home Gift Shop

WPA Stone Building - Boyhood Home Gift Shop

The Mark Twain Centennial celebration of 1935 was a year-long event. One element was formation of displays in the lobby of the B & L Building. The idea of a permanent museum evolved. The stone building next to the Boyhood Home was constructed as a WPA project and formally opened November 30, 1937. Two actors from the David O. Selznick movie adaptation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer were present at the dedication: Victor Jory, who portrayed Injun Joe, and Cora Sue Collins, who acted the role of Amy Lawrence, opened the museum.

The upstairs of the museum provided living quarters for the caretaker. This permitted the entire Boyhood Home to be opened to the public. After many years as serving as the Mark Twain Museum, the displays have been moved to other museum buildings. Today this building houses the Boyhood Home Gift Shop.

Stone Wall and Museum Garden

WPA Stone Wall and Museum Garden

The WPA project that built the museum was extended to include erection of the present stone wall along the lot line behind the Boyhood Home. At the time, there was a lumber yard to the North and wooden buildings along Main Street. The wall was constructed as a fire wall between the properties.

The Mahans' son, Dulany D. Mahan, passed away. His wife, Sarah Marshall Mahan, cleared off the buildings on the corner lot and prepared a garden area that was presented to the City of Hannibal in 1941. "This was given to aid in perpetuating the name and fame of that world beloved author [Mark Twain]; and shall be a memorial to my late husband Dulany D. Mahan."

John M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office

John M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office

The office of John Marshall Clemens was located on Bird Street in the 100 block. It was fairly neglected into the 1930s and '40s. Warner Brothers Studios were working on a film production of Tom Sawyer. Representatives visited Hannibal on several occasions and received a warm welcome. As a thank you, Warner Brothers bought the office and gave it to the City of Hannibal on November 30, 1943.

In 1956, the office was moved to its present location on Hill Street. It was rehabilitated and dedicated on Law Day, May 1, 1959 by the Missouri Bar Association. The building is again showing its age and is slated for a full restoration as soon as funds can be raised.

Pilaster House/Grant's Drug Store

Pilaster House/Grant's Drug Store

The building known as Grant's Drug Store is an early Hannibal structure. It is reported that the interior timbers were fitted together in Cincinnati, Ohio, and shipped in knocked-down fashion. They arrived during the flood that inundated Marion City, its intended destination, in 1836. James Brady, later first mayor of Hannibal, erected the structure. The term 'pilaster' refers to the flat columns on the outside.

Dr. Orville Grant and his wife lived here. In 1846, the Clemens family moved in with the Grants. John Marshall Clemens died in one of the upstairs rooms. Sam was just 11 years old and was forced to leave school forever so he could work and help support the family. Sam Clemens makes several references to the Grants and to the building in his autobiography. Currently the first floor is accessible to visitors and contains a recreation of a period drug store. The building was named to Missouri Preservation's Most Endangered Buildings List in 2009 and is slated for a full restoration as soon as funds can be raised. Visitors can view the old time drug store through the windows along Main Street.

Becky Thatcher House

Becky Thatcher House

Across the street from the Clemens' house was one occupied by the Elijah Hawkins Family. His daughter, Laura, was identified by Mark Twain as the model for Becky Thatcher. Laura was younger than Sam Clemens, but they played together and both left stories about the other.

The Mark Twain Museum acquired the building from private ownership in January, 2001. Today, the house is undergoing a major restoration project to ensure its preservation for future generations to enjoy. When completed, it will depict the lives of children during the mid-1800s, including the lives of slave children.

Interpretive Center

Interpretive Center

The property containing a local restaurant, Cassano's Pizza King, was seen as an area for museum expansion. The property was purchased in 1983 and was opened as the Museum Annex on September 18, 1983.

During the winter of 2004-2005 the building was completely reworked to provide exhibits on the experiences of Sam Clemens in Hannibal and to reflect Mark Twain looking back at Hannibal in his writings. This reinterpretation is a part of the museum's Phase I master planning project, designed to create new exhibits throughout the museum complex. This building serves as the starting point for a tour of the museum properties. A timeline of Twain's life and information about the real people who served as characters in his fiction are included.


Huckleberry Finn House

Local tradition places the Blankenship family in a house on North Street. Tom Blankenship was identified by Twain as his inspiration for the character, Huckleberry Finn.  The structure identified as the Blankenship home was demolished in 1911. The property came under ownership of the Coons family of Hannibal. Chris Coons left the land to the Mark Twain Home Foundation with the provision that the house be reconstructed.

The Mark Twain Museum reproduced the original structure using salvaged materials. The reconstruction of the home was completed in 2006. A permanent exhibit detailing the lives of the Blankenship family and the history of slavery in Hannibal was installed in April, 2010.

Museum Gallery

Museum Gallery

The building at Main and Center Streets, known as the Sonnenberg Building, became Foundation property with final ownership given to the Foundation in 1996. Stabilization took place and one room of exhibits was opened in 1997. Over the next few years more of the building was readied and exhibits opened.

The first floor presents interactive exhibits for five of Mark Twain's books. The mezzanine has a reconstructed pilot house. The second floor houses artifacts from Mark Twain's life, such as his Oxford gown and one of his famous white suit coats. The gallery also includes 15 original Norman Rockwell paintings created in 1935 for special editions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Traveling exhibits from other institutions rotate in the display area.


New Projects

The Museum completed Phase 1 of a 2-phase renovation in 2005. The Museum is now working towards its goals of completing the next phase by restoring three of the museum's historic properties and creating new exhibits.

Three of the Museum's properties require extensive restoration and rehabilitation. The Becky Thatcher House, Grant's Drugstore-Pilaster House, and the John M. Clemens Law Office are in serious need of restoration.

Becky Thatcher House

Becky Thatcher House

The Thatcher House exhibits will introduce the theme "Growing Up in Hannibal: Childhood in 19th Century America." Exhibits in this building will be playful and engaging, with a focus on children. A substantial amount of the space will be provided for play areas for children to explore the life of their counterparts of the 1840s. The exterior renovation of the building was completed in April 2010.  Interior work is underway. Donations are accepted toward this restoration project. The building is temporarily closed until work is completed.

Grants Drugstore Pilaster House

Grant's Drugstore/Pilaster House

The drugstore on the first floor will present a snap shot history of Hannibal life in the 1840s and '50s, and will complete the childhood theme with an exploration of medical care during that period. Exhibits will show early images of what the town looked like, and will how it functioned socially and economically.

Exhibits in the second-floor residence area will focus on two main themes: The economic precariousness of family life in this time long before government welfare systems were created; and the psychological impact on children of the loss of their father as well as violent incidents in town. Funds are actively being sought for this project.

John M Clemens Justice of the Peace Office

John M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office

The front room exhibit space will expand the story of John Marshall Clemens in Hannibal, and will explain the role he played in the local legal system as Justice of the Peace. The second exhibit space facing the courtyard will adapt a story from Twain's own childhood as recounted in his Autobiography.


Virtual Tour 

Interpretive Center



Interpretive Center - 415 North Main Street

Begin your museum tour in our newly redesigned Interpretive Center. Follow young Sam Clemens on his rambles through Hannibal. Meet his family and friends and get to know the town during the time young Sam lived there. Continue the experience as you learn about Sam's first outing as a writer. Then see which of the town's people, places and events he later transformed into stories. Enjoy stories from Twain's past and his imagination as you tour the exhibits.

Boyhood Home

Boyhood Home - 208 Hill Street

This small frame house was occupied by the John Marshall Clemens family from 1844 to 1853. Sam grew up here and used many incidents from his real life as patterns for Tom Sawyer and other of his characters.

From 1853 to 1911, the home was a rental property. When the home was scheduled for demolition in 1911, the local Hannibal Commercial Club started a campaign to purchase the home, but progress was slow. A local attorney, Mr. George A. Mahan, purchased the home and gave it to the City of Hannibal on May 15, 1912. At the dedication Mr. Mahan related:

"Mr. Mayor, I take pleasure in presenting the boyhood home of Mark Twain to the city and the people of Hannibal with the hope and in the full belief that it will be maintained and used, as to be an inspiration to them, to the people of Missouri and to the world as well."

The home was opened to the public in 1912 and has been open continually since, making it one of the earlier historic house preservations in the country.

In 1984, as the town was preparing for the Mark Twain Sesquicentennial in 1985, it was determined that the home had structural defects. The wear and tear of visitors had taken a toll, so a viewing platform was installed that allowed visitors to look into the rooms without walking on the floors.
Boyhood Home Gift Shop - Hill Street - Hannibal celebrated the centennial of Mark Twain's birth in 1935. A temporary museum was set up in a bank lobby. The museum proved very popular and the permanent museum was built as a WPA project in 1937. This small building beside the boyhood home is now used as a gift shop, offering a variety of Mark Twain's books, photographs, postcards and much more.

View the home on a live webcam.

Becky Thatcher House

Becky Thatcher House - 211 Hill Street

The home of the Elijah Hawkins family. Laura Hawkins was three years younger than Sam Clemens and was immortalized in Tom Sawyer as Becky Thatcher. Childhood friends, they stayed in touch through the years. Mark Twain enjoyed seeing Laura on his last visit to Hannibal in 1902.

Laura Hawkins married Dr. James Frazer and moved to the Renssalear, Missouri area, west of Hannibal. After Dr. Frazer's death, she moved back into town and became the matron for the Home for the Friendless orphanage in Hannibal. The building is undergoing restoration. The exterior was completed in April 2010 at a cost of one million dollars. The Museum needs to raise an additional $500,000 to complete the interior and install new exhibits.  It will be closed to the public until the restoration is complete.  

Justice Clemens

Judge Clemens Justice of the Peace Office - 205 Hill Street

John Clemens began to practice law while the family lived in Florida, Missouri. After moving to Hannibal, he used this building as his justice of the peace office. It was originally located on Bird Street and closer to the river.

In the late 1930s, David Selznick came to Hannibal while producing a film version of Tom Sawyer. To show appreciation for the assistance local officials provided, Warner Brothers Studios purchased the justice of the peace office and gave it to the City of Hannibal. Over the next few years it remained on its original location. In the mid-1950s it was moved to its current site across the street from the Boyhood Home, was restored, and opened on Law Day, May 1, 1959. The office's front room is displayed as a courtroom. Mr. Clemens became Justice of the Peace in Hannibal and did hold investigations and court sessions. One account describes Judge Clemens as "a stern, unbending man of splendid common sense... the autocrat of the little dingy room on Bird Street where he held court... here on court days when the Judge climbed upon his three-legged stool, rapped on the box with his knuckles and demanded "Silence in the court" it was fully expected that silence would reign supreme."

This room provides the setting for the trial of Muff Potter in Tom Sawyer. The rear room was recalled by Mark Twain in The Innocents Abroad when he had played hookey from school and crept into his father's office to spend the night. He did not know a dead man lay on the floor. His description of awakening during the night and finding the body is well worth reading (Chapter 18).

Pilaster House

Grant's Drug Store/Pilaster House - 325 North Main Street

This structure is said to have been prefabricated in Cincinnati, Ohio, and shipped by steamboat. It arrived in 1836 and was erected by James Brady, later the first mayor of Hannibal.

Dr. Orville Grant, his wife and his mother-in-law lived upstairs. In 1846, because of financial problems, the Clemens family was forced to leave their home and moved across the street with the Grants. In March, 1847, Mr. Clemens rode by horse to the county seat of Palmyra, Missouri, and was caught in a sleet storm. He contracted pneumonia and died in one of the upstairs rooms. Currently the first floor is accessible. The first floor is restored as an early drug store, complete with patent medicines, invalid feeding bottles and tooth hooks for extracting teeth.

The Pilaster House (pilasters are the flat columns on the exterior) was given to the City of Hannibal in 1956 by Mrs. Sarah Mahan. It was restored and opened to the public in 1959. Plans are underway to fully restore the endangered building when funds are raised.

Museum Gallery

Museum Gallery

This building dates back to the 1850s and was formerly Sonnenberg's Department Store through 1959. It was acquired by the Mark Twain Home Foundation and has been in use since 1995.

On the main level, visitors experience scenes from five of Mark Twain's books: In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer exhibit, 'paint' the fence with Tom's gang, visit the scary graveyard with Tom and Huck, see Tom's schoolhouse antics, meet Injun Joe with the treasure, and get lost in the cave as Tom and Becky's candle goes out with bats overhead. Step through the pages of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and on to a raft tied at the river bank. Watch a film clip of Huckleberry Finn which examines the relationship between Huck and Jim on the raft. Cross the ocean on the first pleasure cruise aboard the Quaker City in the The Innocents Abroad , Mark Twain's first novel. Clemens met Charles Langdon on this cruise and fell in love with the picture of his sister Olivia Langdon, who would later become Clemens' wife.

In the Roughing It exhibit, climb in a stagecoach and share the mining experiences of Sam Clemens and the characters, both human and animal, that he brings to life. Travel back in time in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court as the Yankee saves himself from burning at the stake by predicting a solar eclipse, test the 'modern' inventions that he brings to the Knights of the Round Table, and view the social injustices and political inequities of the time through original pen and ink illustrations by Dan Beard, founder of the Boy Scouts.

Sam Clemens was a riverboat pilot from 1857 to 1861. Celebrating this portion of his life, a replica of a steamboat pilot house is located on the mezzanine level. Here visitors can view the great river that had such an influence on Clemens and his later writings, grasp the pilot wheel and tug the steamboat whistle or engine room bells. You can almost hear the call Mark Twain!

A favorite visitor attraction is the Norman Rockwell Gallery. In 1935, Norman Rockwell was commissioned by Heritage Press to illustrate special editions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. He visited Hannibal to prepare his preliminary sketches and returned to New York to paint the illustrations. After being on loan at the museum for several years, Rockwell donated the 15 original paintings to the museum and they are on permanent display here. Also on display are the artist proof lithographs of the Tom Sawyer illustrations which have been signed and numbered by Rockwell. The special editions of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn illustrated by Norman Rockwell are only available for purchase in our museum gift shops.

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