In 1935, the WPA also contributed to the preservation and beautification of the Boyhood Home Complex. A stone structure was built next to the Boyhood Home that would be home to the Mark Twain Museum, dedicated on November 30, 1937 (Mark Twain’s birthday). When the “new” Mark Twain Museum opened in 1997, the stone building was repurposed and now serves as a museum gift shop. Another WPA project was the construction of the tall stone wall directly behind the Boyhood Home. In the 1930s, the Cruikshank Lumber Company was situated just north of the small frame house. Fear of fire damaging the historic property prompted construction of the wall as a fire barrier between the lumberyard and the Boyhood Home.
George A. Mahan’s son, Dulany, passed away in 1940. As a memorial to her husband, Sarah Marshall Mahan facilitated the installation of the gardens next to the Boyhood Home and donated the park 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],” Mrs. Mahan said at the dedication ceremony, “and shall be a memorial to my late husband Dulany D. Mahan.”
With Tom & Huck in the foreground, the Cruikshank Lumber firm, which was located on the corner of Main and North Streets, was directly north of Mark Twain's Boyhood Home. Barely visible here is the stone fire wall built as a WPA project in 1935 to protect the Twain home. The Cruikshank Lumber building was razed in 1954.
Dulany D. Mahan Garden, circa 1980
John Marshall Clemens’s Justice of the Peace Office was originally located in the 100 block of Bird Street. In the early 1940s, Warner Bros. was in preproduction for their feature film "The Adventures of Mark Twain" (released in 1944) and spent considerable time in Hannibal doing research. As a “thank you” for the hospitality they received while in Hannibal, Warner Bros. purchased the Clemens Office and donated it to the city on November 30, 1943. In 1956, it was moved to its present location on Hill Street behind Grant’s Drugstore, where it was restored and rededicated on Law Day, May 1, 1959, by the Missouri Bar Association. Lieutenant Governor Edward Long gave an address on the life of Judge Clemens at the dedication ceremony.
Dedication of Justice of Peace Office, May 1, 1959. Seven years later, in 1966, this block of Hill Street would be closed to allow only pedestrian traffic in the Boyhood Home Plaza.
John Marshall Clemens's Justice of Peace Office, late 1930s, in its original location on Bird Street. During the Depression, the 100 block of Bird Street was called "Wildcat Corner" by local Hannibalians.
Also in the 1950s, John Winkler was the man responsible for the restoration of the Becky Thatcher House. The two-story frame structure at 211 Hill Street, built in the 1840s right across from Twain’s boyhood home, was originally the home of the Elijah Hawkins family; daughter Laura was a childhood friend of Mark Twain and an inspiration for the character of Becky Thatcher in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Winkler served for many years as president of the Mark Twain Board and was presented with an engraved silver cup in 1958 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation for his leadership and preservation efforts of the historic buildings and artifacts in the Mark Twain Historic District.
In 1966, the Hannibal City Council voted to allow the 200 block of Hill Street to be closed to traffic and made into a pedestrian-only plaza. In 1972, the area was paved with brick supplied by the Mark Twain Board. The plaza would bring cohesion to the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum Complex.
Becky Thatcher House after restoration, circa 1950
A former pizza parlor at the corner of Main and North Streets was converted in 1983 to the Mark Twain Museum Annex. The space was redesigned in 2004–5 and now serves as the Interpretive Center, the starting point for the tour of the Boyhood Home Complex. This section of the museum features exhibits on Sam Clemens’ time in Hannibal and the effect that Hannibal would have on his writings.
The Sonnenberg Building at the corner of Center and Main Streets is now home to the Mark Twain Museum Gallery. The project began in 1996 and has grown over the years to encompass the entire two-story structure. The first floor features interactive exhibits covering five of Mark Twain’s most popular books. The second-floor gallery displays artifacts from Mark Twain’s life and features fifteen original Norman Rockwell paintings that were done in the 1930s as illustrations for special editions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
In the century since the Boyhood Home’s dedication, millions of Mark Twain devotees from across the globe have made the pilgrimage to Hannibal to walk in the footsteps of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. It was many years before attendance records were kept, but it is known that in the fifty years between 1935 and 1985, more than 6.5 million visitors toured the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum Complex. Tens of thousands of visitors each year still roam the plaza on Hill Street, taking their pictures by the whitewashed fence and retracing the steps of one of America’s most enduring iconic figures.
Mark Twain Museum Gallery, formerly known as the Sonnenberg Building, located at 120 North Main Street