Captain Hemenway’s house at First and Webb streets, as it was originally built .

Ancestors, Legends & Time

Captain Silas O. Hemenway steered far and wide before settling in Webb City

Jeanne Newby

THE REST OF THE STORY…concerning Captain Silas O. Hemenway. Recently Captain Hemenway’s house, on the northwest corner of First and Webb streets has received some attention, as it has been sold. Such an historic house is always of concern as it changes hands and it’s future is a worry.

I remember the first time I saw a picture of the Hemenway House back in the 1980s. I thought it was quite unusual and should be easy to locate but I was having problems. It was funny when it turned out to be located across the street from my home at the time. But the house didn’t look anything like the original picture. It was only two stories tall with a rock front porch and a rock chimney on the south side of the house – nothing like I was looking for, an ornate three-story, nautical home.

The original owner, Silas O. Hemenway, was not noted in the local history that much, and it was hard to locate information on him. Even though I didn’t find anything right away, little pieces of info came through. But then, Don Freeman, who is great at research, shared a gold mine of info. I did a story on Silas in 2005, but I think he is due for a refresher.

Silas O. Hemenway was born in 1833 in Geneva, N.Y., and his family moved to Buffalo, N.Y. By the age of 8, Hemenway was a working child as a messenger boy for a general store. Imagine that. At age 17 he was a station agent at State Line between Pennsylvania and New York. Not to sit still for long, in 1854, at the age of 21, he became purser on the steamer Oriental, which ran between Buffalo and Chicago, learning navigation from a Captain Heber Squares.

The next chapter in this energetic young man’s life led him to St. Louis, where he took a steamboat to Westport Landing (now known as Kansas City). He hopped on a stage to Lecompton, Kan., which was the capital of Kansas at that time. His new adventure was to operate a hotel for a year,

Activity in Denver as gold was being discovered grabbed Hemenway’s attention and the following year found him opening a hotel there in a one-room log cabin with no door, no window, no floor. 

A guest trading Hemenway’s pony for a claim, from which he acquired $7,000 in one day, and he gave half to Hemenway.  It was stated that awhile later, Hemenway and his family moved back East. He started out for St. Paul, Minn. but decided to head for New Orleans, stopping in St. Joseph, Mo., to pick up a drove of horses he had left there. It just happened that this was at the beginning of the Civil War and travel North was difficult. He made it to St. Paul and took on the operation of the International Hotel. One year later, Hemenway was helping to build the St. Paul & Pacific Railway .

Hemenway took on the management of the Nicollet Hotel in Minneapolis during which time he served as a captain against the Indians during their uprising. He also contracted with the Union Army to supply General Shelle’s army with hay. Toward the end of the Civil War, Hemenway went to Cincinnati, Ohio, bought the steamer Miami and became the captain as he ran the steamship between Memphis, Tenn., and Little Rock, Ark. 

The Captain was financially stable until the Miami boiler exploded and 187 of the 312 passengers lost their lives. At the time of the explosion the Captain’s family was in Memphis and he was on a trip to St. Louis. The explosion of the Miami bankrupted Hemenway but he didn’t give up. He started over with a small steamer, the Goldfinch, running between St. Louis and Chester, Mo.

By now, the Captain is 34, the year is 1867. He takes command of a boat in the Memphis & St. Louis Line. He eventually had command of the G.W. Graham, Belle of the Memphis and the Adam Jacobs, and finally became the agent of the Memphis & St. Louis Line.

The next chapter in his adventurous life went into politics as he ran for county auditor but didn’t win the election. His opponent proved a defaulter for $225,000 and went to the penitentiary. Captain Hemenway was at one time assistant doorkeeper to the House of Representatives. Not only known for buying and selling many well-known steamers through the years but he has also been identified with the promotion of many well-known enterprises.

Captain Hemenway brought from New York and erected in Monterey, Mexico, the first electric light plant in Mexico.

In New York City during the campaign of 1888, the Captain served as the advisory member of the National Democratic Committee. He was also the president of American Hotel.

When Captain Silas O. Hemenway built his home in Webb City, the third floor shows the personality of the owner as it gives the distinction of a captain’s house setting on the edge of the bay allowing the captain to look out over the water and keep an eye on his ships. Even though Captain Hemenway’s house was not sitting on the bay, his house showed his personality.

The 1899 Webb City Gazette described the Captain as being an energetic progressive businessman, a miner, unselfish, untiring, and willing to sacrifice his own interests for the benefit of friends, employees and neighbors. He was described as a writer, a fluent speaker, and an adviser for public and private interests. The Captain hailed from New York, and his wife’s name was Minerva. The editors of the 1899 Webb City Gazette also praised Captain Hemenway for assisting with the publishing of the gazette.

The Hemenway Family decided to retire in Webb City, where the Captain spent his last years just as active as he had spent his entire life. The 72-year old Captain had an eventful life that ended Oct.8, 1905, as he was reading the newspaper about a friend passing from apoplexy and stating that is the way he would want to go. Almost immediately his head dropped backward and his wish was fulfilled. He was buried in St. Louis.

Dr. Lincoln Chenoweth purchased the Captain’s home to establish the first Webb City hospital.

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.

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