Like many other lovers of old buildings, I've been reading with dismay the talk of demolishing the handball court on Southeast Missouri State University's River Campus. It is, arguably, one of the oldest surviving structures in Cape Girardeau. For that reason alone, I believe it should be preserved.
For the engineers and contractors who found a way to save the other original buildings on the former campus of St. Vincent's College, I would think that preserving a tall brick wall with supporting buttresses would be a snap. It will take a lot of determination on the part of historic preservationists, however, to defy the school's board of regents. Let's hope the regents can be swayed and the ball court saved.
Had you asked me a month ago whether another, not-quite-as-old structure in downtown Cape could be salvaged, I would have have said emphatically, "No way!" But Reba Abbott of Scott City, the new owner of the historic Sturdivant Bank building, has proven me wrong.
As I write this, workers are doing their best to rescue the old structure. It's not an easy task, but preserving our heritage is never easy.
Other writers have given you a review of this building's history. I thought I would tell you about it's namesake: Col. Robert Sturdivant.
(The above photo was taken from Louis Houck's 1915 book, "Memorial Sketches.")
Sturdivant was born in Lunenburg County, Virginia, on March 31, 1817. He was the son of Edward C. Sturdivant and Rebecca Dick, according to Ancestry.com.
As a teenager, he rode on horseback to Cape Girardeau, arriving here in 1835. He may have made the journey west with his sister Aletha, who was married that same year to Edwin White in Brunswick County, Virginia.
Once in Cape Girardeau, young Sturdivant and his brother-in-law formed a mercantile company with the highly-original name of White & Sturdivant. The firm continued to operate until the financial difficulties of 1839-1840. (In later years, when he came into his own, Sturdivant repaid those who lost money when White & Sturdivant failed, even though bankruptcy laws exempted him from doing so.)
For the next three years, Sturdivant taught school, clerked at a store, and, in his own words, was "guilty of the folly" of publishing a newspaper. The Cape Girardeau Patriot, as it was called, advocated for the Whig party.
From 1843-1847 he again worked in the mercantile trade, this time with his good friend Andrew Giboney. The name of the firm was R. Sturdivant & Co.
He turned to flour milling in 1848, when he purchased a one-half interest in the Cape Girardeau Steam Mills, his partner being Ben M. Horrell. After a few years, he sold out and became a wholesaler and retailer of groceries at the corner of Water and Themis streets.
Finally, just before the start of the Civil War, he entered the trade for which he is still known: Banking. In 1857, Sturdivant was named cashier of the Cape Girardeau Branch Bank of the State of Missouri. Ten years later, he purchased the assets of the local branch, which became Sturdivant Bank.
The original Sturdivant Bank was located at the northwest corner of Main and Themis streets, the same as the present-day building. But that original structure looked far different than the one now being restored.
This building, seen at left in the above photo, was razed to make way for the present structure, which was constructed in 1892 by Cape Girardeau contractor Henry Ossenkop using plans drawn by St. Louis architect J.B. Legg.
Along with his business interests, Sturdivant was a supporter of local agriculture. He and Col. George Thilenius were the original organizers of what is now known as the SEMO District Fair in 1855. His support went even further when, in 1900, he sold the fair association a 40-acre tract on Broadway for a new fairgrounds for $2,000. It is said that Sturdivant never collected the $2,000 from the sale. The land eventually was purchased by the city of Cape Girardeau and became Capaha Park.
In politics, Sturdivant was a Whig and later a Democrat. His obituary in the Cape Girardeau Democrat newspaper described his political leanings this way: "Col. Sturdivant, never a bitter partisan, was nevertheless an enthusiastic adherent of the Whig party and was one of the local leaders of the campaign of William Henry Harrison on the principle that a Whig not to be enthusiastic with such a leader was not to be a Whig at all. With the disintegration of that party he affiliated with the Democracy and supported the policies of that party. The fact should be emphasized that in whatever Col. Sturdivant engaged he was earnest, honest, active, faithful, and in the true old Virginian way, had no apologies to make for any position he assumed."
The obit further points out that Sturdivant was a member of the bar in Cape Girardeau County, but never practiced the law here.
Sturdivant continued to run his bank, as well as the Union Mills, until he retired in January 1902, remarking to a friend that he was "preparing for the inevitable." He then left Cape Girardeau to live with relatives in the East. At the time of his death on Oct. 10, 1905, he was residing with his niece, Rebecca E. Puryear, at Tallapoosa, Ga. She was the daughter of his sister Ann Sturdivant and John Puryear.
Rebecca and Clayborne Sturdivant, a nephew of Robert Sturdivant and a former member of the Georgia legislature, arranged to have his body transported to Cape Girardeau for burial. It arrived here on Oct. 13 by train. A funeral, conducted by the Rev. E.T. Adams, pastor of Centenary Methodist Church, was held at the home of Judge R.G. Ranney on North Main Street two days later.
Sturdivant's remains were interred at Old Lorimier Cemetery at a spot he had picked out years before. The following year, a large, dark gray granite tombstone was erected at the site.
(At right is Robert Sturdivant's grave marker at Old Lorimier Cemetery. At left is the tomb of his sister, Aletha Sturdivant White.)