If you look carefully at the left side of this postcard, you can barely make out the figure of a woman standing between a doorway and what appears to be an old pump or tree stump. I can't prove it, but I believe that woman may be the final owner of this impressive house, Ellen Miller Henderson Wright.
The old place's claim to fame was as Cape Girardeau's "first courthouse." Used as a trading post in pioneer days, some of the earliest sessions of the County Court were held here.
What prompted this exploration of the Ellen Wright home was a small note I found in the Feb. 23, 1916, edition of The Daily Republican newspaper. It read: "The leaning chimney on the old Wright house at the corner of Themis and Middle streets was torn down Tuesday by the Brunkes at the order of Joe T. Nunn, who looks after the property. The old chimney has been falling away to the west for several months and had become dangerous. The house also moved eastward until a foot or two of space stood between the two. Mrs. Ellen Wright, who recently celebrated her 88th birthday, is growing weaker rapidly, and it is believed that she will live only a few weeks longer."
The Weekly Tribune, in its Feb. 25, 1916, edition, elaborated on the razing of "Cape's oldest chimney." It noted that Nunn was Wright's nephew and had been told several times in the previous four years that the chimney was a hazard: "Mr. Nunn last night said the determination to remove the leaning chimney was based upon a fear that some bricks might fall upon passersby. The chimney stands very close to the sidewalk on Middle Street."
The story continued, "A half century ago there was a big fireplace in the bottom of the chimney in the room on the first floor. The chimney was closed up, however, and 35 years ago it was walled up so that it has been completely out of use for years.
"The chimney was of such great age that the mortar has decayed and the bricks have remained in place without the aid of a binding agency. As the workmen began tearing the bricks down, they came off the top of the chimney in their hands without the aid of a hammer to knock them loose.
"The bricks were good. The Wright house itself was built of logs two feet thick and subsequently was plastered inside and boarded on the outside. It is still comfortable in the winter and summer."
The estimation that Ellen Wright wouldn't long survive the demise of her chimney proved false. She hung on for another year, passing away on Feb. 8, 1917. Here is her obituary from that date in The Daily Republican.
MRS. WRIGHT IS DEAD, AGED 89
Celebrated Birthday Monday and Was Extremely Well.
THE END COMES SUDDENLY
Was connecting link between the Cape Girardeau of 100 years ago and modern ideas of present city.
Mrs. Ellen Wright, who celebrated her 89th birthday Monday at her ancient residence at the corner of Themis and (Middle) streets, died this morning rather suddenly, shortly before the noon hour.
Few were prepared for the close of her life. In fact Mrs. Wright had given no intimation that she was weaker than usual until the last few hours before the end came, peacefully and faintly, just such a death as a grand old woman as she deserved.
For nearly two years she had lain abed, unable except for a few steps, to leave it and get about her house. An attendant was with her most all the time during those two years, lest the final summons come with nobody near.
Before that for many years she had remained closely in the old house, looked carefully after every day by her nephew, J.T. Nunn, and others.
Senility the Cause.
This morning at 6:30 o'clock Mr. Nunn went to her as was his every morning custom and spoke to her. She nodded recognition but closed her eyes quickly and apparently sank into unconsciousness. Mr. Nunn knelt down and held his ear closely to her face. He discerned the slight rattle in her breathing that indicated possibly the approach of the end.
A doctor was called and he quickly discovered her to be entering the last few hours of her life on earth. He thought she would not live until noon. Mrs. Wright never gained consciousness again and at 11:10 o'clock passed away.
Mrs. Wright was 89 years of age Monday. She was born on the Burns place on the Bloomfield gravel road adjoining Louis Houck's country place, her parents, Alexander Miller and Elizabeth Jones, having come from Maryland to make their fortune in the West.
In early life she was married to Columbus Henderson, who died in 1867 or 1868 after having been stricken many years before with paralysis which laid him low.
Ten years later she married Abraham Wright, who died Christmas eve on 1879. She was one of three sisters in the Miller family who attained ripe ages. Mrs. Mary J. Nunn lived to be 85 and her other sister, Mrs. Barbara E. Poe to 89. Two brothers died after middle age had been attained although they never reached such years as the sisters, one being killed accidentally and the other dying of sudden illness.
Recalled Her Sisters.
In the last six months Mrs. Wright has been living with the two departed sisters. It was a topic of conversation when her nephew, Mr. Nunn visited her. On one occasion she told him that he had come just too late. When asked what she meant, she said that her two sisters had just left her. It was the living over of past life of a brain weakened with age.
The funeral will be held Friday afternoon at 2 o'clock at the residence. Rev. Marvin T. Haw, who preached the funerals of the other sisters, will attend to give the religious services.
The pall bearers will be I. Ben Miller, William W. Nunn, J.T. Nunn Jr., Robert G. Nunn, Charles G. Juden, Joe Albert of St. Louis, Charles W. Miller of Morley and I.H. Poe of Jackson.
Burial will e made in the old (Lorimier) cemetery on the hill overlooking the river.
Mrs. Wright, affectionately known by all as "Aunt Ellen," Has been a link connecting the citizenship of the modern city of Cape Girardeau with that of the pioneers who laid the cornerstone for our civic structure.
One of the belles of those pioneer days, she became a bride of the man of her choice, Columbus Henderson, and began her home life in the house in which she died today.
Her House Famous.
This house, the oldest now in use in Cape Girardeau, except the house Louis Lorimier, which has been rebuilt, was built in 1811 by the father of her husband, Judge Henderson, and shortly after its completion was shaken by the great earthquake which devastated so much of Southeast Missouri, in 1811.
It was one of the most pretentious houses in the Cape Girardeau district, it being used as a house of public entertainment by those who passed through the village. It was also a trading post in which the pioneer settlers and Indians secured the necessaries of life that could not be gown upon their farms. In this house was also held the earliest terms of the county court, of which her husband's father was one of the judges.
"Aunt Ellen" Wright has been beloved by the younger generations which have come into her long period of life, and those younger people have been made the better by knowing her. Bravely and cheerfully she has gone through her fore-score years, retaining to the last her belief in the goodness of life, and never abandoning the high ideals of her true womanliness.
Those who knew her in earlier years will recall a character true to all that is best in womanly attributes -- a character that has made its influence felt, and the memory of which will be an inspiration to better lives of those who lovingly mourn her death.
The Tribune's story about Wright's death contains much the same information as The Republican, but does add, "Some years ago she injured her hip in a fall and had been disabled since," thus explaining why she was confined to her home the last few years of her life.
Four months after her death, in June 1917, Wright's famous home was torn down, despite an impassioned plea for its preservation by The Republican: "Another of the historical landmarks of Cape Girardeau is giving way to modern progress. The home of Aunt Ellen Wright, built more than a century ago, having stood the shocks of earthquakes, the winds of winter, the equinoctial storms and the stress of wars, for all those years, is giving way to the call of modern civilization...
"The logs of which the house was built are still sound and could be removed to some park for preservation. Why could they not be taken to the Fairground (Capaha) Park and the house reconstructed as a historical memento of the past when those hardy pioneers came into the new country to carve out an empire for us who now enjoy the blessings thy suffered and struggled to give us? Why can not we preserve this landmark for our children, that they man not lose sight entirely of the debt they owe to those who laid the foundations for the life of liberty and freedom they enjoy?...
"It will be a shame if these historic logs are destroyed or put to some ignoble use. Shall they, the logs which gave shelter to our pioneer people; which furnished the seat of justice and the market place for those who made our community; which at one time composed the house of prominence in the early Cape Girardeau, be scattered, destroyed?"