Last week, as I searched for details about the 1919 fire that destroyed a building at the northeast corner of Main and Themis streets in Cape Girardeau, I found a photograph of that corner showing the buildings affected by the conflagration. (A cropped version of the same picture is above.)
Just when the corner building was built and by whom aren't recorded in the Missourian's files. A 1971 edition of the Heritage Review newspaper says that building and the one east of it on Water Street were eventually owned by Henry Meystedt, along with several other buildings in the same block on Main Street. Jack Painter is also mentioned as having owned the corner building at one time.
The name above the door of the corner structure in the picture was familiar to me -- A.D. Leech -- but I really didn't know much about him and his family until I found a story written by Clara Ryder Hayden and published in the Southeast Missourian on March 18, 1931. Leech and his wife of four years came to Cape Girardeau in 1857, opening a general merchandise store at the corner of Main and Themis. The story references Leech's establishment of a cotton market at that location, bringing that product to Cape Girardeau "from as far south as Arkansas." This image is a good illustration of that market, as it shows several ox-drawn carts loaded with bales of cotton.
Perhaps one of the men standing in front of the Leech building in the undated photo is Amzi Doddridge Leech himself. But it's impossible to know for sure.
Published in the Southeast Missourian, Wednesday, March 18, 1931.
ELIZABETH HAYDOCK LEECH
A brief story of a long and beautiful life, including some reminiscences of the early days in Cape Girardeau, written by Mrs. Clara Ryder Hayden, now a resident of Tallahassee, Florida.
Elizabeth Haydock Leech was born in Smithland, Kentucky, Sept. 26, 1833. Her mother, Harriet Conway, was of Irish descent; her father, Gideon Haydock, was a Quaker, whose parents had come to America to escape religious persecution in England. Smithland is now counted among the forgotten towns of our country; situated at the junction of the Ohio and Cumberland rivers, it was at one time the most flourishing little city in southwest Kentucky. It was the center of an agricultural activity and the county seat of Livingston County. During the winter months the prosperous farmers of the community would move their families into town in order to send their children to a subscription school. They were taught arithmetic, reading, writing, spelling, French and Latin. All through the many years of her life Elizabeth Leech cherished a little French note written to her by a schoolmate who was visiting away from Smithland. The girls were given lessons on the piano. Years after Elizabeth's fingers had grown stiff with age, she would sometimes consent to play "Santa Anna's Retreat" to the great delight of her grandchildren.
Gideon Haydock died before his five children, Elizabeth, Joe, Gus, Maria "Buntie" and Clara were grown. At about the same time a brother of Gideon's and his wife died, leaving five children. Harriet Haydock took these children into her home, and the 10 children were reared as brothers and sisters. She was a frail woman, delicately reared, with only a farm for a livelihood; and a farm in pioneer Kentucky was a big proposition for any woman with 10 small children. But these children were clothed, fed and educated probably better than the average child in a pioneer industry. Her eldest son, Joe, and the eldest nephew, Dick, later owned and operated for years the Ohio River wharfboat at Cairo (Illinois). Then Dick moved to California and Joe came to Cape Girardeau and became Mr. (Louis) Houck's bookkeeper at the railway station at the foot of Good Hope Street. Gus, the younger son, was in the Confederate army and was killed at Shiloh and buried on the battlefield in the trench with hundreds of other Confederate soldiers. Clara Haydock married L.J. Albert of Cape Girardeau and Maria became the wife of W.V. Leech, who became a partner of A.D. Leech and carried on the business after the older brother's death. Harriet Haydock spent the last years of her life with her daughters and lies at rest in Lorimier Cemetery.
On another Kentucky farm near Smithland a young widow was experiencing a life not unlike Harriet Haydock's. Linda Glenn Leech had been left, at the death of her husband, with a farm, seven sons and a daughter. These seven sons became successful business men and the daughter, the wife of Capt. Joe Fowler of Paducah. Two of the sons were married at Princeton, Kentucky, to sisters of the late Judge Robert L. Wilson of Cape Girardeau. The Leech and Haydock families were old friends, exchanging visits and meeting frequently in town. Amzi Leech and Elizabeth Haydock were married Oct. 19, 1853. Four years later, in 1857, they came to Cape Girardeau to live, and Amzi Leech became the owner of a general merchandise store on the corner of Main and Themis streets -- the best business stand in town at the time. From what I have gathered of A.D. Leech's business methods, I suspect they more nearly resembled 20th century methods than anything Cape Girardeau had experienced up to that time. He established a cotton market that brought cotton to the Cape from as far south as Arkansas, instead of to Memphis, as previously. It was not an unusual sight in season to see cotton wagons lined up from the Leech store, down Main Street, up Independence and south on Spanish for a half a block or more. Mr. Frank Anderson of Commerce once told me that A.D. Leech went personally among the farmers of the lower counties and solicited their business; that he had a charming personality and numbered his friends in Southeast Missouri by the hundreds; that men held their cotton for him because they had confidence in his fair and square dealing. He had faith in the future of Cape Girardeau and gave to the town his loyal support. A.D. Leech died in 1872 at the age of 39.
The New Home.
When Elizabeth Leech, a small, blue-eyed, golden-haired mother, with a little son in arms and a daughter (Mattie) just 3, looked eagerly over the guards of the landing boat at her new home she saw a levee not hard to visualize today, for in many respects it has changed little during the passing 74 years. There was, of course, no sea wall, no railway tracks, no handsome railroad station in the distance. But the levee, even then, was the best between St. Louis and Memphis. It had virtually the same skyline as today, with the same two- and three-storied buildings stretching across the top. At the north end, on the corner of Harmony (Broadway) stood the imposing Riverview Hotel, and beyond that Wathen's large flour mill and warehouses. Far to the south she caught a glimpse of another large mill, the convent, and the beautiful Catholic church. In front of her, up Themis Street, the courthouse stood on its pinnacle -- a square, two-storied brick building on an erosionned hill -- no grass, and with a path leading up to the top. It was 25 years later that Elizabeth Leech's son-in-law, a member of the city council, fought for, and won, a terraced, grass-sodded lawn with shade trees for the "courtyard." Soft maples were planted because of their rapid growth, with the hope that other forest trees would be gradually added.
There were no houses to rent in Cape Girardeau in 1857. Someone had to leave town or, for some reason, consent to rent their homes for a few months. While looking for a place to live the Leech family stayed at the St. Charles Hotel, of which Mr. Zalma Block was owner and proprietor. While here a close friendship was cemented between them and the Block family that has lasted through four generations. For a short while Elizabeth Leech and her family were domiciled in the Phillipson home on Harmony Street, then they were moved to a large, roomy house on the corner of Themis and Main streets, just across from the Leech store. They had not lived there long when Col. (Robert) Sturdivant decided to remodel the place into a business house, and it became the "Bank of Sturdivant." However, Col. Sturdivant retained a suite in the building for his own home and lived there until he went back to Virginia. The Leeches moved up the street to the Harris house on the corner of Themis and Spanish.
It was during this period that Aunt Patience was acquired. When Mr. Leech went to the Ingram place (now the Sproat home) to select a servant, he took his little daughter with him, saying the children had a right to help select their nurse. When Aunt Patience, who was about 65 years old, saw them coming, she ran from a group of (blacks) to them crying, "Oh Marse, take me. I knows you's a good man." The little girl selected Aunt Patience on the spot. Dr. Stockton, a physician of the Cape at that time, took her son, Tom, so that they might not be separated. Tom Stockton became the town's famous crier and was for years the sexton of the Presbyterian Church. Shortly after Aunt Patience came to the Leech family she "got religion." She invited the family to come down to the river to see her baptized. The levee was full of spectators, but when Aunt Patience emerged she caught a glimpse of "her people" and in an hysterical frenzy she rushed up to her master and threw her arms around him crying, "Oh, marse, Am. I's so happy!" the crowd laughed and "Marse Am" went home and put on a dry shirt.
During the war Elizabeth and her little family of three were moved to the large two-story frame house that stood for so many years on the northwest corner of Lorimier and Themis. Three other children were born to her while they lived there. And it was from this house years later, when W.V. Leech and his wife, Maria, were living there, that the Leech family and their friends witnessed, from the upper porch, the famous race between the Natchez and the Lee go past the Cape.
The Union soldiers made much of the little children across the street from their camp. They knew the family were southern sympathizers and sometimes would tease the little one until the children would retort with something about the "Yankee," then the men would laugh good-naturedly and an argument would ensue.
Amzi Leech did not join the Confederate army because his fast-growing family needed him, but he did provide a substitute. Clara Haydock, who spent much of her time with her sister Elizabeth, was an ardent and zealous Confederate. In defiance she named a little calf on the place Jefferson Davis, then kept it locked up in the smokehouse to keep the soldiers from carrying it off. When a Union battle had been won, the citizens were required to illuminate their homes for the big parade that always took place. Can you imagine placing hundreds of candles along the small panes of glass in every window in your house, then have the soldiers groan as they passed, because they knew you had decorated because you had to, not because you wanted to. Most of this in the the light of today appears like schoolboy pranks, but there were some tragedies and some near-tragedies. Once the little Leech children saw a young boy hauled away in a wagon from the guardhouse, seated on his roughly constructed pine coffin. A little later they saw an old mother walk up and down, wringing her hands and crying. Three times the life of Amzi Leech apparently hung in the balance. The soldiers knew he was a Confederate sympathizer, but they like him and treated him courteously. But three times, when there had been too much drinking, they came to the house late at night with threats of shooting and demanded that he come with (them). Once, Louis Klostermann, a young state militiaman, who was clerking in the Leech store and living at the house, persuaded them to leave. Another time, Mr. Leech himself shamed them into leaving, and the third time Aunt Patience jumped among them from the porch and prayed so long and fervently to the good Lord to come down and save "Marse Am" that they gradually faded away.
One day it was rumored that the Confederates were marching on the city. There was great excitement, orders rang out and the soldiers marched out to meet them, leaving their coats piled high on the side porch of the Leech house. It was the day of the skirmish west of town, April 26, 1863. When the town was threatened by federal gunboats, one of the Leech children was very ill and there was no thought of any of them taking the boat that waited at the levee to carry Cape citizens to a point north of the town. Two of the Leech children sat on the high wall and watched the men, women and children hurry by. Some of the women carried feather beds on their heads, and the children followed with bird cages, quilts and toys. They offered to take the two on the wall with them, for the knew it would prove a veritable target if the town should be bombarded, which it was not. While the men in the southern counties were at war, the women came to the Cape to sell and buy. It was not an unusual thing for Elizabeth Leech to have five or six women, and as many children, as guests for over night.
Shortly after the war Mr. Leech bought the the Lacy place on the Jackson road. It was a lovely house of red brick, white stone coping, French windows and a two-storied front porch that extended to the eves of the roof. There was a lovely garden on the east side. Here, for many years, Elizabeth Leech planted and cared for the flowers that were ever her delight. There were large forest trees that lined the driveway to the gate. On the lawn mysterious jack-o-lanterns often played at night over the meadow at the foot of the hill, to the great consternation of the ... children.
A few years before A.D. Leech's death, the Leech brothers took into their store as a clerk a first double cousin from Kentucky, David A. Glenn. David Glenn had many characteristics in common with his Leech cousins -- he was gifted in that he made and held friends, was always liberal, and gave his tireless support to his town and community.
After her husband's death, Elizabeth Leech attempted to carry on in the same generous way she had been used to. She was an active member of the Presbyterian Church, and her home was always open to the ministers and their families. For many years the Presbyterian women served meals during the fair. All the meat, bread, chicken salad and many other deliciously cooked edibles were prepared in the Leech kitchen and carried out to the fairground, on the Bloomfield Road, in the surrey behind old Thad, the family horse. It was Elizabeth Leech, because of her knowledge of parliamentary law, that held the Cape Girardeau Presbyterian Church in the Southern Assembly. The motion was put before a small prayer-meeting congregation that it be placed in the Northern Assembly, and passed. Mrs. Leech was not at the church that night and had retired when she was told what had happened. In her own words, written in a letter Jan. 17, 1939, she said: "I got out of bed quickly and got some paper and ink and wrote a note to Mr. Ponder, one of the elders, and told him they had not advertised that they would vote on it that night, and that the members were not all there, and that they would have to call another meeting... All the members went to this meeting and they put the church in the Southern Assembly. All were pleased about it, except Col. Van Frank. He showed his displeasure for a while."
Senator Oliver once told me that Dr. Farris a Presbyterian minister of St. Louis, told him that at one time he had written repeatedly to the clerk of the session and other men of the Cape church for certain information and had received no reply, when it occurred to him to write to Mrs. Leech. In a short while her answer came with the exact information. She was always conscientious in the performance of a duty. She did not seek the vote for women, but when it came to them she felt it her duty to express her opinion through it, especially in issues she considered moral.
In 1883, her family of seven reared (one daughter, Mary, had died at the age of 16, a few years after her father), she moved to Kansas City to live with two of her sons Kansas City was at that time in the beginning of her phenomenal bloom and for almost 40 years she watched the growth of the town -- felt she was a part of it. She was always interested in the world about her -- her friends, her neighbors, her flowers and chickens, and, above all else, her church and her family. Her natural courteousness with its bit of shyness, was charming. What a heritage she left her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Elizabeth Leech, widow of Amzi, died Feb. 23, 1931, at the home of her daughters, Mrs. M.R. Smith and Mrs. Alma Rider, at Farmington, Missouri. Her body was returned to Cape Girardeau and buried at New Lorimier Cemetery.