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Ralph St. John


Homer St. John (1837b - 1915) was a railroad man who brought his family to Denison between 1891 and 1896. In the latter year, he was working as a painter in the MKT car shops. This job was something of a demotion for Homer, as previously he had been a railroad conductor based in Bloomington, Illinois (1870) and Mexico City, Missouri (1880), then a freight conductor on the Houston & Texas Central Railway based in Dallas, Texas (1888).

Homer's family consisted of his wife, Lilla Viola Martin St. John (1853–1932), and his son Ralph (1879–1954). Another son, Herbert, born in 1871, had died in 1888. Perhaps his death had something to do with the decision to move to Denison when Homer was in his late fifties. In the next few years he worked in the Katy Railroad car shops as painter (1900, 1910, 1911) and car repairer (1905, 1907). He also was a carpenter (1909). He died on January 19, 1915. Lilla lived on until 1932. Both were buried in Fairview Cemetery in Denison. All that time, the St. Johns lived at 611 West Owings Street.

Home of St. John Family
611 West Owings Street
Denison TX. 
Source: Robinson, Frank M., comp. Industrial Denison. [N.p.]: Means-Moore Co., [ca. 1909].

Ralph, who had been born in 1879 in Missouri, was seventeen in 1896. That spring, he graduated from Denison's Educational Institute in the Class of 1896. He also had what sounds like a fun job as a clerk at Wilfred Hallenbeck Confectioners, which was a bakery, caterer, and ice cream parlor at 309 West Main Street. He attended college for a year.

The Census of 1900 showed Ralph as a bookkeeper at an unspecified grocery store. A year later, the Denison City Directory listed him and Wilfred Hallenbeck as partners in the Elite Catering Company, also called "Hallenbeck & St. John." The business was a "bakery, manufacturing confectioners, cafe, ice cream, oyster parlors" at 309 West Main. 

"Hallenbeck & St. John, Caterers."
309 West Main Street
Source: Robinson, Frank M., comp. Industrial Denison. [N.p.]: Means-Moore Co., [ca. 1909]. Page 82.

At this time, Wilfred Hallenbeck's wife Mary was running a boarding house in their home. Perhaps the Hallenbecks were having trouble making ends meet or were moving toward retirement; they were gone from Denison by 1907 and in 1910 were living in St. Louis, Missouri, where Wilfred died in 1915. He and Mary were both buried in Fairview Cemetery in Denison.

By 1907, the Main Street business had closed. Ralph, however, moved on. The 1907 City Directory listed him as a clerk. In 1909, he was an "agent." A year later, the 1910 Census reported that he was "proprietor of hotel." By 1911, at age 32, he had become assistant manager of the elegant Denison Hotel at 500 West Main Street.

"The Denison Hotel Building. 
Carter's Music Store and Pace's Furniture Store on First Floor." 
Robinson, Frank M., comp. Industrial Denison. [N.p.]: Means-Moore Co., [ca. 1909]. Page 7.

All this time, Ralph had remained single, living with his parents at 611 West Owings. In July 1913, he married Goldie K. Lanom (1884–1973). They purchased a home at 612 North Chandler Avenue and had two daughters, Jane D. St. John (1917–1968) and Barbara G. "Bobby" St. John (born 1920). In 1916, Ralph was president of the Denison High School Alumni Association, founded in May 1901.

Ralph remained as assistant manager of the Denison Hotel until it burned in 1920. 

Denison Hotel Fire
 January 24, 1920
500 W Main Street
 Photo by Kelley Studio.
Collection of Grayson County Frontier Village.

The 1920 Census found him working as a merchant purveying "confections." The 1921 City Directory listed him as partner in "Ireland & St. John, Confectioners," at 329 West Main. However, the business appeared to be in transition. The listing for partner Thomas B. Ireland billed the Main Street location as "distributors, Kimball Milling Co." And Ireland also sold auto supplies at 114 South Burnett Avenue. He was rooming upstairs at 425 West Main.

The St. John family's fortunes apparently reflected the devastation of the local economy wreaked by the great Railroad Strike of 1922. Between 1920 and 1930, Denison's population dropped dramatically, with the MKT Railroad moving many of its jobs elsewhere. The Ireland & St. John partnership did not survive the strain. The 1925 City Directory listed Ireland as a baker at 415 West Main and also selling auto supplies at 304 West Chestnut. He was rooming upstairs at 430 West Main. Ralph St. John abandoned the confectionery and took a job as car steward on the Katy Railroad. He and Goldie left their home on Chandler Avenue and went to live with his mother Lilla, back at 611 West Owings.

Ralph continued as a car steward through the Great Depression of the 1930s. Lilla St. John passed away in 1932, and Jane and Bobby graduated from high school in Denison in 1935 and 1936. The 1940 Census found the family living in Fort Worth, Texas, where Ralph was an "owner and manager" of a restaurant, ready for the postwar boom years. The St. Johns lived next door to another "owner and manager" of a restaurant, Terry R. Brown.

Ralph passed away in Fort Worth in 1954, while Goldie lived until 1973. She may have remarried a man name Knaube.

Interestingly, someone named Ralph R. St. John, married to another Goldie St. John, lived in Oklahoma City from 1910 through 1945. He worked as a clerk at the post office. Another Ralph R. St. John, married to Mary St. John, lived in Abilene, Texas, from 1917 to 1928. There he worked as a clerk at the Abilene Gas & Electric Company. There is no known connection among these three couples.



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