A History of the Joplin Union Depot – Part V

Catch up on the previous installments of the history of the Joplin Union Depot here: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Despite the progress made in December of 1910, work came to a sudden stop in the first week of January 1911 due to a snap of extreme cold weather.  The approximate forty men at work on the depot building had to lay down their tools and watch the skies for better weather.  The stop was short, however, and by the end of the month work was well on its way.  1/6th of the grading was left to be completed with only an estimated 25,000 yards of dirt remaining to be used to flatten the depot yards.  Already 125,000 yards of fill dirt had been brought to the depot, mainly from cuts made by the Kansas City Southern between Joplin and Saginaw.

The hills and hollows of the Kansas City Bottoms were filled in or leveled off to create the needed flat surface for the depot's many tracks.

By the end of February, it was believed that the permanent track would soon be laid.  At the start of March, the Joplin Daily Globe offered a glowing update on the Depot and at the same time, offered insight into how much the Depot meant to the people of Joplin.  The paper elaborated on how a depot represents a city to the growing number of rail travelers, that in effect, the depot was the face of the community.  The paper went on to describe the depot nearing completion:

“Few residents of Joplin fully appreciate the magnitude of the new union passenger depot, now rapidly nearing completion at the corner of First and Main Streets. Its location at the foot of a gently sloping hill, some 100 yards from the intersection of the streets, combines with the style of its architecture to make it appear smaller than it really is.

The building is 300 feet long and 80 feet wide. These dimensions are more significant when it is remembered that 300 feet is the length of a city block….Built of reinforced concrete throughout, the depot is absolutely fireproof, and its walls are thick enough to bear the weight of several additional stories if they should be desired.

The interior of the building is provided with every convenience that has yet been devised for the benefit of the traveling public. The structure is divided into three general parts, north and south wings, each 60 feet long, and the central section, 180 feet long. The wings are of one story only, while the central part, in which will be located the ticket office, general waiting rooms and other apartments, is of two stories, with a rectangular opening in the second floor. The general arrangement of the depot is very much similar to that of the union depot in St. Louis, although the interior is more beautifully decorated than its larger counterpart.”

The article also noted the presence of more waiting rooms, lavatories, check rooms, ticket offices, and even a “great dining hall, 30 by 60 feet in extreme dimensions…”  More so the paper proudly stated, “Nowhere in the country can there be found a depot site that offers greater opportunities for artistic effort.”  The Globe wrapped up its article, “It is simply this – that when seven great railroads decide to spend a million dollars improving their facilities in a city, there must be something decidedly attractive about the city’s future…And Joplin will soon have an entirely new “face” to show strangers who ride the trains past her gates.”

At the same time, high ranking officials from the Santa Fe Railroad visited the depot site.  A vice president of the company was quoted, “I have heard so much regarding the Joplin depot that I was anxious to see it…”  The article noted that the vice-president was pleased with the depot, its progress, and its location, which would serve as a stop for the railroad on its way south to Arkansas.

The depot nearing completion in March, 1911.

The end of March raised expectations that the depot would be finished early.  The filling of yards had been practically completed and work was underway for the installation of a round house approximately 100 yards northeast of the depot.  The house would have three or four stalls, a “small affair” the Joplin News Herald noted before describing the turn table to be installed with it.  The turn table, the paper described, “will bear up the largest engine that travels on any road in the United States.”  Technologically advanced, the table would be turned by machinery, not by hand.  Inside the depot building, meanwhile, carpenters were busy with wood work that was to have a “mission finish” and, “like the rest of the building, is artistic.”

“Let the eagle scream in Joplin,” announced a member of the City’s council in April, upon a motion to hold a celebration to recognize the completion of the Depot on the Fourth of July.  In connection to the decision of the City Council, Mayor Jesse F. Osborne appointed a committee to work with the city’s Commercial Club on planning the gala.  A ball, it was believed, should be held that night inside the depot with officials from every railroad invited to attend while a celebration at Cunningham Park earlier in the day to celebrate the nation’s anniversary.  Curiously, an article on the matter refers that it was not the custom of the city, but surrounding cities, to hold such celebrations on the Fourth.

April did not pass without some mishap on the depot construction site.  The first problem arose at the moment when the construction company believed the depot building virtually finished.  It was then that they realized that either their construction or the design of the depot had failed to include space for the extremely important telegraph operators.  As a result, two rooms were quickly added to either side of the ticket offices which required, “workmen…tearing out big slices from the side of the concrete structure…”  These slices were not the last.  It was not until this moment that it was discovered that the two big doors for the large baggage room had been built on the wrong side of the depot building.  As a result, new doors had to be built into the building lest “teamsters would have been forced to risk their lives in driving over the railroad tracks at the east side of the depot.”

Hastily, doors had to be relocated from the south side of the depot to the north.

With construction otherwise subsiding, thought was finally given to the preparations of the grounds of the depot.  The churned soil, “a sea of red clay, sticky as fish glue,” would soon be transformed into flower beds and grass plots.  The excavation of the hill upon which Main Street was to the west and Broadway to the south had resulted in an area described as “great amphitheater” and an article bragged, “This land…will probably be used for a depot park…” and believed that no other depot in the country compared for its potential to be developed.

The depot otherwise constructed, the News Herald took time to praise the unique application of local materials in its building, primarily “flint and limestone tailings secured from waste piles of several Joplin zinc and lead producers.”  Described as a “fitting monument to the successful efforts of the pioneers,” the concrete was deemed as hardy as a granite wall.  The paper noted that while concrete had been used to great effect for sidewalks, curbs, retaining walls, dams, and culverts, it had never in Joplin’s history been used to such an extent in a building before the depot.  Perhaps as motivation for future use, the article offered a recipe:

“Of the 22 parts in the concrete mixture used in constructing the station, 15 parts came from the Joplin mines, the exact formula being as follows: Mine tailings, 10 parts; Chitwood sand, 5 parts; River sand, 3 parts; Portland cement, 4 parts. Chitwood sand is the term used to describe the fine tailings from the sand jigs. In the mixture of the preparation for finishing the interior, the following formula is used: Portland cement, 2 parts; Chitwood sand, 2 parts; River sand, 1 part.”

The article noted that the best tailings for the project came from mines stratified with steel blue flint.  The paper also reminded the reader of how much the Kansas City Bottoms had been transformed by the depot’s construction, “The new station is built on filled in ground in a district which was a waste of sluggish waters, dotted with dense growths of willows.  For years this tract, of which 30 acres have been taken over by the Union Depot Co., was the city’s dumping ground.  A sickly stream, carrying filth of every kind, crawled through the swamp.  The Depot Co. has changed the course of this stream so that it no longer touches the station grounds.  Hundreds of carloads of boulders and dirt have been used as filler.”  Another, later article also extolled the depot which, “occupies a strip of filled in land that was an eyesore to the community for years.  The building of the station and the filling in of the old swamp has converted a weed-grown bottom land into a beautiful valley, level as the floor of a dance hall.  All the old swamps and marshes have been filled in, the course of Joplin creek changed so that it flows on the east side instead of the west side of the Kansas City Southern tracks, and when the grounds are finally finished and planted in blue grass, flowers and trees, they will be picturesque.” The landscape was forever changed and in the opinion of the people of Joplin, for the better.

By the end of construction of the Union Depot, much of the Kansas City Bottoms had been physically erased from the landscape of Jopin.

Then later in the month of May, the 19th, the first train was switched into the yards of the Depot, a string of work cars.  Despite the presence of the cars, the Depot’s yards were not yet ready to receive passenger cars, and as officials quickly pointed out, the honor of “first train” is given to the first passenger train.  The depot building was considered virtually complete, but contractors declared that the station would not be ready for a formal opening before July 1.  The main work left to complete was the laying of permanent rails, and amazingly, still more grading work.  Amongst the five railroads a growing rivalry had emerged to have the honor of the “first train” into the depot.  A week later, the depot building itself was considered completed.  By June 3, even the windows had been washed and the floors scrubbed and prepared for use.  The woodwork had been completed and “the walls have received their last coat and the brass and iron railings fitted in position.”  Depot officials bravely declared that the station would open on June 15.  Four days before the set date, an announcement was made, “Unforeseen delays have been met in the track construction work,” stated the President of the Kansas City Southern, J.A. Edson, and that, “It would be impossible to properly complete the tracks and station before July 1.” Unsurprisingly, it was also mentioned that the depot building itself still awaited its furnishings and fixtures that were on order.  Some furnishings had arrived in the form of furniture for the lunch room, such as kitchen cabinets, tables, and a “huge gas range of the regular restaurant type.”

Regardless of the delay, fifteen officials from the various railroads behind the depot met at the Connor Hotel.  The meeting was for the purpose of discussing the various contracts between the railroads and to discuss the details of the depot’s opening.  Station appointees had been made in the previous two weeks.  Shortly thereafter, it was reaffirmed that July 1st would be the opening day of the depot.  Comically, over a week later, it was realized that the Santa Fe railroad would not have a train available to enter the depot until July 15.  Accordingly, the official opening was postponed yet again to July 20.  However, the depot would accept trains before then.  In preparation for the celebration, former Missouri Governor David R. Francis was invited to be the guest speaker. And, like the continually shifting opening day, the invitation fell through when a telegram alerted the organizers of the celebration that Governor Francis had departed from St. Louis for the summer and would not return until fall.

Meanwhile, the Depot construction had spurred construction elsewhere.  Across the street from the depot on Main Street three buildings were under various states of construction.  J.C. Jackson was the owner of one and had erected a three story building at a cost of $20,000.  It was hoped the lower two floors would be home to a restaurant and the third a hotel.  On the north side of Jackson’s site, Charles W. Edwards owned a lot and planned to build a four story building.  The excitement of new buildings was quickly to be overshadowed by an even more exciting event back across the street.

One of many ads placed by the railroads in the Joplin newspapers to alert travelers of the pending opening of the depot.

On the night of July 1, 1911, and under the “fiery salute” of “skyrockets and torpedoes,” the headlight of Missouri, Kansas & Texas railroad train No. 83 “flashed around the curve at the north end of the depot” and pulled into the Union Depot at 10:30 pm (“exactly on schedule time”).  An engineer, perhaps P.J. Nagle, responded with a tug on the steam whistle which shrilled to the cheers of over 2,500 spectators.  The Katy Railroad had secured the honor of being the first train into the union depot.  Crowds of railroad officials mingled together and shared welcomes and congratulations, while Joplinites “extended cordial greetings to the crew and passengers of the epoch-making train.”  An article conveyed the sensation of all present, “Everyone seemed to feel that he was personally concerned in the event and took a part in the celebration.”

The honor of the first tickets sold went to Mrs. A. McNabb, a wife of one of the depot telegraph operators, and then immediately after to H.A. Adams, a traveling salesman from Kanas City.  The event of the first tickets, which began approximately at 11 o’clock on Friday night, was retold a day later by the News Herald, “Both were anxious to secure the first ticket, but Dave Joseph, ticket agent, with the wisdom of old King Solomon, divided the honors by passing out the two tickets at the same instant.  He shoved one over the counter with his right hand, the other with his left.”

The day before the arrival the Depot had been a scene of organized chaos as depot employees and officials had moved into offices and set to work preparing for business.  Amongst them were most likely employees of Brown Hotel & News Company, such as F.P. Leigh, the general manager, who was in charge of running the dining room and lunch counter.  Leigh was also assisted by a “corps of pretty girls.”  Meanwhile, the formal opening was currently set for July 20, still.  The highly anticipated Fourth of July celebration had also failed to coalesce.  Officials in charge of Cunningham Park had protested the planned use of the park and the City Council immediately had surrendered.  Perhaps from unreported blow back, the park officials changed their minds, but the City Council’s chief proponent of the celebration, Councilman Phil Arnold, had resigned his place on the city’s planning committee and the idea of a Fourth of July celebration was unceremoniously set aside.

An important arrival at the Depot a week later was a new clock.  The Globe described the Chicago made timepiece: “The clock is seven feet high and will be run by compressed air, which will be made by a motor power.  It is said to be one of the finest clocks in any station in the west.”  Surprisingly, the location of the clock had yet to be decided and so the “enormous timepiece” was left crated for at least a day until the question of its location was decided.  The main furniture had arrived a week before the arrival of the first train.  A visitor to the Depot would have cast their gaze on beautiful Mission furniture described as such:

“…consignments of massive oak have already arrived and more is coming. This will be the heaviest and most attractive furniture in any depot in the Southwest…The lunch room has been furnished and is now waiting for the opening to begin work. It is fitted with an elliptical counter, at which can be seated nearly 200 persons. The table is covered with a heavy granite face, and the chairs are fitted with backs, and swing on a pivot…

In the office rooms desks of the mission style in dark oak are being placed in position…The furniture in the general waiting room is the first to attract attention. It is composed principally of heavy double settees, with high backs and heavy arms. These are also of the prevailing dark oak mission style, with the designating little double keystone which is in evidence in the architecture of the depot in all appropriate places.”

While preparations continued for the formal opening, such as the Missouri & Northern Arkansas planning special excursion trains to Joplin from as far as Seligman for the opening, other events were afoot.  One such event was the visit to the Depot of the president of the Missouri Pacific Railroad.  Dutifully impressed, the president implied that his railroad may abandon their old Joplin depot in lieu of the impressive Union Depot Station.

Finally, at 2:30 pm on July 20, 1911, a parade of Joplin’s finest began under a drizzling rain from the intersection of 20th and Main Street.  The procession was led by a vanguard of twenty mounted members of the Joplin Police Department with Joplin Police Chief Joe Myers and his assistant chief, Edward Portley at the front.  Planned to follow, though not noted in an article printed afterward, were members of Joplin’s labor unions, secret societies, and civic societies.  Among the noted was a procession of the city’s “fire automobiles” and more than thirty other automobiles set to carrying officials from the railroads.  Members of the Commercial Club were present, as were four cars with members of the South Joplin Business Men’s Club and another with officers of the Villa Heights Booster Club.

At the depot, many sought shelter from the rain inside and around the depot, Mayor Jesse Osborne and Frank L. Yale, president of the Commercial Club, made speeches.  Despite the wet summer day, Osborne spoke with enthusiasm of the depot’s construction, “The people of Joplin should congratulate themselves on securing even at this late day, a beautiful structure of this type.  It is not only a monument to the progressiveness of the railroads entering this city, but it is a striking example of the uses to which a waste product may be put…”  Yale followed Osborne and declared the depot impressive and the fulfillment of a “long felt want.”

From July 1, 1911 to November 4, 1969, the Union Depot served the city of Joplin.  Over the fifty-eight year span, it was at the depot that Joplin saw her fathers, brothers and sons depart and hopefully return from two world wars.  It was in the shade of the depot’s awnings that families bid farewell to friends and fellow family members who were departing for the wider world beyond Joplin’s city limits, and it was where they stood in eager anticipation for their return.  For a city that foresaw Joplin as a great metropolis positioned at the intersection of the Great American Plains, the Southern Ozarks, and the Southwest, it was one more proud achievement to count among its others.  It was one more step down a road to a brighter future.

In the March of 1949, the Kansas City Southern showed off its latest liner, the Southern Belle at the depot.  Just over twenty years later, it was the Southern Belle which pulled away, the final train to leave the Joplin Union Depot.  The following decades of the Twentieth Century were turbulent for the former pride of Joplin.  Only three years after its closing, the Depot’s first chance to become relevant again in the daily life of Joplin was lost when the City Council refused to renovate the building as a home to the Joplin Museum Complex in honor of the city’s 100th birthday.  Not long after, the depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places, an honor, but not a safeguard against demolition.

The depot next was passed from one speculative buyer to another, each espousing plans to put the building to use which inevitably always failed to materialize.  In the mid-1980’s, an attempt was made once again to renovate it, but it dissolved into lawsuits and accusations.  Finally, in the late 1990’s, the Department of Natural Resources bought the site.  It was not until approximately 2009 that for the first time the depot became the subject of serious discussion regarding renovation and restoration.  In 2010, City Manager, Mark Rohr, proposed a plan to use the depot as part of a north Main Street development, possibly as a new home to the Joplin Museum Complex (JMC).  Despite resistance from the boards overseeing the JMC, steps were taken toward this ultimate goal.  However, at the start of 2012, such talk has been replaced by more important and pressing matters that arose in the aftermath of May, 2011.  Until the time that they resume, the depot remains enclosed behind a chain link fence, waiting for a chance to once again become the pride of Joplin.

 

Kansas City Bottoms: Part III

Sunshine Mission in Joplin Missouri
In 1915, a young girl made a simple, but momentous decision that affected the lives of her fellow residents in the Kansas City Bottoms. The girl, name unknown, decided to attend church. Surely the sight of a bedraggled, impoverished child from the Bottoms must have caused a stir in the pews of the church she attended, but if it did, the child did not notice. Instead, she asked her Sunday school teacher, Miss Minnie McKenna, for help.

With Christmas looming ahead, McKenna turned to the Women’s Civic Club for assistance. Eager to help those in need, the Women’s Civic Club leapt into action, and helped establish a mission to the poor. Members initially contributed $90 to start a building fund and formed a committee to bring in more funds. Howard Murphy offered land for the mission and Mayor Jesse F. Osborne, P.A. Christman, and James McConnell agreed to create a building committee.

Within a few days, a small single story structure was completed, and was named “Sunshine Mission.” The humble building served as the site of the first Christmas tree and Christmas services held in the Kansas City Bottoms. The Women’s Civic Club received assistance from numerous other religious and civic organizations eager to show their support for the project. Christmas presents and candy were distributed to the children.

It was at this time that a young boy who lived in the Kansas City Bottoms told McKenna he was “tired of being called a ‘coke bottomer’ and a ‘bottomite’” and asked that the name “be changed to something ‘pretty and bright.’” McKenna renamed the area “Sunshine Hollow.”

Residents of Sunshine Hollow could attend Sunday school services at the mission, take sewing and crocheting classes, and join a mother’s club. The Sunday school services were taught by young men and women from across Joplin’s religious community. Their efforts persisted until 1918 when, due to World War One, their efforts were redirected to the war effort.

In 1919, members of the First Christian Church rallied to reopen the mission, but their work was halted when a ban was placed on public meetings due to the threat of Spanish influenza. A year later, the mission was once again reopened, and the number of attendees grew. It was during this time that the building was moved from the site of the Union Depot to an area further north “just east and north of the viaduct on the North Main Street road.” The building was the enlarged and painted white with paint donated by Eagle-Picher.

The first full-time minister at Sunshine Mission was the Rev. Mr. Ashworth. After three years he left and was replaced by the Rev. William Kelley. Kelley’s tenure at the Sunshine Mission will be continued in the next post.

Stay tuned for Part IV of the history of the Kansas City Bottoms!

Copyright Historic Joplin, 2012.

Lee Taylor: Joplin’s First Elected Mayor

Lee Taylor, Mayor of Joplin

Joplin's First Elected Mayor

The first elected mayor of Joplin was born an Englishman. His name was Lee Taylor and by the time he passed away on December 13, 1917, he had lived a very American life. Taylor was born in 1836 in Manchester, England, one of the world’s great industrial cities. At the age of four, his parents immigrated to the United States and settled in the Jasper County, Missouri. In the frontier state of Missouri, Taylor came of age and was reportedly among one of the first to notice the potential of mining in the region. After the commencement of the Civil War, Taylor traveled to Arkansas and enlisted in the Confederate Army. He served in the 34th Arkansas Infantry, fought at the Battle of Prairie Grove, and reportedly rose to the rank of captain by war’s end.

In Arkansas, Taylor met his wife, and together with a growing family, returned to Joplin around 1870, never to leave again. He became involved with mining and was a mine superintendent when talks began between the village of Joplin (where old East Joplin is now located) and Murphysburg to form a unified city. When Joplin was established in 1873, E.R. Moffett was appointed by the state as the first mayor, and Taylor was a councilman. Shortly thereafter, Taylor ran for the position of Mayor. Heavily supported by East Joplin residents, Taylor narrowly beat Moffett to become Joplin’s first elected mayor.

Taylor resigned before the end of his first term and was replaced by Councilman J.H. McCoy. The reason for his abrupt resignation was one of a business nature as apparently his duties as a mine superintendent were far more time consuming than he originally anticipated. By 1880, Taylor lived at 503 Byers Avenue and remained there until a few short years prior to his death, when the former mayor moved to a farm out in the county. Taylor remained involved with Joplin’s growth. He was one of the first Masons in Joplin and served on the city’s Board of Education in 1890 along with Charles Schifferdecker.

By 1900, Taylor listed himself as a grocery dealer in the U.S. Federal Census, but a decade later, he had moved to just north of Carthage to live the life of a grain farmer. A few weeks before December, 1917, the old veteran and pioneer fell ill. At the age of 80, it was generally believed that Taylor’s constitution was still strong enough to overcome illness. Instead, the old pioneer succumbed to kidney disease, and passed away.

The Early Mayors of Joplin

The city of Joplin came into existence in 1873.  Since that time period, there have been a number of mayors.  Below is our attempt to slowly build up a convenient list of Joplin’s early leaders.  Eventually, each mayor will also have their own post which will offer more detailed information about these early leaders and the roles they played in the city’s development.

1873

Elliot R.  Moffett

1874

.

Lee Taylor

+

J.H. McCoy (finished Taylor’s Term)

1875

Patrick Murphy

 

1876

 

F.J. Thompson

 

1877 – 1878

Frank E. Williams

 

1879

 

F.M. Roberts

 

1880 – 1881

W.E. Maynard

1882 – 1883

Galen Spencer

 

1884

W.B. Halyard

 

1885 – 1886

A.B. McCarty

 

1887

 

J.L. Briggs

 

1888

 

C. Livingston

 

1889 – 1892

 

R.B. Tyler

R.B. Tyler

 

1893 – 1894

W.B. Halyard

 

1895 – 1896

E.D. Porter

 

1897 – 1898

T.W. Cunningham

1899 – 1900

J.H. Spencer

J.H. Spencer

 

1901 – 1902

J.C. Trigg

 

1903 – 1904

T.W. Cunningham

 

1905 – 1906

 

C.W.  Lyon

 

1907 – 1908

Jesse F. Osborne

 

1909 – 1910

Guy Humes

Guy T. Humes

 

1911 – 1914 (to April 20)

Jesse F. Osborne

 

If you have photographs of the above listed men or documents connected to them, we’d love to share them here on Historic Joplin.

A Town Is Born (The First and Nearly Last Nice Thing Carthage Said About Joplin)

Joplin, 1872

In 1871, the Carthage Weekly Banner had this to say:

“There is a new town in Jasper County. Its name is Joplyn. Location fourteen miles southwest of Carthage on the farm of our friend J.C. Cox. It is young, but thrifty. Has lead in unlimited quantities underneath it. Numerous miners are there going for the lead. The sound of the shovel and the pick is heard daily in the bowels of the earth. Board shanties have sprung up like mushrooms. There is a scene of business within its borders, and even in the region round about for a mile or two. The lead exists in richly paying quantities, and some of the miners are making small fortunes every week. The fame whereof has spread abroad even to Carthage.

In mining as in any other business, or profession, if one man succeeds, and does well, a dozen are ready to go into the same speculation. Hence men out of employment, from this city, invest a few dollars in a pick and shovel, fill a haversack with rations and go for the mines. We saw one of our neighbors ‘lighting out’ the other day for the front thus duly outfitted. We asked him if he was going to work on the railroad? ‘Railroad be hanged! I’m going to strike lead,’ was his ready response.”

Among those of our citizens who have struck lead, are Col. O.S. Picher, who has rich deposits – being worked – on his farm. Mr. D.H. Budlong has a farm in close proximity upon which lead blossoms like the rose, and the probabilities are that he will exhume a lead mine, that may make his everlasting fortune, which if it does we shall not begrudge him his luck, one iota, for he is a worthy man, and an excellent citizen, besides being an uncompromising Radical.

We also had a farm in that vicinity about a year ago, but fortunately we traded it off for Mr. Benham’s interest in the BANNER, or we, too, would be troubled with visions of fabulous wealth, and pass sleepless nights worrying about it.

Mr. T.G. Powers, from this place, has had excellent success in lead mining, and is on the highway to wealth.

There are others, but we cannot call them to mind. Joplyn is a lively place. Everybody out of employment ought to go there and dig. That is better than doing nothing, and it may lead to certain fortune. We shall not worry about it if some of our citizens make their hundreds of thousands by it – with which charitable sentence we will close this sentence.”

 

The Good Ol’ Days?

Despite the trappings of a modern city, there were still some old fashion headaches in the way of Joplin's progress.

Back in 1897, much of Joplin was an open sewer. The sewer system at the time was “plagued” and the “city dads” decided to direct various sewer mains into Joplin Creek. This was when the city was “young and was comparatively unsettled north of A street.” But the city fathers did not foresee that Joplin Creek would be dammed in several spots. This caused the sewage to back up and grow even more fetid. After being exposed to the sun, the raw waste was enough “to sicken a maggot or act as an emetic on a jackal.”

According to the Globe, the stench alone had caused “an immense amount of sickness between B and D streets, and there is good reason to believe that one death resulted from it.” It was reported that at the corner of C and Main streets two families living in adjoining houses “had six people sick at the time, three in each home” with other families in the area similarly affected.

The paper declared, “It is the plain duty of the authorities to jerk those dams out of the creek and to keep them out. It is also their plain duty to see that the sand is removed that chokes the channel up to and to see that is kept clear.” If the creek were not kept clear of dams, then there “will be much loss of life…The city cannot afford to have its citizens killed off in this sort of a manner. Death comes all too soon without keeping a trap like this to stink people to death.”

The day after the Globe groused about the condition of Joplin Creek, Mayor Cunningham ordered Marshal Morgan to inspect the creek, and, if the conditions were as stated, to have the dams removed. When Morgan contacted the individuals responsible for the various dams, they complained that they owned the land that the dams were on, and that “they would like to see the color of the man’s hair who could make them take the obstructions out.”

Morgan would have none of it. He told the dam owners to remove their dams within twenty-four hours or else they would face arrest. The Globe proclaimed, “There must be no let up on the part of the authorities until the channel is as clear as a whistle, and it should be kept that way forever.”

Mayor Cunningham got his way and conditions improved. Sometimes the good old days weren’t so golden after all.

Have a Safe and Sane Fourth of July!

Have A Sane Fourth of July

A century ago, Joplin adopted the idea of promoting a Fourth of July that was both safe and sane.  The illustration above offers a glimpse at this campaign and below, a familiar company advertising in Joplin on the Fourth.  The idea of promoting a safe Fourth was supported by an article noting the harm already received by the dangerous fireworks.  One case involved a boy, whose friends involved in a fight, found his hand badly burned when the firework he was getting ready to throw went off prematurely (the boys quickly made peace after this casualty).  Another boy, it was reported, suffered terribly burns on the neck and hands while shooting off “fire crackers” and two men, Roy Loving was shot in the hand by a blank gun cartridge and another, Earl Van Hoose severely burned by a “cannon cracker” which went off as he was throwing it.

Needless to say, have a fun, safe, and “sane” Fourth of July!

Twisters, Cyclones, and Tornadoes of Joplin’s Past: Part I

The tornado of May 22 was the worst to strike Joplin, but it was not the first.

In May, 1883, a tornado swept through Joplin and the news accounts of the event appear to echo recent events. Just this past week, a story about Laverne the cat, who was rescued after being trapped in the rubble after sixteen days aired on local news stations. In 1883, Charley Elliott’s dog was “in his store building when it fell. He was dug out next morning pretty badly bruised, but after a few hours he was alright. There were acts of generosity. E.R. Moffett, who would later die impoverished, walked up to an “old friend who he had worked with before he became a millionaire. ‘Crit, I’m damned sorry, I’m sorry $500,” and then gave a five hundred dollar check to the relief fund. Citizens scrambled to help each other. Judge Byers was “constantly busy distributing supplies to the needy who lost their all by the wild winds.” Doctors Fannie Williams and Mrs. Creech did “good work for the suffering ladies who were injured” during the storm. Miss Fannie Hall of Carthage gave her all to assist the suffering at the hospital. Oronogo, also hard hit by the storm, was the focus of a relief committee made up of some of Joplin’s leading socialites: Mrs. L.P. Cunningham, Mrs. J.B. Sergeant, Mrs. J.C. Gaston, and Mrs. Thomas Heathwood. Together these women sought to collect food, clothing, and bedding for those effected by the storm.

For others, the tornado brought excitement and curiosity. The Daily Herald remarked, “Some of the visitors Monday night seemed to regard the occasion in the light of a picnic. Frivolities and flirtations were engaged in that would have been regarded impudent at a circus. No apparent sympathy was exhibited for the crippled, bereaved, and homeless, while silly children took the place of sober sense.” Sightseers came to stare at a “bushel basket that lodged in the top of a large tree near the railroad track.” Telegraph poles at the train depot reportedly looked like “they had passed through a storm of musketry.”

And then there were those that lost their lives. Preliminary reports reported that the bodies of a Mr. Goodwin and his daughter were killed by the tornado. It is unknown how many others lost their lives.

The next significant tornado to hit Joplin was in April, 1902. The News-Herald proclaimed it was, “[The] Worst That Joplin Has Known.” A wind, hail, and rain storm converged upon Joplin around 4:25 p.m. in the afternoon in an area described as covering “Seventh Street on the north and as far as Seventeenth Street on the south” with the worst areas at Moffett and Bird streets from Thirteenth to Sixteenth streets and at Moonshine Hill. Property along Main and Ninth streets received substantial damage.

The News-Herald reporter must have not known about the Tornado of 1883 as they declared, “As Joplin has never experienced a real tornado, the people were unprepared and as it came upon them so unexpectedly, it as a wonder that more fatalities are not recorded.” Telephone and trolley poles were twisted beyond recognition making communication with neighboring communities impossible. Streetcars were unable to run due to the lack of electricity and piles of debris covering the tracks. One car caught at Twelfth and Main, Car Number 41, was struck by a telephone pole. Passengers inside were “thoroughly frightened and several actually said their prayers.” Strong wind was not the only threat to human lives. The pole was described as having fifteen double cross arms with three large cables and several hundred telephone wires. Workers roped off the street to prevent traffic and pedestrians from going near the car. Passengers shakily disembarked and walked home on foot.

Illustration of the damage from the tornado.

A “solid sheet of water, besides some hail” fell, causing people to hide inside their homes. Willow Branch, the Tenth Street branch, and other small streams in and around Joplin began to flood, leaving many to seek dry ground as the streams became “turbulent torrent[s] of water, mud, and wreckage.”

The storm indiscriminately took human lives and property. It was reported that the two room house of William Hunter, who lived on the east side of Moonshine Hill, was carried for a long distance before it shattered. Mrs. Hunter, holding her baby Esther in her arms, was about to flee the house when the storm hit. A plank of wood flew past and hit her child in the head, mortally wounding it, while Mrs. Hunter sustained serious injuries. Her husband, a miner, was at work at the Dividend Mine when the storm rolled through Joplin. A neighbor, Charley Whitehead, came to Mrs. Hunter’s rescue. Other residents of Moonshine Hill suffered the same fate. Will Douglass’ home was obliterated. Lee Whitehead [perhaps related to Charley] and family also lost their home. The Methodist church on Moonshine Hill was a complete loss.

Arthur Cox, owner of Cox Baseball Park, was one of the “heaviest losers.” The storm destroyed the baseball park’s fence, the grand stand’s roof ripped off, and sustained overall heavy damage. The losses were estimated at $1,000. Cox, however, was not one to stand idly by. Within a day, W.J. Wagy was hired to rebuild the park in time for a game just a day after the tornado struck.

The Joplin Miners

The Joplin Miners of 1902 who temporarily lost their home.

At the corner of West Ninth and Tenth streets, several homes were damaged, if not utterly ruined. An African-American family named Smith lost their house and P.B. Moser’s home was demolished. A.J. Stockton was fortunate – he only lost his kitchen.

For the impoverished residents who lived in “shanties” north of the Missouri Pacific roundhouse between Grand Avenue and the Frisco and Kansas City Southern tracks, their impermanent residences were blown away.

White and black churches were not left untouched. The First Baptist Church was “badly wrecked.” The Methodist Episcopal Church’s South Mission location at Tenth and Grand was “completely wiped away.” The African Methodist Episcopal Church on East Seventh street was also destroyed. Despite being a substantial frame structure, the roof was torn off and the walls subsequently caved in.

St. John's Hospital

The nuns at St. John’s Hospital were “buffeted and blown about by the wind as they strove in vain to keep out the sheets of water thrown against the west end south of the building which stands high and unprotected.”

Property damage was estimated at $50,000 and an estimated fifty to sixty houses destroyed. As soon as the storm passed, “ambulances and relief crews found work to do for many hours.” Mayor John C. Trigg released a proclamation that read:

“To the Citizens of Joplin – Authentic information having been received that the cyclone which visited the city of Joplin on yesterday, caused incalculable damage to many of our citizens and has been especially destructive to the poorer classes of our citizens in many instances to the extent of destroying everything they owned, leaving them destitute, houseless and homeless.

Therefore, for the purpose of alleviating the distress which prevails in the city and vicinity and to devise ways and means by the organization of relief corps, or by such practicable methods as may be suggested and agreed upon at a meeting of the citizens is hereby called to be held at the Commercial Club rooms, on the 25 inst., at the hour of 3 o’clock p.m. to consider the premises and take such appropriate action as may be deemed necessary therein.”

Mayor John C. Trigg

Joplin has always taken care of its own in times of need. When the committee met, it was agreed that many of those effected by the storm were impoverished miners who were in badly need of assistance, and a relief fund was created. Thomas W. Cunningham reported that when he checked on his rental properties in the damaged section of town he found that one of the families renting from him had been forced to cut their way out of the house. He decided that they “deserved the house” and “made them a deed for it.” His act of kindness was heartily applauded. It was thought that the family was that of I.W. Reynolds who lived at Thirteenth and Ivy. Mr. Wolfarth of Junge Baking Company pledged free bread to those in need. Arthur Cox and Don Stuart pledged the proceeds of the next baseball game to the relief fund. The Wilbur-Kirwin Opera Company decided to give a benefit performance for Joplin’s tornado victims.

Joplin rebuilt only to face another tornado six years later in 1908. That story and more in our next installment.

[Conclusion of Part I]

Death Escaped, But Not Avoided

Jesse Laster, circa 1910.

On a May day in 1910, Joplin nearly lost a councilman.  Jesse Laster, not a stranger to the zinc and lead fields of Southwest Missouri, listed zinc mining as his profession in the 1910 Federal Census.  It was that same year that Laster had been elected on the Democratic ticket to represent the Seventh Ward of Joplin.  A father to three, later to add one more son to the son and two daughters he already had, Laster had ventured out with a mine superintendent, Harry Williams, to a mine in Duenweg.

The afternoon sun high above, the 28 year old councilman and Williams made the decision to board a tub to descend to the mine 200 feet below.  Both had years of mining experience and undoubtedly the act of being lowered in the metal container into the dark depths of the mine shaft was a familiar one.  Inside the tub, one or both of the men likely signaled the mine’s hoisterman to lower them down.

The hoisterman was new at his job and the equipment purported to be in good shape.  However, as the tub with the councilman and the superintendent began to lower, the hoisterman released the brake and to his horror, watched the tub with the two men plummet to the bottom of the shaft.  Nothing the hoisterman did slowed or stopped the tumbling tub.  In a sickening sight and loud crash, it smashed into a bucket full of dirt.  Laster and Williams were thrown out and into an adjacent drift, both men knocked unconscious.

It was not uncommon for miners to die in such accidents, but both Laster and Williams survived that day.  When astonished and fearful miners reached the men, they found Williams with severe wounds to the head and a broken arm.  The councilman suffered a cut to the face, an injured shoulder, and a broken right femur.  Williams was taken to his home to recover, Laster was rushed to St. John’s hospital.  At the time of the reporting of the incident, it was believed both men would recover.  Laster did, though only to live for another sixteen years.

The dark eyed and dark haired councilman, perhaps wary of the mining profession, had by 1918 joined the Joplin Police force and achieved the rank of detective.  By 1926, Laster had been promoted and wore the title Chief of Detectives.  On a hot August evening, the chief with his family were heading home when Laster spotted an armed man by the side of the road.  Unknown to the former councilman, the man was engaged in bootlegging and mistakenly believed Laster and his family to be rival bootleggers.  When Laster identified himself, the man shot and killed the 46 year old father of four.  Laster was the tenth Joplin police officer to fall in the line of duty.

 

Sources: 1910 Federal Census, 1920 Federal Census, Joplin Police Department website, and Joplin Daily Globe.

JMC Board Approves Next Step in Depot Plan, April 13, 2011

In a pleasantly surprising move, the Joplin Globe reports this morning that the boards which control the Joplin Museum Complex voted to approve a move forward to the next phase of the plan to restore the Union Depot as a new home for the museum. It was not without some concerns, however, as the boards did manage to find something to worry over; that being the cost of moving to a restored depot building and then, bafflingly, the cost of staffing it. Apparently, the new expected operating budget must be higher than the present one for the museum, or at least the Boards assume such.

None the less, we applaud the JMC boards for voting to go forward and hope that they continue to be bold and engage the future of Joplin and the museum.  The final result will only be beneficial to both.