Joplin Union Depot: Under Construction!

For historians, it is a labor of love to research and investigate topics of interest. Often times, in the course of such research, one is repeatedly faced with missing pieces and the fear that some things are forever lost to the ages. In the course of writing our five part history of the Union Depot, we exhausted countless resources trying to find as many images of the depot in its earliest stages of being built. Our most successful find was the image below:

The depot nearing completion in March, 1911.

It was the best we believed that existed of Joplin’s beautiful depot under construction. That is, until now. It is with great pride and excitement that we unveil and share with you a newly discovered photo of the depot in the process of being built.

The Joplin Union Depot under construction sometime in the early months of 1911. Click on image to view larger sizes.

By the appearance and state of completion of the depot and the background trees, we estimate that this photograph was taken sometime in early 1911, quite possibly after the one we posted previously. The photograph was taken from Main Street or just off of Main Street. Of particular note is that the exterior finishes on the building are incomplete, such as the architectural touches on the south end of the building, the lack of glass windows and the white exterior is in the process of being added. In the background, you can spot Eugene Field School (since demolished) sitting as the massive building on a hill. Regretfully, we know little about the photographer, other than he may have worked for a railroad and lived in Oklahoma.

If you still have not read our five part history of the depot, you can find it at the following links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.

Also, watch for more photographs associated with the construction of the Union Depot, which while not of the depot itself, are still quite fascinating and depict a previously discussed post on our site!

The Cragin Mansion

The Cragin Mansion, circa 1902.

Along the streets of North Joplin, one can still find stately homes interspersed alongside modest bungalows, reminders of a bygone era. At 516 North Wall Street stands one of Joplin’s oldest surviving homes, Cragin Mansion. The mansion was built in the 1880s by Eber Alonzo “Lon” Cragin, a native of Vermont who became a successful attorney in Iowa, and later retired to Joplin. Cragin’s son, John A. Cragin, subsequently relocated to Joplin, intrigued by the business opportunities to found in the mining boom town. John A. Cragin soon found his niche, helping establish the First National Bank of Joplin. Both he and his wife Minnie became respected members of local society. Minnie was well known for her gracious hospitality.

Eber Alonzo “Lon” Cragin, the first Cragin to arrive in Joplin and builder of the Cragin Mansion.

Lon Cragin and grandson, John Howard Cragin.

The Cragins became even further firmly intertwined in the fabric of Joplin society when John A. Cragin’s sister Susan married Peter Christman of Christman Department Store fame. According to family lore, John A. Cragin was a silent partner in his brother-in-law’s business. The Christmans lived in the handsome mansion with both the Lon and John A. Cragin families in a multigenerational family household. Peter and Susan Christman, although childless, helped raise their nephew, John Harold Cragin.

Flower Parade in front of the Schifferdecker House with Minnie Pease Cragin (wife of John A. Cragin), seated on the left side of the front seat.

John A. Cragin, started as a cashier at the First National Bank and eventually became president.

In 1912, eighty-two-year-old Lon Cragin fell while raking leaves and passed away. After his son John A. Cragin died in 1924, Lon’s grandson John Harold Cragin moved into the family home. The young Cragin followed his family into business and finance, making a fortune in stocks before the Great Depression plunged him into debt, which, according to the family, he repaid and still managed to retain ownership of the family mansion. Despite the family facing serious financial challenges at a time of great uncertainty, Cragin’s cook Anna Bland always fed unemployed men who knocked on the back door of the mansion searching for a meal.

A family portrait in front of the home. From left to right: Pete Christman, Unknown Girl, Susan Cragin Christman, John Harold Cragin, son of John Adna Cragin (brother of Aunt Susie) and Euphemia Graham Cragin.

Harold Cragin (right) in his office located in the Empire State Building at 6th and Joplin St., Joplin, MO.

John Harold Cragin married and had three children, but the marriage ended in divorce. One daughter, Betty Jane, married and moved near Sarcoxie. John’s only son, John Marshall Cragin, went away to college and later to a 20 year career in the United States Army. Thus, Cragin and the last of his daughters, Lynn, lived in a home full of mostly unoccupied rooms until the outbreak of World War Two. She found employment as a draftswoman at Camp Crowder and many of the home’s rooms were rented to married servicemen and their wives from the 303rd Signal Battalion. Cragin’s daughter met her husband, a soldier named Prescott, when some of the home’s temporary occupants set her up on a blind date. The two became engaged and Lynn left Joplin for married life in California. The mansion, meanwhile, was put up for sale and purchased for $12,500 by a relatively young Bible college in October, 1944. The Ozark Bible College has called Joplin home ever since.

The first non-Cragin inhabitant of the home, the Ozark Bible College.

The church converted the mansion was into its new spiritual home. It served as a girl’s dormitory, housed classrooms, the cafeteria, and administrative offices. The residence was expanded in 1953 to add room for a large chapel, additional classrooms, and a library. A year later, 176 students attended classes at the college at 516 North Wall Street. In the 1960s, the college outgrew its space and moved to its present location and took the new name of Ozark Christian College. A church made the mansion its home after the college departed and since then, the former Cragin residence has played host to numerous religious organizations through the present day. It is now the location of the Neighborhood Life House. For over a century, the Cragin mansion has stood on North Wall Street, once home to one of the prosperous families of Joplin and now a home to the Joplin community, bridging the divide between the city’s past and its present.

The Cragin Mansion in 2012, home to the Neighborhood Life House.

Cragin Mansion in 2012.

Photos and family history courtesy of Cragin descendant, Galyn Prescott Metcalf and John M. Cragin.

Visiting their childhood home in 2011, Lynn Cragin Prescott and her brother, John Marshall Cragin.

A Castle of Joplin for Sale

Just win Powerball? Come into a vast family inheritance? Got a spare million laying around and a need to spend it? If so, here’s the opportunity to purchase one of the Joplin area’s more peculiar historic properties.  Built sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s,  Sky High Castle commands an overlook of Reddings Mill, built on cliffs above the Shoal Creek valley.  A website for the castle describes it as such:

The interior of Sky High Castle includes hand-hewn beams overhead, two cast-bronze ceiling fans that feature retractable fan-blades, two floors each having a large stone fireplace, and many windows taking advantage of the surrounding views.

Outside, the property is also special. The Castle is perched atop a hill and large chert, stone cliffs overlooking a river valley where Shoal Creek flows. The striking appearance comes from the fact that the Castle and cliffs are made of the same color of stone, so that the whole is of impressive height and width. It is 180 feet of elevation change down to Shoal Creek below. The hillsides have been terraced with many rock walls at various levels. Walkways and stairs lead around the property offering many splendid views of the valley and Castle. Rose moss, phlox, carnations and columbine make a home on the rock walls and terraces. Surrounding the Castle are oak woods and a city park along Shoal Creek comes up to the property line on one hillside. The Castle can be viewed from the town of Redings Mill below. This is true now more than in the past as some clearing has been done.

For photographs of the interior of the castle, just click here. It stands undoubtedly one of the most unique homes in the Joplin area.  If you know any stories of the home, please feel free to share them!

Current Prospects for the Union Depot

Joplin Union Depot

A hotly debated issue silenced by the tornado of 2011, the restoration of Joplin’s Union Depot has quietly started to filter back into the conversation of the city’s future.  While the previous discussion was focused on turning the depot into a new home for the Joplin Museum Complex, an idea that the governing boards of the JMC were reluctantly being dragged toward accepting, the new round of talks has removed the JMC from the equation.  SPARK is the word now, “Stimulating Progress through Arts, Recreation and Knowledge of the Past,” which is part of the current plan by the city and Wallace Bajjali Development Partners to turn north downtown Joplin into a center for arts and recreation.

As recent articles in the Globe have stated, the new plan for the Union Depot is to renovate it as a home for restaurants, not for the museum.  In the current budget of the Master Plan, the city voted in late December, 2012, for the creation of a TIF district which would pay for some of the redevelopment projects,  to set aside “$68 million for a performing and visual arts center and Union Depot restoration…”   If you were wondering about the JMC, in the same process, money was planned to build a completely new museum home which would be somewhere in the vicinity of north Main Street.

Here at Historic Joplin, while we championed the move of the JMC to the depot, we are just as satisfied with this new idea so long as its implemented and one of Joplin’s most valuable architectural jewels is preserved for future generations.

To learn more about the Union Depot, read our five part history of the depot here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.

The architectural drawing of the Depot.

The Architectural Legacy of Garstang & Rea: Junge Baking Company Cracker Factory

Today’s update to the Architectural Legacy of Garstang & Rea series is the Junge Baking Company Cracker Factory building. The Junge Baking Company was once one of Joplin’s jewels of industry and it comes to no surprise to find that one of Joplin’s premier architectural firms was hired to help expand the factory. Built at a cost of approximately $16,000 in 1904, or the equivalent of near $372,074 in today’s dollars, it was part of a 1904 expansion by the Junge family to increase their capacity and to capitalize on their success. While not every building legacy of the Junge Baking Company remains, the Cracker Factory survives as the current home of the Sebastian Equipment Company at 18th and Main Street.

The cracker factory not long after its construction.

The factory building survives today in the 1800 block of south Main Street.

The Architectural Legacy of Garstang & Rea: The Joplin Casket Company Factory

The next photograph in the Alfred W. Rea portfolio series is the Joplin Casket Company Factory. Regrettably, we have not been able to find much on the Joplin Casket Company, but we can at least tell you that it built in 1907 at a cost of approximately $278,000 present day dollars. J.A. Wilson was president, B.W. Lyon, vice-president, J.H. Spencer, secretary, and it was located at 4th NW Cor RR (unfortunately, we’re unable to figure out where this address was exactly).


Thanks to the sharp eyes of Historic Joplin followers, Mike Sisk and Clark, we were delighted to learn that the former factory building still stands between Division and School streets on Fourth Street and is owned by the Empire District Electric Company.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Douthitt’s Grocery store building as it appears today via Google Streetview.

Driving along the streets of Joplin, one will occasionally recognize an old corner store standing forlornly in the midst of modest homes, a survivor of a simpler era. Though ragged and ramshackle, these sentinels of commerce were once lively, thriving cornerstones of many a neighborhood. As the era of chain grocery stores dawned, these mom and pop operations slowly faded from existence, leaving only memories.

One such store was owned by Curtis and Nancy Douthitt. The couple owned a small grocery store at 202 North Gray Avenue in Joplin that originally opened in 1903. Like most store owners, they lived above their store. When they bought the store in the 1940s, there were 139 neighborhood grocery stores in Joplin, including three others on the same block. The Douthitts sold staples like milk, bread, sugar, salt, and candy. In the early years, you could purchase two cookies for only a penny. At one time, the store employed five employees and a delivery boy. For a twenty-year period the couple worked seven days a week to meet their customers’ needs. The store’s willingness to extend credit to its patrons and quality service kept the Douthitts in business. Nancy Douthitt said that, “We could write a book about the three generations who’ve gone through the store. Grown men come back to Curtis now and say, ‘Do you remember me?’ and he does.”

But in the spring of 1987, Curtis and Nancy announced that they were closing up shop, and that their building would be for sale. Only one neighborhood grocery, Melin’s, reportedly remained open in Joplin after Douthitt’s grocery closed. Melin’s, it is worth noting, was run by Margery and Charles Melin. The Douthitts noted that they would be shopping in a new grocery store and, as Curtis remarked, “We’ve been in them before just to look, but they never had anything we didn’t – just more of it.”

The Douthitt store still stands at 202 North Gray Avenue, a reminder of a slower, more friendly time.

The Architectural Legacy of Garstang & Rea: The Christman’s Building North Annex

The next photograph in our Alfred W. Rea portfolio series is the north annex to the Christman’s Department Store built approximately in 1903 as storage for the store located at 5th and Main Street. Christman’s, which deserves and eventually will get a much more thorough post, traced its origins to Pete Christman who came to Joplin in 1890 and with his brother, opened up a joint venture at 5th and Main Street in 1892. Business obviously boomed for the Christmans and when they needed extra space for their burgeoning store, they contacted Garstang & Rea to build them that space. Later, a second annex was built adjoining this one on its south side. Also in the photograph is the Joplin Tobacco Company, and a glance at the large sign above which reads, “Matinee Today” is likely for the neighboring Paramount Theater.

Happily, the annex still stands today and can be visited by going to the intersection of 5th Street and Virginia Street.

The Missing History of Fourth and Main Street

The four buildings of Fourth and Main Street

More than a century ago, a visitor to the bustling growing city of Joplin could have stood on any of the four corners of the intersection of Fourth and Main and viewed the history of the former mining camp writ large in the buildings about him or her. The ability to taken in the “epochs” of Joplin’s history with a glance was not missed by Joplinites of the era, and one reporter of a city papers wrote,

“The noonday shadow of the old frame landmark of the early seventies almost brushes the base of the half million dollar edifice that represents the highest achievements in building construction of the twentieth century. The monument to the days of Joplin’s earliest settlement seems to crouch lower and more insignificant than ever, now that a colossal hotel has been erected within less than a stone’s throw of it.”

The “old frame landmark” was the Club Saloon owned by John Ferguson until his death on the Lusitania (learn more about that here) and the “half million dollar edifice” was none other than the Connor Hotel, completed in 1908 and considered by many the finest hotel of the Southwest. Unmentioned above were the Worth Block and the Keystone Hotel. A visit to the intersection today, however, would find none of these buildings remaining.

A step back in time, when these four buildings still stood, would let the visitor see Joplin’s history as built by man. For reference by today’s geography, imagine that you are standing on the northwest corner of Fourth and Main Street with the Joplin Public Library at your back. Behind you in the past would be the towering eight story Connor, across the street to your right was the two story, wood-framed Club Saloon, where the current Liberty Building stands, to your left was the three story Worth Block, now home to Spiva Park, and directly diagonal from you would be the six story red-bricked Keystone Hotel, gone for the one story brick building today. The same reporter from above offered descriptions of how each of these four buildings revealed the chapters of Joplin’s past. The history that the Club Saloon represented was one of a camp fighting to become a city.

“When the frame structure at the southwest corner was the leading structure of the city, the site of the present Connor Hotel was a frog pond and the deep booming of the inhabitants of the swampy places echoed over the sweeping stretch of open prairie land.”

The Club Saloon shortly before it was razed.

At the same time, the land where the Keystone Hotel eventually grew, was a mining operation owned by Louis Peters. The reporter is quick to allay fears of sink holes and noted that the drifts and shaft of the mining were filled before the property was sold. The Club Saloon’s home was bought from its owners in Baxter Springs, Kansas, by Oliver Moffett (E.R. Moffett’s son), Galen Spencer, and L.P. Cunningham, among others, and brought to the young mining camp to become the town’s early center. It was first used as a grocery store and flanked on either side of it were “shacks of disreputable apperance.” In the frame building, reportedly, one of Joplin’s early grocers and councilmen, E.J. Guthrie was killed. It was not the only frame building to be brought to Joplin, but those failed to survive for long. The Club Saloon was immuned perhaps because of the temperament of its owner, the ill-fated John Ferguson. Often, he turned down offers to buy it and once Ferguson allegedly declared, “If you would cover the entire lot with twenty dollar gold pieces, it would not be enough. I think I shall keep it.”

Across the street, so to speak, the old frog pond was shortly developed into a three story brick building, the original Joplin Hotel. Described as a “palace” amongst the other contemporary buildings of Joplin, it was given credit for shifting the center of the new city from East Joplin to the area formerly known as Murphysburg. The presence of the brick building spurred the construction of others, particularly on the east side of Main Street. Among those building was Louis Peters, who continued his mining, but also built a two-story building at a cost of approximately $4,600 on the northeast corner. The new building replaced one that had burned to the ground and was built in less than two months, completed in the December of 1877. Later, a third story was added to what was then called the Peters Building, but became better known as the Worth Block when James “Jimmy” Worth became the owner (precipitated by Worth marrying a co-owner of the property).

Worth Block - Joplin, Missouri

The Worth Block circa 1902

As slowly a recognizable Fourth and Main Street began to emerge, Joplin was still a young city that had more in common with a mining camp than a growing metropolis. Saloons proliferated, gambling was common, and other vices not spoken of in good company. This period of Joplin’s past was described as so:

A crimson light hung high over Joplin, shedding its rays over a great portion of the town, would have been an appropriate emblem of the nature of the community. Pastimes were entered into with a wantoness that brought to the town a class of citizenship not welcome in the higher circles of society. But if, in those days there was a higher circle, its membership was limited. Society existed but it was in true mining town style. There was in evidence the dance hall, the wine room and the poker table. The merry laugh of carefree women mingled with the clatter of the ivory chips on the tables “upstairs” and the incessant music of the festival places sounded late into the night, every night of the week, and every week of the year. No city ordinance prevented citizens from expectorating tobacco saliva upon the sidewalks; in fact, the sidewalks were almost as limited as was the membership of the exclusive upper circles.

In 1875, a flood swept through Joplin, and washed away homes, flooded mines, and even killed some Joplinites. The damage, in 1875 dollars, was almost $200,000. For all that was lost, the city continued to gain in wealth, growth and citizens. Ordinances and laws were put in place and a more determined citizenship to see their enforcement. The lawlessness that had persisted in the open air withdrew, the “secrets of the underworld of the Joplin…” were not “broadcast as they were…” The surge of mineral wealth saw more bricked buildings rise and the new owner of the southeast corner of Fourth and Main, E.Z. Wallower, saw more to gain in building than in mining. In 1892, construction of the turreted Keystone Hotel began. Not long after, the intersection was just short of the Connor Hotel in its appearance. This was remedied, as noted above, in 1908, just sixteen years later. In that span of time, “many fine edifices were erected.”

Until the demolition of the Club Saloon, at a glance, one could have seen the history of the city. From the very first days when a wood frame building was a sign of progress, up from shanties and tents; and then the brick constructions of the Peters Building that became the Worth Block, as the first inclinations of wealth from mining began to show progress; and finally, the raising of the Keystone and the Connor, when millionaires brushed elbows as they walked the sidewalks from the House of Lords, and Joplin was in the thick of its first renaissance. A visit to the intersection today leaves nothing of this history to be learned at a glance. The Liberty Building, which now stands where the Club Saloon once stood, is a bridge back however, witness to all of the former inhabitants of Fourth and Main Street but the Club that it eventually replaced. As are all the historic buildings of downtown Joplin, so while some of old Joplin is gone, much thankfully, can still be enjoyed and that history known with a glance.

The Saloon at 402 Main Street

In our last post, we brought you the unfortunate fate of the owner of 402 Main Street, John Ferguson. Today we bring you the unfortunate fate of Ferguson’s Club Saloon located at 402 Main Street.

The Club Saloon shortly before it was razed.

In the years that followed Ferguson’s death, the heirs to his estate, had promised to tear down the old saloon. It was an old saloon indeed, likely one of the oldest commercial buildings that remained in Joplin by 1916. Though considered by locals as the “Joplin Eyesore,” its history went back to the very founding years of the city when it was brought wholesale from nearby Baxter, Kansas, to the fledgling mining town. For over forty years, the saloon was the home to a bar on the first floor and a gambling hall on the second. As one old timer commented, “There’s where I used to play poker, myself, until I learned I didn’t know anything about the game.” The Club Saloon, a relic of the city’s wilder days, was finally razed in January, 1916, at the order of the city. It was, after all, worth thousands of dollars per square foot. The lot thereafter remained empty, but was used as a place to sell Liberty bonds during the First World War. It was this usage that gave the property the nickname, “The Liberty Lot.” Later, the building which was built and still stands today retained the liberty moniker, “The Liberty Building.”