The Man Who Owned 402 Main Street

The Club Saloon, the second front visible on the right side of the photograph stood at the valuable corner of Fourth and Main Street, across from the Old Joplin Hotel.

A brief note jotted down by a WPA worker in 1939, caught our attention:

“The Joplin National Bank building on 402 Main Street, is located on an interesting site that is associate with the early days of Joplin. Where this fine bank building now stands was in the early days a duck pond where some of the old pioneers found fine duck shooting in season. Later on a frame building was placed on part of this lot and a saloon, typical of the early days, was established there. At this saloon, as was customary in the older days, the miners were paid off on Saturday night after their weeks work was done. This old building became quite shaky and was abandoned and torn down at the beginning of the World War. One of the owners of this old saloon was on his way to Ireland to visit relatives and lost his life on the Lusitania when that ship was sunk by torpedoes. For several years the lot remained vacant and was known as [the] Liberty Lot, because sales of Liberty Bonds and other patriotic movements, as well as public speaking, were held on this lot. After the world war, a bank building was erected.”

The ill-fated RMS Lusitania via Wikipedia.


So who was this saloon owner who lost his life on May 7, 1915, when a German U-Boat U-20 torpedoed the RMS Lusitania off the southern coast of Ireland?

John H. Ferguson, an Irish immigrant, arrived in Joplin sometime around 1889. He allegedly accumulated a large amount of real estate and was owner of both the Club Saloon (402 Main Street) and the Union Bar (120 West Sixth Street). Prior to his departure to New York City, where he would board the Lusitania, Ferguson spoke with his attorney J.H. Spurgeon of Joplin. The purpose of his trip abroad was to visit his father Comack Ferguson, who still lived in County Cavan, Ireland, about the construction of a new building at 402 Main. After arriving in New York, Ferguson sent a letter to Spurgeon:

“New York, May 1

Dear Mr. Spurgeon: I reached New York last night and have booked quarters on the Lusitania of the Cunard line. The boat sails at 10 o’clock this morning. It is an English ship, but I guess I can get through on it all right.

Respectfully,
John Ferguson”

As soon as news arrived of the ship’s sinking, Spurgeon immediately sent a cablegram to Ferguson’s father in an effort to find out if Ferguson was among the survivors. A few days later, Comack Ferguson sent a cablegram to Spurgeon stating, “Cannot get any account of John.” In the week that followed, it became clear that Ferguson had not survived. Spurgeon told the Joplin News-Herald that as Ferguson’s attorney he had never drawn up a will for his client, nor had he heard Ferguson discuss a will. The News-Herald surmised that if a will was not found in Ferguson’s personal papers, his estate would go to his father, three brothers, and two sisters. Spurgeon estimated the estate’s value at somewhere around $75,000.

On May 19, Spurgeon, acting as the administrator of Ferguson’s estate, closed the Club Saloon and the Union Bar. Because the liquor and business licenses were in Ferguson’s name, the businesses could not operate after an administrator was appointed.

The Club Saloon was quickly overshadowed on the west side of the intersection of 4th and Main by the Connor Hotel.

After the Lusitania disaster, family members sued the German government, and it was not until after World War One that these claims were settled. The family of John Ferguson apparently filed a claim, but as the record below indicates, his family was denied restitution.

Docket No. 2481.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
on behalf of
J. H. Spurgeon, as Administrator of the Estate of John Ferguson, et al.,
Claimant,

v.

GERMANY.

BY THE COMMISSION: –

John Ferguson, a naturalized American citizen, 43 years of age, was a passenger on and went down with the Lusitania. He had never married. He left him surviving as his sole heirs-at-law a father, three brothers, and two sisters, all of whom were at that time British subjects. He died intestate. J. H. Spurgeon was appointed, qualified, and is the acting administrator of the decedent’s estate. While the value of this estate is not disclosed by the record it was evidently substantial. All liabilities of the estate have been discharged. The record fails to disclose any damages resulting from the death of the deceased, or from the loss of his property, and suffered by one possessing American nationality at that time.

Applying the rules announced in the Lusitania Opinion, in Administrative Decision No. V, and in the other decisions of this Commission to the facts as disclosed by this record, the Commission decrees that under the Treaty of Berlin of August 25, 1921, and in accordance with its terms the Government of Germany is not obligated to pay to the Government of the United States any amount on behalf of any of the claimants herein.

Done at Washington January 7, 1925.

EDWIN B. PARKER,
Umpire.

CHANDLER P. ANDERSON,
American Commissioner.

W. KIESSELBACH,
German Commissioner.

Joplin’s Snob Hill

Tucked away in the northwest corner of Joplin is the neighborhood known as “Roanoke.” Over the years the area has also been known as “Snob Hill” and “Mortgage Hill.”

The land originally belonged to Andrew McKee, an early resident of Jasper County, Missouri. McKee, who filed for the land in 1851, did not live to enjoy the property. He died in 1852. The land then passed into the possession of William Tingle in 1860, but due to the coming of the Civil War, Tingle had little opportunity to make use of the property. Notably, Tingle hauled pig from Jasper County to Boonville, Missouri, which was a considerable distance at a time when the only method of transportation available was a wagon, as the railroad would not arrive in the region until well after the close of the Civil War.

In 1866, Tingle sold the land to Henry Shepherd and other individuals. Later, the Granby Mining and Smelting Company leased the land and eventually purchased it. The company eventually sold forty acres to Peter A. Christman who then deeded the land to the Joplin Roanoke Realty Company. The company was established in 1907 with Christman and his three brothers as the principal stockholders.

When word spread that the area would be developed into a new residential neighborhood, the news was met with skepticism. Many believed that the area was too rough and steep. Land in the new neighborhood sold for $600 an acre which, for the time, was expensive. The purchase price did not include the cost of sidewalks, grading, paved streets, nor did it include the expense of laying new water, sewer, and electric lines.

The Christman brothers and the Joplin Roanoke Realty Company were joined by Edmund A. Bliedung, Phil Michel, J.F. Osborne, and Bob Fink. Peter Christman and Bliedung were business partners, having founded Joplin’s Christman Dry Goods Company in 1895. It was Osborne who christened the neighborhood “Roanoke” and Peter Christman who created the street names such as Glenview Place, Hampton Place, Richmond Place, Islington Place, and Jaccard Place. The tony English inspired names were joined by a few older Joplin names such as North Byers, North Moffet, North Sergeant, and North Jackson Avenues.

Mrs. Ocie D. Hunter and Leonard Lewis were the first to build “cottages.” The distinction of the first large two-story house went to the Dana residence located at 802 North Sergeant. Grocer Nicholas Marr built a large home at 615 Hampton Place. Ethelbert Barrett built the home at 1002 North Moffett Avenue. When he died in 1936, Barrett was buried in an ornate tomb in Mount Hope Cemetery. Other early residents included C. Vernon Jones (816 North Byers); Dr. Mallory (827 North Sergeant); J.F. Dexter (920 North Sergeant); Fon L. Johnson (702 Glenview); William J. Creekmore (915 North Sergeant). Creekmore was known as the “king of the Oklahoma bootleggers.”

Despite the fact the neighborhood was home to several wealthy residents, it did not escape the sorrows that less wealthy areas of Joplin experienced. In 1950 William Creekmore’s daughter Gwendolyn was found murdered at the family home in Roanoke. The coroner’s jury ruled she came to her death at “by a party or parties unknown to jury.” Her murder was never solved.

Note: We tip our hat to the late Dolph Shaner who published a brief history of Roanoke that was used to create much of this post.

Guest Piece: Leslie Simpson – Joplin’s Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian House

In the mid-20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright invented the concept of “Usonian” houses, which were based on the utopian ideals of simplicity, economy, and convenience. The first step in constructing a Usonian house was to lay down a concrete platform with cast-in heating pipes. Next came a grouping of brick supporting screens, creating a chain of linked boxes. The brick supports were topped by a series of flat concrete roofs, with a higher roof over the living-dining area and lower ones over the bedrooms and bath. The difference in roof heights allowed extra light to come in through clerestory window strips. Light also streamed in through floor to ceiling windows, usually overlooking a garden or pool.

One of these Usonian designs was built on the outskirts of Joplin, ¼ mile west of Stone’s Corner on Highway 171. Joplin architect Robert Braeckel adapted Wright’s plans to construct this ultra-modern dwelling for Stewart and Naomi Ruth Stanley in 1950. All steel construction supported Carthage limestone walls and large expanses of glass. Copper tubing built into the floor provided radiant heat. The ultimate in modern living, the house also featured a pool and bathhouse.

Unfortunately, I had to use past tense in my description; the house was demolished May 3, 2012. It is ironic as well since May is National Historic Preservation Month. This month’s Preservation Magazine devotes the entire issue to Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and the efforts to preserve it.



This piece was adapted from Leslie Simpson’s “Little House on the Prairie” that was published in Joplin Souvenir Album, G. Bradley Publishing, 2001. Photographs courtesy of Leslie Simpson and the Post Memorial Art Reference Library.

Leslie Simpson, an expert on Joplin history and architecture, is the director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, located within the Joplin Public Library. She is the author of From Lincoln Logs to Lego Blocks: How Joplin Was Built, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture. and Joplin: A Postcard History.

Guest Piece: Leslie Simpson – Route 66: A Method to the Madness

I have always wondered why Route 66 took such a circuitous path through Joplin.  Coming in on West Seventh, it made a sharp turn left onto Main, then headed east on First over the viaduct.  It continued on Broadway, turning north on St. Louis; after crossing Turkey Creek, it took off at a 45-degree angle on Euclid.  It went a couple of blocks on Florida, then right on Zora and left on Range Line.  If it were not for the fact that Route 66 was built during Prohibition, one might wonder if the cartographers had been a little tipsy!

 

Route 66 through Joplin

Recently I was looking at some old plat maps of Joplin, and I noticed something.  The Southwest Missouri Electric Railway, an electric streetcar that was established in 1893 by Alfred H. Rogers, took an identical 45-degree angle after crossing Turkey Creek in its route from Joplin to Webb City, Carterville, Lakeside Park, Carthage and other points east.  The trolley line angled through Royal Heights, a separate village that had incorporated in 1907.  Eureka!  This information may be common knowledge, but since I did not know about it, I was excited to figure it out on my own.

Plat map showing the Electric Railway line north of Turkey Creek

At its peak, the railway company operated a huge fleet of streetcars and 94 miles of tracks in three states. But its days were numbered. As private ownership of motor vehicles increased, railway patronage dwindled. In 1925, the company began running passenger buses and phasing out its streetcars.  The Joplin stretch of Route 66 was under construction from 1927 through 1932.  After Royal Heights was annexed into the city of Joplin in 1929, the railway company removed the tracks through Royal Heights. The old track-bed was paved as Euclid and became part of the historic “Mother Road.”

A Photograph’s Story: Fourth and Main Street Joplin Turn of the Century

Here is a fascinating glimpse of a moment in time in Joplin’s history. Time to explore the story of the photograph of looking West on Fourth Street from Main Street:

First, let’s positioned ourselves and stand in the same place as the photographer. In front of us is the intersection of Main Street and Fourth Street. We are looking West in this photograph which tells us that out of sight, but immediately to our left is the Keystone Hotel. On the right, you can see the edge of the curb of the Worth Block, which means the House of Lords is just a quick jaunt around the corner.

Second, the Connor Hotel is across the street from us. The Connor Hotel was completed in 1908, so we now have an estimated time as to when we are standing at the intersection of Fourth and Main. If you look closely, you will recognize some of the stonework that is now outside the Joplin Public Library. When you look down the street from the Connor, you will notice a row of small buildings. These buildings were eventually demolished to make way for the Connor Annex, which was built in the 1920’s. Again, we have now created a time span for when we are looking: 1908 to 1920’s.

Third, beyond the small buildings, you will notice a tall building. Gone now, but only a few years old at the time of this photograph, the Miners Bank Building was home not only to the aforementioned bank, but also to one of Joplin’s premier architects, August Michaelis. If you squint, on the opposite side of the street framed by telephone and power lines, is a steeple. That steeple belongs to another of Joplin’s lost buildings, the Club Theater. It was home to the Joplin Commercial Club, which survives today in the form of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.

Fourth, immediately across from the Connor is a two storm frame building. Until it was destroyed to make way for the Liberty Building (and current resident of the southwest corner of Fourth and Main), this was the oldest remaining building in Joplin at the time having been built in the 1870s.

Fifth, also of note, are of course the the trolleys and if you look close at the street, you can see a textured surface. Reportedly, these were macadam streets, which Joplin boasted of having many and might still exist in some form under her currently paved streets.

History in the News: Historic Home in Joplin In Danger

A historic Joplin home in danger of demolition.

This last weekend, the Joplin Globe published a story on the two story house on Schifferdecker Ave. The handsome house with a stone facade belongs to the late J.T. Goodman and his wife, Yvonne. The historic home, which likely dates to the early years of Joplin, was damaged by the May 2011 tornado. As seen in the above photograph, the home presently has no roof which is accelerating its danger of being declared condemned by the city. Joplin history expert and director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, Leslie Simpson, is presently trying to research the history of the home in an effort to help its preservation. So far, Simpson has discovered that it was on the property of Thomas Cunningham, one of Joplin’s wealthiest citizens at the turn of the century. Likewise, a mortgage deed indicates it might have even been built in 1873.

The historic home is currently before Joplin’s Building Board of Appeals. Unfortunately, due to the death of J.T. Goodman and a refusal by the Goodmans’ insurance company, the family has no funds to make the repairs needed to save the home. At the moment, Simpson is seeking to learn more of the home’s history which might translate to convincing the city Board of Appeals to spare the house more time to be repaired.

If you know anything about the house pictured above, located at 2725 S. Schifferdecker Avenue, please contact Leslie Simpson at the Post Memorial Library: (417) 782-7678. This is a piece of Joplin’s history, it needs to be saved!

The Number of Joplin’s Historic Buildings Decreased By One: Rains Building Lost to Fire.

The Rains Building circa 1902.

The next time you cruise down Joplin’s Main Street, you may notice that yet another of the city’s historic buildings has been lost. The Rains Building, located at 906-908 South Main Street, burned on Thursday night. The building, attributed to one of Joplin’s most prominent and prolific architects, August C. Michaelis, is a tragic loss.

Built in the Renaissance Revival style at the turn-of-the century for brothers Charles and George Rains, it brought an understated architectural elegance to the block.

Like many buildings along Joplin’s Main Street, it was home to several different businesses including the Miner’s Hardware Company, the Bullard-Bell Company, and the Roosevelt Hotel. By the 1970s, only the first floor was in use as an antiques shop. When the building was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, it was noted that little, if any, alterations had marred Rains Brothers Building original design over the years, unlike many other buildings.

Rains Brothers Building Image via Wikipedia.org, Rains Building circa summer 2010.

Here is a link to the Joplin Globe‘s coverage of the fire and here is a link to the National Register of Historic Places, a source for more detailed information on the building.

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.

 

A Glimpse of the Miners Bank in 1911

Above is a glimpse of Fourth Street looking west, and in the foreground, the Miners Bank Building. You can find a short history of the Miners Bank Building (and the bank, itself) here. It was home to the offices of one of Joplin’s finest architects, August Michaelis and his brother. Fourth Street, in turn, was one of the more attractive locales in the Joplin business district, home not only to the Connor Hotel, but also to the Club Theater and Elks Club.

A Bird’s Eye View of Joplin from the Keystone Hotel

Tonight is a view of Joplin from the Keystone Hotel circa 1902 taken by resident photographer and bookseller, T.W. Osterloh. Prominent is the Columbian Block with its double cupolas and to its right, the Busch building. On the street is one of Joplin’s trolleys making its way down Main Street.

Click on the image to find a larger version.