A story from Joplin courtesy of Vance Randolph

One of the most important figures in recent Ozark history is Vance Randolph. Randolph, born just across the stae line in Pittsburg, Kansas, first visited the Missouri Ozarks in 1899 when he and his parents visited the O-Joe Club in Noel, Missouri. Enthralled by the people and places of the Ozarks, Randolph spent the rest of his life traveling throughout Missouri and Arkansas collecting folklore, tall tales, superstitions, and folk culture. Randolph was no stranger in Joplin. He claimed that the best bar in the region was at the Connor Hotel.

Vance Randolph
Vance Randolph

Of the hundreds of stories he collected, this one comes from Mr. Reggie Courtney of Joplin, Missouri, on March, 1926:

“Once upon a time there was a fellow who was always telling big stories. Folks used to say he wsa the champion liar of the country. But them tales of his wasnt’ really lies, and everybody knowed it. They was just big windy stories, and folks used to come for miles around to hear him tell ‘em when he got going good.

One day a bunch of the boys was setting in front of the store at the crossroads when this here windy fellow come riding along on a mule. “Howdy, Emmett,” says the postmaster. “Light down, and tell us one of them big lies of your’n.”

But the fellow didn’t stop only a minute, and he looked mighty serious. “No time for foolishness today, boys,” says he. “Old man Slinkard has fell off’n the barn, and it looks like his back’s broke. I’m going after Doc Holton.”

After Emmett went down the road towards town the boys just set there and looked at one another. They all knowed Old Man Slinkard and most of them was kin to him. Pretty soon they all got on their horses and rode over to the Slinkard place, to see if they could do anything to help out. It was pretty near four mile, through mighty rough country. They was all hot and sweaty and tired before they come in sight of the house. And the first thing they seen when they got there was old man Slinkard out a-plowing his corn.

“Well I’ll be damned!” says the postmaster. “He never fell off’n the barn at all! That goddamn Emmett lied to us!” The other boys was all pretty sore too, but they couldn’t pass up a chance to pour it on the postmaster. “I don’t see where you got any kick a-coming,” says one fellow. “Didn’t you ask him to tell us one of them big lies?” The postmaster he says yes, but he didn’t figure on riding no four miles in this heat just for some fool idea of a joke.

“Well, I don’t see how you can blame poor Emmett,” the fellow says, “because he just done what you told him.” And then they all laughed like fools, and that’s all there is to this story.”

Source:  Hoosier Folklore, A Quarterly of Folklore, vol. IX, No. 2 and Vance Randolph: An Ozark Life by Robert Cochran.

The Miners Bank

As the riches of the mining fields of Jasper County drew investors, miners, and speculators in the 1870s, the need for a banking institution was obvious. One of the first men to step into this void was one of the fathers of modern day Joplin, Patrick Murphy, originally of Carthage. He and an associate established the town of Murphysburg, which later merged to form Joplin in 1873, and two years later, Murphy opened the Banking House of Patrick Murphy. A two story brick building, it was located on Main Street between Second and Third Streets. Murphy’s endeavor was a success.

A sketch of Patrick Murphy in his prime.

A sketch of Patrick Murphy in his prime.

Such was the success that the financial institution attracted investors and in 1877, the Banking House of Patrick Murphy was re-chartered and organized as the Miners Bank of Joplin. Murphy served as the first president of the bank, and was followed by Thomas E. Tootle. The first head cashier was Frank Kershaw. Kershaw’s successor was A.H. Waite. Most customers would have more likely known and recognized C.H. Spencer, who served as head cashier for at least sixteen years leading up to 1906. Local magnate Thomas Connor had served two terms as bank president. In fact, the board of directors included many of the wealthier citizens of the city, such as Connor, Howard C. Murphy, Edward Zelleken, C.W. Glover, and H.O. Bartlett.

Miners Bank in Joplin Hotel

Magnified here is the corner of the Joplin Hotel, displaying the Miners Bank sign.

Miners Bank’s success was also reflected in its financial holdings. At its inception the bank held $25,000, by 1890 this was increased to $50,000 and a year later doubled to $100,000. Due to growth of its assets and the increasing number of depositors, Miners Bank moved from its location between Second and Third to take up residence to offices in the Joplin Hotel, and there remained from about 1885 to 1905. Over a slightly longer period of time than its stay at the Joplin Hotel, reported deposits at the bank grew from $35,700 to $949,000. Loans increased from $6,500 to $425,000. Cash on hand went from $15,000 to a bank robber’s dream of $97,000. Figures from 1905 listed the six most successful banks by deposits, and the Miners Bank was first and foremost, besting its nearest competition by more than $55,000. Until the bank’s move in 1905 from the Joplin Hotel, its chief competitor and runner up in the 1905 figures was the Joplin National Bank, located just across the intersection situated on the bottom floor of the Keystone Hotel.

Miners Bank opening

The Miners Bank building as featured in an article announcing its opening.

The move in 1905 may have been prompted by the plans of Thomas Connor to raze the three story Joplin Hotel with plans to build a larger, grander establishment, or may simply have been due to the banking institution’s success. The bank’s new home was just a block away from Main Street, where Fourth Street intersected with Joplin Street. The new building was described by one of Joplin’s paper as a “beautiful modern building, with elevators and all modern conveniences.” The offices were equally beautiful and constructed of marble, tile and steel. Designed by August Michaelis, one of Joplin’s most prolific and talented architects, the building was designed to accommodate an additional four more stories should the need arise. It was built at a cost of $125,000 by the firm of C.A. Dieter who later oversaw the construction the Connor Hotel.

The Miners Bank building sometime after its opening, but before a prominent sign

Another photograph of Miners Bank not long after it opened.

From July 1st of 1905, Miners Bank inhabited the ground floor, leaving the upper floors open to paying tenants, architect Michaelis included, and remained there until 1930 when it merged with Conqueror First National Bank. After the merger, the bank moved back to Main Street for the first time in twenty-five years, and with its departure ended an illustrious history that began in 1877. The last home of Miners Bank remained in use until a disastrous fire prompted its demolition in 1982.

Miners bank a few years after its opening.

The Miners Bank building a few years after its opening.

Miners Bank on corner of Fourth and Joplin Streets

A view of the Miners Bank building in context at the intersection of Fourth and Joplin Streets.

Sources: Missouri Digital History, Joplin News Herald, and the Story of Joplin by Dolph Shaner.

Growth of a City – Northwest Joplin

Sometimes it’s worth letting photographs speak for themselves.   Below are three photos taken from what is likely the Keystone Hotel of northwest Joplin, essentially a view of Fourth Street heading west.

1902 or earlier view of Northwest Joplin centered on Fourth Street

A photo of northwest Joplin, particularly Fourth Street from at least as early as 1902.

In the first photo we can see the Club Theater, which is on the left with the steeple at the intersection of Joplin and Fourth Street.  On the immediate right, we have the old Joplin Hotel which was constructed like the Club Theater prior to 1900.  What is missing  is the Miners Bank building which has not yet been built across the street from the Club Theater, as well the new Joplin post office building that was completed the same year as the aforementioned bank in 1905.

1905 - 1906 view of northwest Joplin featuring Fourth Street

1905 - 1906 view of northwest Joplin featuring Fourth Street

A few years later and there’s a recognizable change in Fourth street and the northwest view of Joplin.  Now across the street from the Club Theater is the Miners Bank building and to the right of it on Joplin Street is the brand new Joplin post office.  The vacant lot across the street from the Club Theater (the other side of Joplin Street) now has a two story building and laid down the center of Fourth Street are trolley rails.  The old Joplin Hotel is still in the right hand corner, but by this time Thomas Connor is likely already planning to tear it down to build a brand new hotel that one day would bear his name.  It was demolished at some point in 1906, which helps date this view.  Thus, sometime after 1905 and before a point in 1906.

1906 to 1907 view of northwest Joplin featuring Fourth Street

1906 to 1907 view of northwest Joplin featuring Fourth Street

If only this photograph was not torn, we might have had a better view of the Joplin of 1906 or 1907.  Not much has changed from the last photograph except the absence of the old Joplin Hotel in the lower right hand corner.  Instead, we have the beginning excavations for the foundation of the future Connor Hotel.   Constant in all three photos are two narrow buildings in the center bottom or left, one with a flat roof and the other with a peak.  In a few short years, a seven story building would take their place and might have contributed to the decline of the Keystone Hotel as a popular spot to take a northwest view of Joplin.

Thus, in three photos that likely cover a time span of less than a decade, you can get an inclination of the rapid growth of Joplin.

Sources: Historic Joplin’s private collection.

The New Club Theater

When the Club Theater was renovated in 1902, the interior was trumpeted as a “color scheme of Empire Red, with Exquisite Trimmings of Gold and Ivory.” The theater, originally built in 1891, stood watch at the intersection of Fourth and Joplin Streets. After its renovation it was commonly referred to as the New Club Theater. The idea for its construction originated as a meeting place for Joplin’s business and social elite.

The Joplin Club, formed in 1889, was comprised of Joplin’s most influential and powerful citizens. They were civic minded men who were inspired to promote and improve Joplin.  The club members played a key role in the construction of the Keystone Hotel in the early 1890’s, the finest lodging in the city until it was eclipsed by the Connor Hotel which opened in 1908.

Once a week Joplin’s captains of commerce, men like German born brewer Charles Schifferdecker and real estate mogul Thomas Connor, met to discuss the future of Joplin.  Members of the club realized two things.  First, the club needed a proper meeting place to hold their gatherings. Second, and most importantly, they realized that Joplin lacked what they believed every up and coming city needed, a first class theater. Intent on building a clubhouse for the betterment of Joplin, the club purchased lot located a block west of the center of city’s commercial heart at Joplin and Fourth Streets. The lot was reportedly purchased at a price of over five thousand dollars (though this may have included cost of construction).

On January 26, 1891, the Club Theater formally opened. It boasted seating for 1,400 patrons in a theater situated in on the west side of the building along Joplin Street.  A painted scene of local landmark Grand Falls adorned the stage curtain.  On the north side of the second floor was an area reserved for the Joplin Club to host its formal and informal functions and meetings.  This area may have consisted of two grand rooms.

Street view of Club Theater

This photograph likely taken prior to 1902, the Club Theater is the steepled building on the right. The Keystone Hotel at Fourth and Main Street is just down the block with the conical roof.

The first production to grace the stage of the theater was Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII.  Centuries before, when Shakespeare’s Globe Theater had produced the play, an accident during the show had resulted in a fire that burned the theater to the ground.  Tragically, the Club Theater would later suffer a similar fate.

The clubhouse section of the theater was formally dedicated on March 4th, 1891, with Joplin’s finest in attendance.  It was a scene of well-dressed gentlemen sipping spirits and filling the air with the rich aroma of Havana’s finest. Speakers included the head of the Joplin Club, W.H. Picher, who spoke and then read from a letter sent to the Joplin Club from Governor David Francis.  The next to speak was the Honorable Gabriel Schmuck, who had traveled from Galena, Kansas, and then a local judge, O.H. Picher.  Other speakers, from nearby Carthage, Webb City, and Neosho all spoke of the prominence and promise of Joplin.

The New Club Theater as pictured in 1902

An ad for Attorney General Herbert Hadley is evidence of the powerful and important figures who the Club Theater hosted in its heyday.

Eleven years later, wear and tear had taken its toll upon the Club Theater. By this time the Joplin Club had sold its interest in the theater to other investors, and renovations were begun in August, 1902 at a reported cost of at least $15,000. Period newspapers claimed the newly refurbished theater had no equal in the great state of Missouri with the exception of perhaps the Willis Wood Theater in Kansas City.  Renovation work had taken three months to complete. Workers replaced stained and worn panels with new panels of empire red and ivory wainscoting trimmed with gold.  Gold and ivory were also used to dazzling effect throughout the interior in the ornamentation of the boxes, gallery and balcony fronts.

Interior illustration of Club Theater

An interior illustration of the Club Theater

For the wealthy, eight boxes were available as well as six loges. All were carpeted with plush red velvet.  The same lush carpeting extended to the gallery floor for the enjoyment of those of more modest means.  The stage was expanded to a size of forty-five by sixty-five feet, with an arch overhead complete with a sounding board painted a soft blue and decorated with white clouds and branching red roses.  The stage even had the capability to expand even greater to allow for the production of the most modern and elaborate plays or musicals.

Of the men in charge, only one was a local to Joplin, Don W. Stuart. Stuart had worked at the theater under its previous management.  The other three were essentially absentee owners, C.U. Philley from St. Joseph, L.M. Crawford of Topeka, Kansas, and F.C. Zehrung of Lincoln, Nebraska.  All three men were involved in the entertainment business.  For another six years, the New Club Theater was the premiere venue in Joplin, attracting operas, minstrel shows, and famous conductors as they swept across the nation entertaining Americans with the music of a new century.  In that time, the theater charged anywhere from ten to thirty cents for admission.

Sketches of the New Club Theater's managers

The New Club Theater's Managers: From Left to Right is C.U. Philley, L.M. Crawford, F.C. Zehrung, and Don W. Stuart

However, in 1908, the Shubert Theater opened several blocks away, and assumed the position as the premier theater of the city of Joplin.  All that was left to the New Club Theater was the low brow amusements of vaudeville and memories of the great operatic performers and productions.  An implicit indication of this loss of status was the absence of the New Club Theater in a promotional photo booklet put out by the city of Joplin in 1913, where as the theater had been included in a 1902 version of this booklet.

Ad for Commercial Club

By 1906, the Joplin Club had moved out of the premise and the Joplin Commercial Club placed an ad in the local paper describing its value and place in Joplin society. (For easier to read version just click on image).

Ten years  following the opening of the Shubert, in 1918, the theater portion of the building burned and was never replaced.  What remained of the New Club Theater continued on regardless, eventually being remodeled as an office building.  A fire struck again in 1939, but the building persevered, but ultimately was unable to escape a fiery fate when in 2003 a grease fire from a restaurant located within brought the once proud building down to ashes.  Today only a parking lot remains.

Sources: History of Jasper County by Joel Thomas Livingston, Missouri Digital Heritage, and the Joplin Daily Globe.

One Day a Texan Got Himself A Drink

A short article in an early Joplin paper reflects the southwest spirit of the city in its early days.

A Texan and his horse have a drink in a Joplin Saloon

Cocoaine’s A Miracle Drug (For your hair!)

One of many products touted during the 19th Century was Burnett’s Cocoaine. As this ad from an early issue of the Joplin Daily Herald illustrates, there was no limit to quackery.

Burnett's Cocoaine

The Connor Hotel – Part One

The Connor Hotel

On November 11, 1978, the Connor came crashing down. It had once symbolized the luxurious height of Joplin’s prosperity, but seventy years later, the Connor Hotel was singled out for demolition. Unwilling to have its fate dictated by dynamite, the Connor collapsed on its own and in the process trapped three men, two of whom died. The suspense of the search and rescue effort caught the attention of the nation and for one last time, the Connor Hotel made the headlines.

The Connor Hotel was the dream of Thomas Connor. In time, Historic Joplin will dedicate an entire entry to Connor, but for now a brief profile will suffice. Connor, the son of Irish immigrants, arrived in Joplin as a young man with little more than ambition and grit. A shrewd real estate developer, Connor’s wealth flowed from the lead and zinc mines, and became one of the city’s millionaires. His life and achievements were reflected in the life of Joplin as he played a considerable role in the city’s development and growth.

Thomas Connor

Among his many investments, Connor owned a significant interest in the Joplin Hotel, a three story structure situated on the northwest corner of the busy intersection of Main Street and Fourth Street. The Joplin Hotel, also known as the ‘Brick Hotel’ was built in 1874. It boasted fifty rooms that were constantly occupied by miners, capitalists, and traveling salesmen. Joel Livingston, an attorney and early resident of Joplin, recalled that the Joplin Hotel served as the hub of activity among powerful local politicians in the 1870s and 1880s. In 1893, one period newspaper reported that the Joplin Hotel planned to add a fourth floor. Thomas Connor, however, had grander ambitions. In 1906, Connor ordered that the Joplin Hotel be demolished in order to make room for a new building.


Work on a new structure began shortly after the Joplin Hotel was torn down. Connor shared his vision with the people of Joplin. Plans for the “New Joplin Hotel” revealed an ambitious design, one that would give rise to Joplin’s tallest building, one that would tower over Joplin’s then tallest building, the six story Keystone Hotel, which occupied the corner just across the street.

Connor employed the St. Louis architectural firm of Barnett, Haynes, and Barnett to design the Neo-Classical style structure. Work was then contracted to the local construction firm of Dieter and Wentzel. Building materials came from near and far. Steel for fireproofing and decorative ornamentation was brought in from the Des Moines Bridge and Iron Works of Iowa. The Spring River Stone Company of nearby Carthage supplied the exterior stone. Italian marble, imported by the St. Louis Marble and Tile Company, was used in the lobby and added to the planned elegance of the hotel. A visitor entering the hotel would enter under a Roman canopy built of bronze and glass.

Architectual Plan for the new Joplin Hotel

The new Joplin Hotel was unable to escape completion without incident or misfortune. The first notable accident occurred on September 26, 1906, when a 90 foot crane, used to lift the massive steel beams used in the construction of the hotel, collapsed without warning. Just after lunch, the crane was in the process of lifting a heavy beam from a pile situated on Fourth Street. To do so, the crane operator had to be careful that he raised it up and over the street’s telephone wires.

John Hively, a worker from Indiana, was riding on the beam as it was lifted into the sky. Hively and the beam he stood upon had risen over fifteen feet above the telephone cables when the five-eighths wire cable that held the weight of the beam snapped violently. The severed wire cable lashed out and struck the exterior of the Club Saloon across the street, “slicing through the weather boarding” for several feet like a knife. The severed crane wire then collapsed across the electrified trolley cables running down the street and the crane became “a mass of shooting sparks.” The crane’s metal cable finally settled on the street writhing dangerously with electric current from the trolley wires.

Illustration of John Hively's fatal accident

At the same time as the wire was causing havoc in its collapse, the heavy steel beam plummeted to the earth with Hively still on top of it and crashed onto the pile of beams below. Hively, as witnesses later recalled, landed in a seating position. He might have survived the incident had he not fallen backward from the force of the fall and hit the back of his head on the t-shaped end of another steel beam. His death was instantaneous, but may have been avoidable, as it was later reported that the crane had not been setup properly. His death was not the last.

By January 1907, five stories of the new hotel were completed. Irvin Neyhard, a thirty-five year old divorced father employed as a plumber’s helper, was one of many who found a job working on the building. Although he had first arrived in Joplin some seven to eight years earlier, he rented a room a nearby boarding house not far from the job site. Neyhard was killed when, while crossing the hotel’s elevator shaft on a wooden ladder on the fourth floor, the ladder broke. Neyhard plummeted more than forty feet and landed on a cement floor. His fellow workers reported that Neyhard frantically attempted to catch something, anything, as he fell through the air. He died a few minutes after hitting the ground.

Illustration of how Neyhard died.

Two months later another death made the headlines. Thomas Connor, Joplin’s generous benefactor, died while visiting a sanitarium in San Antonio, Texas. Only sixty years old, he had not even finished his first term as a state senator from Jasper County. The Joplin Daily Globe headlined Connor’s unexpected passing. The Globe’s editor suggested that the new hotel should be named after Connor. The public agreed and when the hotel opened up a year later in 1908, it was christened the Connor.

Advertisement for the opening of the Connor

The Connor Hotel officially opened Sunday, April 12, 1908, but had a soft opening a few days earlier. The evening meal, served at six o’clock, was not considered the official event to usher in a new era in Joplin’s history, but nevertheless was attended by Joplin society. Men wore their best formal evening attire while women wore elegant gowns and plumed hats. An orchestra serenaded the diners. The proprietors of the hotel, brothers Allen and D.J. Dean, were forced to turn away more than a hundred visitors who had hoped to dine at the Connor. Many more Joplin residents crowded the hotel to inspect the luxurious interior, though not before it was deemed safe that their shoes were not a threat to the hotel’s expensive carpets.

Allen J. Dean

D.J. Dean

The manager of the Connor was O.A. Reif, a long time employee of the Dean Brothers. Reif was assisted by Chief Clerk of the Connor, Sam B. Campbell. Campbell, in turn was aided by Carl Young, a former employee of the Keystone Hotel, and . The register, which was opened officially the day before, quickly filled up with fifty names, the first being C.V. Floyd, a traveling salesman from Chicago. By the end of the opening night, guests had contributed four more pages of signatures.

Due to Sunday laws, the Connor’s bar was not open that evening until midnight. Upon the chiming of the midnight hour, the doors to the Connor’s bar were thrown open, and the crowd swept into the room. The first to drink from the bar was A. Webber, the gentleman in charge of the installation of a refrigeration unit in the hotel. While enjoying his drink, Mr. Webber dropped a hundred dollar bill on the bar top to treat the rest of the guests to a round. It was promptly displayed on the bar’s mirror for all to see.

In order to ensure guest safety, there were only two entrances to the Connor, which the proprietors boasted protected guests from thieves. The main entrance featured a Roman canopy which led to the lobby which was graced by brilliant white marble columns. The lobby walls, which ran east to west, were lined with equally beautiful marble while the floors were covered in tinted tile. To the visitor’s right upon entering was a cigar and newsstand and the hotel office, replete with bronze and brass railings for the cashier and bookkeeper departments where visitors checked in. Elevators were also to the right. While not present opening night, a life sized oil painting of Thomas Connor was later placed on the north wall of the lobby near the office, a reminder of the man who envisioned the hotel.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of the Connor was the grand staircase located at the lobby’s west end. The steps, the balustrades, and railing were carved from the same fine marble of the lobby. Large glowing glass orbs encircled and supported by metal roses illuminated the steps. At the top of the steps, the stairway divided into opposing stairwells, one going up toward the north side of the building and the other the south. Both flights opened up to a fancifully decorated parlor on the next floor.

Interior of the Lobby

Back inside the lobby, spread throughout the long columned hall, were plush leather chairs and divans. Off of the lobby, by the office, was a seven chair barbershop, which boasted the finest barbers in Joplin, and in the basement, a billiards hall, the kitchen, and toilet rooms. There was little a visitor to Joplin, or a resident for that matter, could not enjoy or acquire within the walls of the Connor.  The history of the Connor continued for another seventy years, one that includes growth, downturn and ultimately, tragedy; all of which will be covered in continuing coverage by Historic Joplin.

Street Level Photograph of the Connor's Fourth Street facade.

Photograph of Connor in a Joplin promotional booklet

Sources: Joplin Daily Globe, Joplin News Herald, University of Missouri : Digital Library, Historic Joplin Personal Collections

Historic Joplin – An Introduction

Joplin Main Street Looking South

Historic Joplin

Once hailed as the, “City of Wealth, Industry, and Opportunity,” Joplin is no longer the proud young peacock of a city that it was at the turn of the century. Joplin’s fortunes faded with the decline of the mines after the end of World War Two. Urban renewal laid claim to some of Joplin’s more impressive accomplishments, such as the Connor Hotel, while neglect took a toll on others, as with the Union Depot.

Now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there is hope. The Frisco Building has been restored; the Olivia Apartments are in the process of being refurbished; and the Fox Theatre is still in use.

We here at Historic Joplin intend to capture the early days of Joplin in all of their glory. If you have a research suggestion, a photo you would like to share, or just want reminiscence, contact us. We’ll be glad to hear from you.