Update on Nominated Historic Districts

Becky Brill, of the city of Joplin, was kind enough to drop by and leave us an update on the status of the nominations that went before the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation on Friday.  For those of you following the status of the Joplin and Wall Historic District and the South Main Street Historic District, Becky had some good news!  Both districts were approved by the council and were recommended to be placed upon the Federal Register of Historic Places as commercial districts (which bring important tax benefits).  That final decision will be made by the Federal government in Washington, D.C.   Becky’s comment noted that that decision will probably come in October.  Let’s hope for good news in the fall!

For those of you who missed our initial coverage of the nomination of the districts, here’s the post with all the details.

Reflections on Circus Life

In the not too distant past we published a post about Hardy Hardella and his dog Moxie.  Hardy and Moxie are among our favorite Joplin residents, so when we found an article about Hardy and his days with the circus, we knew it would end up as a post.  A more specific post on Hardy himself is in the works for later.

Hardy Hardella

A distinguished Hardy Hardella, courtesy of the private collection of Judy Hurdle.

Hardy Hardella moved to Joplin in 1905.  A few years later, one of Hardella’s old circus cronies arrived in town. The two had not seen each other in twenty-five years, but Hardy and William Underwood (his stage name was William Lucifer) took up where they left off the last time they had seen one another. Underwood, still working the vaudeville circuit, arrived in Joplin for a performance and decided to call upon his old friend.

The two men first met when they worked together in the Charles Hunter Circus which traveled through Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri. Hunter, the former circus owner, still lived in the area, but instead of wrangling animals and acrobats, now proprietor of the Crescent Hotel in Pittsburg, Kansas. The two men said the circus consisted of one car, a camel, two ponies, six or seven mules, and two or three horses. Altogether there were twenty five men employed by the circus.

The circus car, an old condemned Pullman, had a secret compartment underneath it. When times were hard, half of the employees would hide in it when the conductor came around to collect train fares. One day, however, Hunter’s adopted son poked his head up out of the trap door when the conductor came through. Hunter’s circus “had hard luck on that road ever after.”

Underwood recalled the time he came to Joplin with the De Haven Circus and a fight broke out between circus employees and local miners. Angry miners cut up and destroyed the circus tents and half of the outfit was “broken up.”

After things seemed to have cooled down, another fight broke out after miners and circus workers got into a brawl at one of Joplin’s saloons. Underwood remembered “billiard cues and bottles were freely used” in the fight. Circus workers were arrested and thrown in Joplin’s city jail for a few days before they were released. Underwood remarked, “I have never forgotten that incident in Joplin. I have been all over the world since then and in every civilized nation, but I nearly always sign my residence as Joplin, MO., because of that fight and subsequent stay in jail.”

That same week, Hardy Hardella and William Underwood met old friend William McCall, who performed with Hardella as the “Hardella Brothers,” to discuss old times. The men recalled when Hardy was known as, “Hardella, the wonderful contortionist.”

Hardella Brothers ad

An advertisement for the Hardella Brothers, courtesy of Judy Hurdle.

Underwood remembered how the “old time circuses sure used to clean out a town. There was always a bunch of ‘fakirs’ that went along with the show and paid big concessions. The games they used to devise were many and varied. Yankee ingenuity being a mild term to apply to it. What money wasn’t taken in at the gates or by the shell games was usually cleaned up the ‘gooseberry crowd’ that followed the circus and while the people were watching the performance, raided the houses. Sometimes the ‘gooseberry’ bunch was in cahoots with the show and sometimes they were not, but they usually made a cleaning. Some small towns were literally wiped clean by the circus bunch.”

Locals, however, often lashed out after discovering their town had been “wiped clean.” Underwood recalled, “When they got a chance to get their breath and compare notes, they usually came down on the circus with blood in their eyes. The ‘fakirs’ had moved on to greener pastures by this time and were ready to work the next town. The circus hands had to bear the brunt of the storm. One experienced stake driver with the heavy, banded circus stake, could usually clean twelve or fifteen ‘rubes’ but just the same there was much bloodshed and cracked heads.”

He also somberly told the story of a young Kansan who had just sold a load of corn for a large sum of money, possibly as much as $200, and decided to bet it all on a shell game. He lost. The shell game operator, scared the crowd was going to attack him, fled. The young farmer chased him into a tent where the man cracked the rube over the head with a club. Underwood claimed, “It was one of the most cruel sights I have ever witnessed, but those were hard days in the circus business.”

Circuses are few and far between these days, but undoubtedly the big top once thrilled crowds all across the country, and Joplin was no exception.

Sources: Joplin Globe, Joplin News Herald, Livingston’s History of Jasper County, Bale Milling Odyssey by Judy Hurdle, Missouri Death Certificate Database 1910-1959, Judy Hurdle private collection

Downtown Areas Up For Historic Designation

Today’s Joplin Globe features an article on the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and its consideration of several areas in downtown Joplin for historic district status.   The two areas that the city wants to join the Sunshine Lamp District include an area located between Joplin and Wall and 1st and 3rd streets and would be known as the Joplin and Wall Historic District, the other would be the South Main Street Historic District, an area on the west side of Main Street between 1st and 2nd Streets.   If the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation signs off on these nominations, they would then be forwarded to the Federal Register of Historic Places.  If placed on the register, buildings in the districts could qualify for Federal and state tax credits.

Here’s a link to a draft of the Joplin and Wall Historic District nomination.

The draft describes the historic area:

“”The Joplin and Wall Avenues Historic District (Photos 1‐11) consists of an approximately three square‐block 5‐acre area in the northern reaches of the central business district of Joplin, which is in Jasper County, in southwestern Missouri. The district is topographically flat and contains a total of 13 buildings dating from c. 1900 through the 1930s, all of load‐bearing masonry construction, flat‐roofed, and ranging in height from one story to five stories; no residential buildings are in the district. (continued below…)

Joplin Supply Company building

Joplin Supply Company building is included in the Joplin and Wall Historic District

“(continued…) The nominated area is located along a grid of three blocks of Joplin and Wall Streets which run north‐to south and are intersected by West First, West Second, and West Third Streets and unnamed alleys running both north‐south and east‐west. Of the 13 buildings in the district one, the Joplin Supply Company (Resource No. 13; Photos 3, 6), was previously listed in the National Register (NR 2007). Of the remaining 12 unlisted buildings, 11 contribute to the character of the district and one is a noncontributing element with reference to the district as a whole. The overall appearance of the district is entirely commercial, lacking landscaping and characterized by a grid of paved streets and alleys, concrete sidewalks, with most buildings built flush with one another. Some buildings have associated surface parking; the largest vacant parcel is associated with a 1936 former bus depot (Resource No. 5); this parcel was used historically for bus parking.”

Hulbert Chapel 2010

Hulbert Chapel, next door to the Joplin Supply Company building is also part of the nominated Joplin and Wall District

The draft provides a list of the properties, a brief description of each, as well some history.  Such recognizable buildings are the Joplin Supply Company building, the Greyhound Bus Depot across from the library, and the old court house post office building.

Here’s the link to the draft for the nomination of the South Main Historic District.

The draft describes the area as:

“The South Main Street Historic District (Photos 1‐8; Figs. 1‐4) is located in the City of Joplin, Jasper County, in southwestern Missouri. This one‐block long linear district encompasses less than one acre and occupies all of the west side of South Main Street between West First and West Second Streets and consists entirely of commercial architecture dating from the turn of the twentieth century through c. 1910. The district is located at the northern periphery of the central business district and contains ten buildings of one and two stories in height, all of load‐bearing masonry construction. Two buildings are non‐contributing elements within the context of the district as a whole and the remaining eight are contributing.

The district retains the characteristic dense concentration of development which typifies most downtown areas, with all buildings constructed without front‐lot setback. Rear‐lot setbacks vary
from building to building, and surface parking is provided behind most properties. All but two of the district’s buildings are built flush with one another; two adjacent buildings are separated by a narrow walkway. The district fronts on South Main Street, West First and Second Streets form the district’s north and south boundary, respectively, and an unnamed alley establishes the district’s western boundary. New construction and vacant lots are immediately adjacent to the nominated district, and the Joplin and Wall Avenues Historic District, nominated concomitant with this district but distinct in its own right, is to the west.”

Miles Block circa 1902

The Miles Block as it appeared around 1902.

The district primarily concerns the strip of beautiful buildings on the west side of Main Street from 2nd street up that include the striking Miles Block.

Miles Block 2010

The Miles Block, as it appears today, is included in the South Main Street District nomination

For those of you interested in learning more about the architecture used in the construction of these buildings, as well as for some brief histories, we encourage you to read the drafts in greater detail.  The Council will meet this Friday to discuss the nominations.

Joplin Police Department 1907 (Correction: 1902)

Another in our “We Wish We Had the Originals” series of photographs, this time with the 1907 Joplin Police Department.  If you missed yesterday’s post, here’s the link to the 1907 Joplin Fire Department.

Joplin Police Department 1907

Click on the image for a larger version.

From left to right – Top Line:  N.H. Milligan, John Ginsler, C.H. Cole, Henry Burns, Nathan Swift, Perry Snow, J.E. Gilmore.  Middle Line:  Grant Davis, C.E. Chapman, Fred Sellars, Charles Moore, Joseph Reubart, J.H. Holmes, J.H. McCoy, J.H. Johnson.  Bottom Line:  Night Captain Thomas Lawson, Day Captain T.F. Ogburn, Marshal Joseph H. Myers, Police Matron Ellen Ayers, Deputy Marshall J.J. Cofer, Joseph Giles, James A. Rose

Of note:  See here for more information on the police matron, Ellen Ayers,  (who’s seated in the front row).

Joplin's first police matron, Ellen Ayers

Pictured here, Ellen Ayers took on the role of police matron at the age of 64.

Joplin Fire Department 1907 (Correction: 1902)

Following yesterday’s post about the Southwest Firemen’s Association Tournament in Joplin, here’s a somewhat clear photograph of the men who fought the fires of Joplin in 1907 (1902).  This would be the last year before the transition from fire horse to fire automobile.

Joplin Fire Department 1907

Joplin Fire Department 1907

The Top Line from Left to Right:  George Hays, Hiram Franks, Bert Davis, Albert J. Foster.  Middle line from Left to Right: John Hinds, Henry Staab, T.E. Fowler, A.L. Moore.  Bottom line from Left to Right: R.S. Pierson, Fire Chief Frank Zellers, and William Griffith.

The Joplin Fireman’s Tournament and Farewell To Old Friends

In our earlier coverage of the origin of the Joplin Fire Department, we concluded with the transition by the department from horse drawn fighting apparatus to fire fighting equipment mounted on automobiles.  This transition did not occur without fanfare or no little publicity.

The Joplin Fire Department received many responses to the Southwest Firemen's Association tournament

The Joplin Fire Department received an overwhelming response to the tournament invitation.

Instead, the Joplin Fire Department opted to showcase their new fire trucks by hosting the Southwest Firemen’s Association annual tourney.  The tournament, which was to run for three days, was expected to draw the biggest crowd yet in the history of the tournament.  At least 30 teams were expected to come from the four state region to compete in multiple events in teams of 17.  The main attraction, however, was the Joplin Fire Department’s new fire engines, which claimed to be among the first in the nation to harness the power of the automobile engine to power the attached fire fighting apparatus. (Previously, the apparatus was merely attached).  Also of note, Joplin believed itself the first to attach a chemical tank to an automobile, which combined two of the most modern fire fighting technologies.  Highlighting the exhibition would be a race between the 75 horse power fire engines around Barbee racetrack, a first ever in the United States.  The News Herald excitedly predicted the experience:

“At Barbee park they will see the big machines on the line, hear the starter’s revolver fired, then with a chug the red devils will be off, sailing around the track, only a mass of bright colors in which the blue of the fire laddies mingles with the gaudy red and gold of the machines, and they will see the machines, only a streak of red, as their drivers send them down the home stretch faster than 75 miles an hour, with the gong of the big fire bells sounding as the winner shoots over the tape.”

Cartoon of a fire engine racing on a race track

A cartoon depiction of fire engines racing around the Barbee track!

Not to be forgotten were the fire horses, who had there own races as well.  The horses, still retained by the Joplin department, would have a chance to race against those from other departments before literally being put out to pasture.  The big horses which had the hard task of pulling the fire wagons through the streets of Joplin at breakneck speeds, had one last opportunity to demonstrate their ability.

On September 8, 1908, the first day of meeting of the Southwest Fire Association began on a Tuesday morning with the business meeting of the association at the Commercial Club.  Mayor Jesse Osborne enthusiastically greeted the firemen, “Joplin wants you to have a good time.  The city is thrown wide open to you and if you see anything which you want that is tied down, tear it loose.” Speakers included an invocation by Reverend W.F. Turner, the president of the Commercial Club Col. H.B. Marchbank, as well as two past presidents of the association, and the current president from Neosho, Missouri, Jonathon M. Sherwood.  Present at the meeting were 25 delegations from the four states, who opted to adjourn at 10 am.

Jonathan M. Sherwood, President of Southwest Firemen's Association in 1908

Jonathan M. Sherwood, President of Southwest Firemen's Association in 1908

The afternoon must have been a delight to small boys and girls who crowded Main Street and the other streets along the parade route to witness a mile long parade of firemen and their fire fighting apparatuses.  It began at approximately 2:30 pm at the central fire fighting station with the vanguard composed of a handpicked squad of 18 mounted police officers lead by Joplin Police Chief, Joe Meyers and his Assistant Police Chief Cofer.  Behind them marched a band, and behind this musical introduction, companies of firemen from Galena, Weir City, Scammon, Gas City, Neosho, Carterville.  Veteran firemen of the association followed with veteran Joplin firemen right behind them.  These veterans pulled a cart with them, the first piece of fire fighting equipment ever employed by the department. Behind them rode city officials in carriages who were trailed by the four automobile engines of the department, as well four horse drawn engines.  Over a thousand visitors, it was estimated, had arrived in Joplin for the tournament.
After the parade, crowds gathered at the central fire station to examine the “big machines” which demonstrated their capability and even raced down Main Street in a demonstration and “the speed of the automobiles and the dexterity with which they were handled elicited much applause.”  However, the appreciative crowds had to wait until 1pm the next day to see the machines on the race track.

Joplin fire engines on race track

Photograph from 1909 Popular Mechanics of Joplin's fire engines on the racetrack.

Wednesday saw the main attractions of the tournament with fire engines raced around Barbee racetrack.  Nor were the fire departments ready to forget their fire horses with an exciting race between the Joplin departments taking place.  Before an estimated crowd of 3,500, the victor of that narrow contest was Station No. 3 of South Joplin.  The firemen of South Joplin were pulled to victory by the beloved bay and iron gray fire horses, King and John.  They defeated the other Joplin pair of fire horses, Tom and Dan.

“ The horses started on the word “go,” and with a bound were off, throwing dust.  With the bells of the wagons clanging, the horses tore around the track, coming down the home stretch with remarkable speed.”

Other competitions involved laying out 150 feet of hose and then “water thrown” to stop the clock.  Specifically, teams had to race to a line, then attach a hose to a hydrant and put a nozzle on the hose.  It was the firemen from Carterville who ended up excelling at this contest.  Numerous other competitions occurred which revolved around other skills essential to the task of fighting fires.

Highlights from the Southwest Firemen's Association tournament

A depiction of moments from mainly Wednesday's activities at the tournament.

The final day of the tournament was expected to draw even more to Barbee’s racetrack than the 3,500 from the day before.  The main attraction was a real demonstration of firefighting by the Joplin stations.  A two story wood structure, doused in oil, was built upon the race grounds and set aflame.  It was decided before hand that the structure would “be allowed to get well under way before the automobiles leave their stations.”  Before a crowd of thousands, the Joplin firemen arrived, bells ringing, and extinguished the flames.

It was a seminal moment for not just Joplin’s fire department, of which the city and its residents intensely proud, but also for fire fighting across the nation.  It represented the beginning of the end of the fire horse and the introduction of the modern fire engine.  Though, as one editorial cartoon depicted about a week after the tournament, the fire horses, while replaced, were loved and would be missed.

Joplin fireman saying goodbye to his fire horse.

A Joplin fireman bids a tearful farewell.

Source: Joplin News Herald

The Other Crystal Cave – Pack Your Canoe

In the spring of 1910, miners of the Lincoln Mine in nearby Duenweg set off a charge in the walls of the mine.  The earth shuddered and thunder rumbled from the earth instead of the sky.  Then something not quite expected happened, water poured out of the breach in the wall and flooded the mine.  As a precaution, the miners had set off the charges from a safe distance and the subterranean flood caused only disruption of mining activities and no physical harm.

In the weeks that followed the water was pumped out and finally miners with their sunshine lamps beamed light into what appeared to be a cavern 240 feet beneath the earth.  The light glistened off of walls and a ceiling of calcite crystals and the reflective surface of an underground lake.  The lake ran north south within the crystal cavern that averaged forty feet in width and fifty feet in height.  The miners quickly hauled down a canoe with which to explore the length of the lake and noted that the cave’s “beauty far eclipses anything heretofore discovered in the district.”  The exploration was short lived as a “monster tiff crystal” suddenly detached from the ceiling and smashed through the middle of the miners’ craft.

As the water continued to be pumped, the lake receded from a pitched ceiling of razor sharp crystals and the miners slowly gained more and more access to the lake via both canoe and by foot.  Eventually, as such barriers as the sharp crystals and the dark waters presented fully pinpointing the cave’s end, the miners believed the cavern ran from at least 800 feet to thousands of feet into the earth.  While the ground was probed for zinc or lead, the mining company ran into the problem of falling crystals.  Every shot and blast from elsewhere in the mine or neighboring mines shook the earth and caused the razor edged calcite crystals to plummet from the ceiling.  For at least then, the miners had to settle for a bounty of beauty, if not jack and lead.

The present state of this other crystal cave is unknown, but like its better known associate within Joplin’s city limits, its likely once again filled with water, perhaps someday to be plied again by canoe.

Source: Joplin News Herald

Historic Ozark Memorial Park Threatened with Auction

In today’s Joplin Globe is an article covering the current financial status of Ozark Memorial Park.  The cemetery, located at the corner of St. Louis and Langston Hughes Broadway, was established in 1928 by George W. Crocker.  The cemetery has remained a family business ever since, but several judgments by the state and county for failure to pay taxes may result in the cemetery business being sold at auction.

An Accident Spurs the Creation of Joplin’s First Motorcycle Cop

An example of a motorcycle patrolman from around 1922 via Library of Congress

At approximately 5:45 pm on a Monday in June, Roscoe Barbee, son of the wealthy and influential Gilbert Barbee, drove quickly north on Joplin Street in his Speedwell touring car.  His speed reportedly between 30 and 45 miles per hour, Barbee passed over 6th Street and headed for 5th under the late afternoon sun.  At the same time, a horse drawn buggy slowly made its way west along 5th Street.  Its occupants were four young women, Mary Delaney, 19 years of age and a stenographer at the Rudd Insurance company, was accompanied by her guest, Minnie Sanford from nearby Jasper, and the 20 year old twin Shigley sisters, Ruth and Blanche.  Ruth worked as a bookkeeper for the Thomas Fruit Company and her sister, a stenographer like Delaney, worked at the Walker Insurance Company.

The collision occurred as the four women turned their buggy into a right hand turn to proceed north up Joplin and as Barbee turned left to go east on 5th Street.  The touring car clipped the wheel of the buggy, which sent its occupants into the air, while Barbee skidded to a stop some distance down 5th Street.  The witnesses were many, one being deputy constable Fred Gault, who raced down 5th Street to arrest Barbee.  A city prosecutor, W.N. Andrews, volunteered himself as a witness.

The women were found lying on the street paved with bricks.  Blanche Shigley and Minnie Sanford, though stunned, suffered only bruises.  Ruth Shigley and Mary Delaney, however, were seriously injured.  Witnesses quickly reached the women and carried them in out of the summer heat and into nearby homes and buildings.  Mary, described as having sustained a skull fracture and “her face disfigured,” was carried into the home of J.M. Ryall, at 420 Joplin Street, where Mrs. Ryall, who knew Delaney, failed to recognize due to the extent of her injuries.  Such were the severity, that Delaney’s identity was at first hard to establish.

Ruth Shigley, was also horribly mangled, having sustained injuries to her head and internally.  Unconscious, she was carried into the lobby of the Lyric Theater, where her less seriously injured sister Blanche had previously been taken.  From there, an ambulance from the J.M. Myall Undertaking Company transported her to St. John’s Hospital.  The News Herald reported, “her clothing was bespattered with blood and her features were not recognizable by those who crowded about her.”

Roscoe Barbee was unhurt and by 7pm, just under an hour and a half later, had been arraigned for one charge of feloniously maiming to Mary Delaney, and then an hour later, received a second charge for gross negligence and causing the injuries to the Shigley sisters.  A preliminary hearing was set for Saturday, and Barbee was quickly bonded out of jail for $7,500 courtesy Dan F. Dugan.

By Wednesday, doctors at St. John’s, believed that both women had a fair chance at recovery despite the fact that neither of them had regained consciousness.  Further details were offered toward the women’s injuries, with doctors unable to discern if Mary Delaney had suffered any skull fractures, but had sustained a crushed cheek bone.  Ruth Shigley, had suffered several fractures of the skull and doctors were forced to act to relieve the pressure that built behind the injuries.  That morning, Ruth had emerged from unconsciousness only briefly, before she had slipped back out.  Of the other two women, Ruth’s sister, Blanche, and Minnie Sanford, they were described as suffering from a nervous shock, but were otherwise unharmed. Barbee, meanwhile, refused to offer comment about the accident.

The talk not dedicated to the state of the girls on Wednesday was devoted to the pressing need for a motorcycle for the Joplin Police Department.  Motorcycles were not yet commonly found in police departments at the time, but a great amount of frustration revolved around the failure of motorist to abide by the city’s speed limits and the police department’s ability to capture and punish those violators.  The speed limit in Joplin at the time was eight miles per hour.  As previously noted, witnesses believed that Barbee had been traveling at a rate between 30 to 45 miles per hour.

Assistant Police Chief Ed Portley was eager to comment on the need of a motorcycle for the department, “The police need a motorcycle.”  Portley continued, “We are doing our utmost to arrest all person who are guilty of violating the speed law, but when there is no evidence obtained except that furnished by pedestrians or others who have no means of rapid riding, it is hard to convict the guilty.”  Portley pointed out that with a motorcycle, “whenever a machine was seen speeding the patrolman could follow, gain all the evidence necessary and a conviction would follow, in all probability.”  The assistant police chief went on to note that the presence of the motorcycle patrolman would likely greatly decrease the number of speeding vehicles and if the city council would not pay for a motorcycle, the department would find a way to procure one.

Future Mayor Taylor Snapp also weighed in on the issue through his position as president of the Joplin Automobile club.  Snapp quickly noted that speeders would not be defended by the club, more so, that the club would do everything it could to assist the police.  Snapp offered, “If necessary the club will furnish a special automobile for the purpose.”  Though, Snapp agreed, “I think the city should employ a motorcycle policeman to look after unruly auto drivers.”  The president of the auto club also raised the issue of speed limits and pointed out that the state’s speed law conflicted with the Joplin speed law in residential areas, with Joplin’s law being a lower speed.  Furthermore, most automobiles had a hard time keeping to such low speeds in their high gear and that existing conditions should dictate the speed that a car might go, regardless of the neighborhood.  He added, “a great speed should not be attained within the city limits, no matter how clear the streets may be…”

While the debate continued, the condition of Ruth Shigley finally began to improve, while Mary Delaney not nearly as much.  While Roscoe Barbee’s lawyer argued that none of the charges were applicable to his client with the exception of possibly a misdemeanor charge of fast driving, Mary Delaney continued to slip in and out of consciousness.

At this point, the newspaper coverage of the affairs of Roscoe Barbee and the condition of Ruth Shigley and Mary Delaney falls from the front page coverage it had enjoyed.  The conclusion to their stories remain to be discovered and reported.  One result can be reported.  In the first week of June, 1911, Mayor Osborne offered a commission to Joplin’s first motorcycle patrolman, J.C. Haus.  While the make and model of the patrolman’s motorcycle was not provided other than it being “the best and fastest” available, it was boasted that the machine could reach 60 miles per hour and possibly faster.  Two more machines were to be ordered for the constabulary force.

The procedure for enforcing the speed limit was simply for the patrolman to catch up to the speeding vehicle, note his speed, as it would be the same as the violator’s, and write down the motor vehicle’s number, and then report the matter to “proper officers.” A register existed which cross-referenced the vehicle number and the owner, and by checking against this register, the owner could be summoned to court to pay for his or her speeding crime.  As a tangent matter, efforts were to be made to insure that all cars displayed their numbers properly and had lights.

Thus, from an accident at the intersection of 5th and Joplin Streets, Joplin came to acquire its first motorcycle for the police force.  The force still retains motorcycles today, as late as 2007, when the department received two Harley Davidson motorcycles as a gift from a local Harley Davidson dealer.  From 1911 to today, the Joplin Police Department has been employing motorcycle patrolmen for nearly a century.

Sources: Joplin News Herald

Museum Expert Visits Joplin

As reported in the Joplin Globe today, the Joplin Museum Complex in Schifferdecker Park was visited yesterday by Mary Frances Turner, of Synergy Design Group (a museum design firm) and a museum expert.  Ms. Turner was invited by Chad Greer, the architect hired by City Manager, Mark Rohr, to oversee the expected costs of restoring the Depot.  The purpose of her visit was to evaluate the collection of the museum and to offer her analysis on whether the Union Depot would be a suitable home for the museum.

Of note is the fact that the museum houses an extensive photographic collection of early Joplin, not to mention an amazing mineral collection.  The Globe quoted Ms. Turner as responding, “This is it,” Turner said of the photographs and other historical documents, some of them portraying life in the lead and zinc mines that underpin the founding of Joplin and much of the region. “This is a gold mine” for research, she said.”

Per the condition of the Depot, the matter of the standing water in the basement was raised as an issue toward the climate controlled nature that will be demanded of the new home for the museum. There was also the question of parking.

For those of us closely following the situation, we will have to wait another 4 to 6 weeks for Ms. Turner’s report.

Needless to say, here’s our rather passionate response!

The article also states,

“[Museum Director Brad] Belk has used the materials in some local history books he has written, but the public is largely unaware of the photographs because there is no space in the current setup for them to be accessed or viewed by visitors.

Belk and Shirley listed the mineral collection and mining machines, the local history exhibits and archives, an 8,000-item presidential collection, a collection of World War II-era uniforms, fashions and textiles, Civil War items, and dolls as among the collections that need display space. Some have never been viewed by the public.”

First, as we have repeatedly discussed in the past, Brad Belk has refused access to the photograph collection to visitors (including us). Will this really change if the museum relocates to a new building? If there is a new facility, will Belk finally allow the public to view and obtain copies of photographs, use them in books, or other publications?

To be honest, we’re skeptical. It appears as if he treats the collection as his own personal fiefdom. If Belk was smart, he would model the photograph collection like the one at the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale, Arkansas, one of the finest small museums in nation.

If you want to see what the Joplin Museum Complex should be like, then visit the Shiloh Museum. It has the largest photograph collection in the state of Arkansas that is lovingly and professionally cared for by trained, expert staff.  The museum features an art collection (artwork is frequently rotated on a regular basis), permanent exhibits about life in the Ozarks, rotating exhibits on topics of local, regional, and national interest, a superb museum collection, and outdoor exhibits. Its staff have years of museum and public history experience with actual degrees and training in the museum field. Its director is very active (committee and board member) in the American Association of Museums (AAM) the lead organization in the field. Supported by the city of Springdale, Arkansas, and private donors, it operates on a small budget every year, less than $500,000.

Can Brad Belk run a museum like that?  It is yet to be seen.

Here’s our view: Get a new building, get a new director, and dump the cookie cutter/doll collection. Museums cannot and should not collect every item that comes in the door. Cut the excess and focus on the true gems of the collection.

However, even if the Joplin Museum Complex does not move into the Union Depot, its collections of Joplin’s history must be made available to the public.  Such historic treasures should not be relegated to the private fiefdom of the museum to be made available at the whims of the museum’s leadership.  We at Historic Joplin have been to a number of research centers and a research area may only consist of a table and a couple chairs.   It is not a difficult matter to take up.  In terms of organizing the collection, it is amazing what earnest volunteers are willing to do and organize if only given the proper direction.

Second, this has not been the first time the issue of water has been raised concerning the Union Depot as a home to the museum.  We can only hope that it does not represent a barrier to the decision to move the museum.  While we are not experts in restoration or plumbing, it would seem that waterproofing a basement is not high on the list of complex restoration work.  The cost of this fix should be considered with the benefit to restoring and saving an architectural masterpiece, as well providing the collections of the Joplin Museum Complex a worthy and admirable home. We Missourians are known for our tenacity, our resourcefulness, and our resiliency.

Finally, this is an important moment for Joplin and its history.  The chance exists to save a building that has been neglected for too long and to provide the museum a home with roots nearly as deep as the city itself.  The Union Depot is more accessible to those lured to the rehabilitated downtown area than the Joplin Museum Complex’s present home and it is a beautiful building that need not be viewed from Main Street to be admired for its style and design.

We hope that Mary Frances Turner can overlook the weak complaints about water at the Union Depot and will recommend that it should serve as the new home of the Joplin Museum Complex. Make a bold leap of faith and save the Union Depot and provide the citizens of Joplin with a credible museum.

If you want to voice your support for the Union Depot, why not contact the Mayor Mike Woolston, City Manager Mark Rohr, and Museum Director Brad Belk? Tell them what you think. Let your voices be heard.

Joplin Union Depot

Save the Union Depot!