Perils of the Mines – Snapshot 1910

In the background, two miners examine the roof of the mine.

From the beginning, lead and zinc mining in the Joplin district was a dangerous means to make a living, and if lucky, a fortune, too.   The year 1910 was considered a good one, respectively, when compared to 1909 when 51 miners lost their lives.  In 1910, in contrast, only 32 miners were killed in the pursuit of the valuable ore.   Every year, mine inspectors from the state toured the mines which surrounded Joplin to ensure compliance with mining laws and to note deaths and the causes behind them.  In 1910, two inspectors toured 551 mines and 65 accidents.  Here are the results and a snapshot of mining in Joplin in 1910.

In summary, the most dangerous element in a mine came from above.  Of the combined deaths and serious injuries, falling mine roofs accounted for 27% of the victims.  The next deadliest was the more obvious danger of explosives in the form of premature explosions, squib shot (involved in the dynamiting process), and to a degree, the foul air which was caused by failing to blow out the air in a mine following an explosion.   Sadly, even entering and exiting a mine bore a certain amount of lethal danger, as our previous post on the unfortunate Number 52 noted.


Source: Joplin News Herald

From the beginning, lead and zinc mining in the Joplin district was a dangerous means to make a living, and if lucky, a fortune, too.   The year 1910 was considered a good one, respectively, when compared to 1909 when 51 miners lost their lives.  In 1910, in contrast, only 32 miners were killed in the pursuit of the valuable ore.   Every year, mine inspectors from the state toured the mines which surrounded Joplin to ensure compliance with mining laws and to note deaths and the causes behind them.  In 1910, two inspectors toured 551 mines and 65 accidents.  Here are the results and a snapshot of mining in Joplin in 1910.

History Day Returns to Joplin

As the snows continue to melt away and we can begin to envision warmer days and the return of leaves on trees, flowers on the ground, and birds from southern lands, we also have the return of the annual National History Day event. On March 4, students in Joplin will be participating in the event that will culminate in competition on the state level in Columbia in April.

To learn more about History Day, we contacted Dr. Paul Teverow, a professor of History at Missouri Southern State University since 1982, and the National History Day Coordinator for Missouri Region 6. Dr. Teverow was kind enough to answer some questions we had about the event.

Dr. Paul Teverow

Historic Joplin: What is National History Day?

Dr. Teverow: It is an academic program for students grades 8-12. Students present their research and analysis – in the form of papers, exhibits, performances, documentaries, or websites – on historical topics of their choosing related to the annual theme. The 2011 theme is “Debate and Diplomacy in History: Successes, Failures, Consequences.”

Historic Joplin: When did it come to Joplin?

Dr. Teverow: I believe 1979 was the first year at MSSU, where the Social Sciences Department has always sponsored the contest for this part of Missouri.

Historic Joplin: How did you become involved with History Day?

Dr. Teverow: When I came to MSSU in 1982, I joined colleagues in the Social Sciences Department who served as judges. In 1989, the Department Head asked if I would serve as contest coordinator. And that’s the way it’s been.

Historic Joplin: What has surprised you most about the students participating in National History Day?

Dr. Teverow: I am first of all surprised by the high quality of so many entries. Stories about education and student achievement today tend to focus on the low motivation and achievement of American youth. But in most of the entries, I see a depth of research not so common “in my day.” Some of them have found primary sources in archives & online that even judges familiar with the topic had not known about. On the few occasions when I have judged in recent years, I have also been impressed by quality of presentation in the exhibits, performances, and documentaries. Many students show a real talent for presenting their research in an engaging manner. If you saw the best of these entries in a museum or on PBS, you’d believe that they were created by professionals. Plus who would not be surprised to be an in auditorium full of 12-18 year olds who are genuinely excited to be participating in an academic contest?

Historic Joplin: We’ve had science fairs for decades, why do you think it took so long to have an event for history established?

Dr. Teverow: It’s true that History Day has not been around as long as Science Fair, but at 37 years [the first contest was in 1974], it’s hardly the new kid on the block. You’re right; it is still not as well known as Science Fair, but each year, about 500,000 students nationwide participate. That’s not chopped liver!

Historic Joplin: What are the benefits of History Day for students? For teachers?

Dr. Teverow: First and foremost, History Day gets students excited about history. Researching a History Day project has to be among the best way for students to learn that history matters: that events in the past have shaped their world; that what people choose to do and how they choose to do it have consequences; that for almost everything they take for granted, the past presents alternatives, some disastrous, some surprisingly viable. I have also had several History Day alumni and their parents tell me that History Day played a very valuable role in preparing them for college, because in the course of creating a History Day entry, they develop:

● critical thinking and problem-solving skills
● research and reading skills
● oral and written communication and presentation skills

Teachers also testify to the educational benefits. They have shared with me examples of how History Day motivates students and brings out hitherto hidden talents.

Historic Joplin: Is participation growing every year?

Dr. Teverow: During my almost 30-year involvement, it has fluctuated quite a bit, with about 200 total entries in a “normal” year. This year, because many schools are cutting back on anything that requires transportation off-campus, I expect participation to be down a bit.

Historic Joplin: Do students cover Joplin/Southwest Missouri personalities and topics? Have any stuck out in your mind as memorable?

Dr. Teverow: So long as it can be connected with the annual theme, ANY topic in world, US, or local history is fair game. I do find that for some students, a topic with a local connection makes history seem more immediate. It may also lead them to unusual primary sources and help them better understand how historians use primary sources to reconstruct the past. Of course, with entries on local history, it is especially important to place the developments in the context of broader developments during the period in question. Here is a sampling of award-winning entries from the past few years with local connections:

2006 Sarah Mouton, Carthage High School, Carthage, Teacher/s: Caroline Tubbs; A Talking Campaign: Emily Newell Blair Takes a Stand for Social Justice and Political Equality.

2007 CORY BAKER, SARCOXIE HS Teacher(s): DIANNE ELLIOTT
Entry Title: RIPE FOR THE PICKING: THE STORY OF SOUTHWEST MISSOURI

2008 JENNIE SNYDER CARTHAGE JUNIOR HIGH Teacher(s): KATHLEEN SWIFT/SUE PITTS Entry Title: COMPROMISING A LIFE: NANCY CRUZAN’S CONFLICT IN DEATH

2009 Julia Lewis Annie Baxter: Woman, Wife, and County Clerk Annie Baxter: Woman, Wife, and County Clerk Joplin, MO, Joplin High School, Andy

2010 Eric Peer, Hoisting Joplin to Fame: The Freeman Hoist
Carthage, MO, Home School TEACHER(s) Julie Peer

Historic Joplin: How can individuals who aren’t teachers and students be involved? Can people donate money to support National History Day?

Dr. Teverow: I’m always on the lookout for judges. History Day could not work without qualified judges. In the end, what most students take away from History Day is feedback from the judges. Having someone show an interest in the project they have put hours into researching and developing, being able to be the expert when someone asks them questions, hearing and reading praise for what they have done right and constructive comments on what could have made the project even better – all of these things make students feel that their efforts were worthwhile and keep students coming back. Over the years, I have been fortunate to have a great corps of judges. They include my colleagues in the Social Sciences Department, MSSU faculty from several other departments, professionals from area museums and archives, retired teachers, and people in various walks of life with a love of history.

Yes, national History Day welcomes donations. See http://nhd.org/WhySupport.htm I am embarrassed to say that until I read your question, I had not thought of establishing a special History Day fund at MSSU, but I will definitely look into it.

Thank you for your time and answers, Dr. Teverow!

In addition to the information provided to us by Dr. Teverow, an independent evaluation of the program just released findings that support the benefit of National History Day to students.  The evaluation discovered that students who participated in National History Day performed better on standardized tests than non-participating students, and not just in history, but other subjects like mathematics, reading and science.

Understandably, History Day is something we can definitely get behind here at Historic Joplin!  For information on National History Day, just click on this link.

Joplin Before Urban Renewal

It is obvious to many the impact urban renewal had on Joplin’s downtown area. While the parking lots are many, many may not recall what once stood in those locations. In the photograph below, taken in 1955, we have a rare opportunity to see the downtown of Joplin right before the beginning of urban renewal in the following decade. See how many of the historic buildings you can spot. We’ll post again this weekend pointing out what is where.

Joplin, 1955.

Printed with permission from the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Close up on the downtown area.

Feel free to click on the images for slightly bigger versions.  Unfortunately, the internet publishing policy of the State Historical Society prevents us from offering larger versions.

Source: State Historical Society of Missouri

A Soiled Dove Returns

Florence Woodson was hailed as one of “the most notorious denizens of the north end.” She had spent “many long and tedious hours behind the bars” and “years in dives of ill fame” when her mother appeared in Joplin and forced her to return home. Florence, it was said, had left her home in Springfield years before and journeyed to Joplin’s tough North End where she found work as a soiled dove. She soon gained the reputation as one of the “toughest of the tough.”

When her mother arrived, she found her daughter in jail, held on a charge of prostitution. Their meeting was “a heart rending scene” as Florence’s mother told her that Florence’s father had died from grief after she left home. Florence promised to leave her life on the streets and return home to Springfield. She was released from jail and left Joplin. It was rumored that she had indeed returned to the straight and narrow, but she eventually returned to Joplin, hoping to visit the “scenes of her dissipation” while on an excursion to nearby Carthage.

Florence, however, found that Joplin’s North End had changed. Many of the “resorts” were deserted; some even partially destroyed. Once the scene of “music, dancing, and wrong-doing galore,” reform-minded middle-class women had led a somewhat effort to drive the prostitutes, gamblers, and criminals from the North End, many of whom were African-American.

The police, alerted to Florence’s return, arrested her in a rooming house on Main Street. She begged that if released she would never return to Joplin. The judge fined her $5 and costs before releasing her. Florence reportedly caught a train back to Springfield. One more soiled dove had come and gone, but there would always be more to fill the bars and boarding houses of Joplin.

Source: Joplin News-Herald

No. 52

No. 52 often visited his friends who worked in the mines.

“No other Chinaman in Joplin has ever enjoyed the distinction of being the mixer that No. 52 was,” the Joplin News Herald remarked, recalling the life of one of the city’s few Chinese residents.

Little is known about “No. 52.” According to an article in the News-Herald, “No. 52” was the nickname of a Chinese immigrant named “Sam Wung, or something of a similar sound.” He was born the son of a fish vendor in Hong Kong. After he fell in love with the daughter of a well-to-do Hong Kong merchant, Sam sought to prove himself worthy of her love. Despite his best efforts, Sam failed to acquire the wealth he sought. So he boarded a ship for the United States, arriving in Louisiana, and found work at a cotton plantation.

Sam found himself working in cotton fields alongside African-Americans. It was also in Louisiana there that he obtained the nickname “No. 52.” “When payday came he received his envelope marked 52. And the title stuck with him.” A man named C.B. Oats met Sam in Louisiana and brought him to Joplin to find work in the mines. When a miner asked, “What’s the Chink’s name?” Oats replied, “They call him No. 52.” The name stuck.

Sam spoke wistfully of the girl he left behind in Hong Kong, but declared he could not return because a group of white men had cut off his queue while in Louisiana. Chinese men were required to wear their hair in a queue [pigtail] in deference to the emperor. If a Chinese citizen disobeyed this order, it was considered treason, and the penalty for disobedience was death. Fearful he would be executed if he returned to Hong Kong, Sam hoped to save up enough money to send for his beloved.

He found work in the mine of Monroe Clark and John F. Wise located on West Third Street just south of the Joplin Overall Factory near Byers Avenue. According to the News-Herald, Sam was the only Chinese immigrant to work in Joplin’s mines. It was explained that “Unlike his fellow yellow skinned brethren who contented themselves with cleaning dirty clothes and eating rice three times a day, No. 52 sought employment with white men, and despite his nationality he became a favorite.”

For “a number of years he labored with white men. Industrious, good natured, and honest, he won for himself an esteem that is seldom granted to Chinamen.” Impressed with Sam and his rapport with miners, John F. Wise offered him a position as a clerk in his grocery store, which Sam accepted. But even though he worked behind a counter, Sam would leave work in the evening to go to the mine and “spend many hours with the boys underground, chatting and telling stories.”

It was on one of these occasions that Sam stepped onto a tub to be lowered into the mine when tragedy struck. As the tub descended, the “can dropped suddenly a distance of fifteen feet, then stopped.” A cable had slipped on the whim [a whim was a large windlass]. Sam was jerked out of the tub and was “dashed to death” on the floor of the mine one hundred and thirty feet below. His broken body was retrieved and laid to rest in Fairview Cemetery. Sam’s grave was marked with a simple stone that read, “No. 52.”

His death brought sorrow to “hundreds of hearts for No. 52 was a popular Chinaman and he numbered his friends by his acquaintances.”

Source: Joplin News Herald

Joplin’s Pulitzer Prize Winning Baseball Player

“A great gentleman, a great writer, has gone.”  So concluded an obituary in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of the journalist Bart Howard.  Among the many newspaper writers to pass through Joplin on the staffs of the News Herald and the Globe, Howard is among the most prominent.

Bart Howard was born in Worchester, Massachusetts in 1871.  As a boy he walked the privileged halls of Phillips Exeter Academy.  He attended Williams College where he excelled at athletics.  Howard did not graduate from the school, but left early after upsetting the faculty with a paper which mocked certain giants of Greek history.  From New England Howard eventually made his way to Joplin around 1901 and found a job with the News Herald.  He initially provided coverage of Joplin’s triumphs and failures in the Missouri Valley baseball league.  Howard had developed a love for the game in college, and briefly played professionally as a left handed second baseman as a means to supplement the meager income of a young journalist.

Howard did not remain merely a sports writer, but expanded to general news coverage.  After a few years, the talented journalist was noticed by the owners of the Globe and they hired Howard away from their competitor and placed him on the editorial staff of the Globe.  At the Globe, Howard rose to the position of managing editor, and oversaw Ben H. Reese, later a managing editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Wesley Winans Stout, later an editor of the Saturday Evening Post.  It was also during his time in Joplin that Howard met and married Ann Picher, of the mining company Pichers.

For a number of years Howard worked at the Joplin Globe until once again his ability was noticed and this time hired by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  In the Gateway City, he worked as a journalist before a brief return to Joplin, then found work in Columbus, Ohio and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Ultimately, Howard returned to St. Louis and the Post-Dispatch and became an editorial writer.  It was in this capacity that Howard won the Pulitzer Prize in May, 1940 for a series of four editorials entitled, “Europe’s Emperor,” “After the Battle,” “The Golden Age,” and “The Kingdom of Democracy.”  Not long after his win, Williams College opted to make their former student a Doctor of Humane Letters.

Howard was unable to enjoy his laurels.  On February 12, 1941, he collapsed at lunchtime, dead of a heart attack.  The Globe made sure to note the passage of its one time editor, a man who had traded the plush and privileged world of Massachusetts for the rough and tumble streets of Joplin.  Howard may have also been one of the few professional baseball players to ever win the coveted Pulitzer.  The Post-Dispatch printed summaries of the four editorials which had won Howard his great literary prize, and wrote lovingly of its former writer.  An editorial by the paper said of Howard’s writings:

“Behind his writings was, above all, a great and passionate love for humanity and for justice.  It was a humanitarian sense, a warm affection for all his fellows, that embraced their every activity.  He could breathe righteous indignation into his pages of copy paper, when oppression or intolerance or corruption came into the news.  The leavening shaft of humor served to debunk the pretensions of the pompous, or to reduce a raging controversy to its proper teapot proportions, but Bart Howard had a flaming sword in that typewriter when there were wrongs to oppose.”

The Post-Dispatch, as noted above, then concluded, “A great gentleman, a great writer, has gone.”

Sources: Missouri Digital Heritage, St. Louis Post Dispatch, and Joplin Daily Globe.

It Can Happen Here

Distinguished historian Richard Hofstader observed in his book, American Violence: A Documentary History that Americans have a “remarkable lack of memory where violence is concerned and have left most of our excesses a part of our buried history.”

Like most cities across the country, Joplin has had its share of wild and wooly episodes throughout its history, though most of these events have faded into the past. The most common story that has stayed with us, perhaps because of their perceived glamour and mystique, is that of Bonnie and Clyde.

Perhaps a more harrowing story is that of what happened in Joplin during the hysteria of World War I. During this time, stories of German spies, disloyal citizens, and labor unrest created an atmosphere in which communities could turn upon their own. Joplin was no exception.

Gustav A. Brautigam, the owner of a delicatessen and bakery at 305 Joplin Street, was a native of Frankfort Germany. In 1881, he immigrated to America, and eventually arrived in Joplin. Brautigam was by no means the first German in Joplin.

Germans had been in Joplin since the very beginning. According to Joel Livingston’s history of Jasper County, “It was a German who built the first bakery in the city and a German who interested in the organization of the first bank in Joplin. In many ways the sturdy sons of Germany have taken a great part in the building and developing of the city.” In 1876, when the Germania Social and Literary Society of Joplin formed, it had over fifty charter members. Thus it was a small, but established German community, that Brautigam discovered upon his arrival in Joplin.

As Brautigam prepared for business on a Saturday morning during the height of World War I, he found that during the night someone had painted his store windows bright yellow. There were also warnings not to remove the paint from the windows. One warning read, “This place is pro-German. Take notice, Americans!”

The 59 year-old Brautigam may or may not have already been the subject of controversy as rumors alleged he had previously declared that he hoped, “to live to see the day when the German flag replaces the Stars and Stripes on top of the Joplin post office building.” Despite such rumors, Brautigam had participated in the Third Liberty Loan, as he was permitted to hang a flag honoring his contribution to the loan fund drive in the window of his deli, as well as one from the Red Cross.

The decorated car played a role in selling war bonds during the First World War.

Upset, Brautigam began to clean the paint from his windows. As he did so, however, an unnamed individual stepped forward with a bucket of paint and began to repaint the window “as fast as it was washed.” A crowd began to gather to watch. Witnesses later disagreed whether or not Brautigam made disloyal remarks as he washed his windows. The crowd began to grow and soon it numbered an estimated 400 people. Brautigam, worried for his safety, went inside his delicatessen and locked the door.

The mood of the crowd remained uncertain until someone broke through the front door of the delicatessen and entered the building in order to rip down an American flag hanging inside the front window. At this point, Brautigam, fearing for his life, dashed out the back door of his business and escaped down the alley between Main and Joplin streets to the Joplin Police Department.

As he did, the crowd, now an angry mob, chased after him. Fortunately for Brautigam, he reached the safety of the police department before the mob caught him.

Upon alerting authorities to the situation, Brautigam was “arrested for his own safety” by the Joplin police. He asked Police Matron Wathena B. Hamilton to take charge of the perishable foods in his store and distribute them to those in need. She was able to assist eleven families in addition to the children at the Children’s Home. Brautigam was then transported to Carthage under guard and turned him over to Jasper County Sheriff Oll Rogers. Sheriff Rogers released Brautigam because “there was no charge on which they could hold him.” Brautigam reportedly then left Carthage by train.

After the mob discovered the Brautigam was out of its grasp, its members formed an impromptu parade. At the urging of an unnamed individual, the unruly mob decided to march on the Joplin Sash and Door Works located at Twelfth and Wall streets to “get” Peter Braeckel, the newly elected president of Joplin’s Germania Society. Only half of the mob made it to the business and the remainder was persuaded by James M. Leonard, identified as one of the original leaders of the mob, to calm down. Braeckel emerged from the Joplin Sash and Door Works to make a short speech to the mob in which he proclaimed his loyalty to the United States. It was reported that Braeckel’s words “had a great deal to do with quieting it.”

James Leonard informed the mob that Braeckel had contributed to the Red Cross “nearly all of the tables and shelves at the society’s headquarters and how he had made a screen door for the local selection board and sent a man to place it in position.” Leonard also told the mob that Braeckel had contributed “to every war work campaign and public charity campaign that had been conducted” in the recent past. Leonard was joined by an unnamed man who “turned squarely about and instead of advising violence, counseled calmness and helped to disperse the crowd.” It was only when Leonard pointed out a man who demanded they paint Braeckel yellow and declared, “It’s just such remarks as that one and such fellows as you that are going to cause this country as much trouble as Germany does” that the crowd finally dispersed.

Word of the mob interrupted a city council meeting, but officials quickly leapt into action. Joplin Mayor C.S. Poole and Chief of Police J.J. Cofer ordered all Joplin saloons be shut down immediately for fear that alcohol would only fuel the smoldering fire of potential mob violence that threatened the city. The entire police force was ordered out to patrol the city in addition to all available constables and deputy sheriffs.

Edward Zelleken, one of Joplin's prominent German businessmen.

City and business leaders met at the Joplin Chamber of Commerce and adopted a resolution to request that saloons be kept closed and that Home Guards be dispersed to deal with any potential violence. Among those present were: Sheriff Oll Rogers, Albert Newman, Haywood Scott, Mayor-elect J.F. Osborne, R.M. Shepard, Hugh McIndoe, J.J. Cofer, Burt W. Lyon, Sol Newman, O.P. Mahoney, G.F. Newburger, P.E. Burress, and E.A. Norris.

Captain Frank W. Sansom of the Home Guards mobilized a squad of forty men to patrol the city. Each man was armed with revolvers and Springfield rifles. Chief Cofer gave the home guard authority to make any arrests necessary to preserve law and order. Fortunately, the day and ensuing night were peaceful and without incident.

Although Brautigam eventually returned to his business and remained in Joplin until his death in 1956, the damage had been done.

A short time later, Joplin’s Turnverein Germania Society, led by its president Peter Braeckel and vice president Gustav Brautigam, voted to disband the organization and donate its property located on the southeast corner of Third and Joplin streets to the local Red Cross. The property was valued at $25,000.

The group issued a statement which read in part:

“Pioneer conditions, such as existed twenty, forty, or sixty years ago, and which forced people of a class to band together and create livable conditions are things of the past and can never reoccur. German immigration has diminished from year to year.

All German societies, as such all over the country are, and were at the beginning of the war, on a decline. About 50 percent of our present members are American born. At our business meetings of the past few years, we seldom had many more than a quorum (nine members). The Verein is dying a natural death. It has outlived its usefulness. The fact that we had the property held us together. The older members sometimes paid it a visit by force of habit – and the younger members did not come at all.

Germanism in this country, even if the war stopped today, will have no prestige for several generations. Too much harm has already been done. We must realize the vastness of the change of conditions. Never in the history of the world has our situation been duplicated. It is a unique situation, but it is a surprisingly clear and plain situation: We left one country. Why? Because we were not satisfied with our conditions.

We entered another country with the full knowledge (unless we were lunatics) that we had to abide by the rules and conditions imposed by this new country. The new country was very lenient with us, we hardly knew that we were being governed.

To us this war comes like a bolt of lightning out of a clear sky. We are awakened from a dream, awakened to the realization that when we changed countries it was also our duty to change our sentiments and sympathies.

The object of our Verein is to advance German customs, German habits, and the German language. This is, under the conditions which have arisen, intolerable and impossible. Our countrymen cannot and will not and should not be expect to countenance the existence of our Verein.”

Charles Schifferdecker, was born in Germany and later immigrated to the United States.

Thus came the end to an organization that had once included leading Joplin citizens such as H. Geldmacher, Charles Schifferdecker, G.W. Keller, and Edward Zelleken as members.

Sources: Joel Livingston’s History of Jasper County, Joplin News Herald

A Bridge Now Gone – The Third Street Viaduct

Present day bird's eye view of Third Street, Joplin. Via Google Maps.

Its absence regularly goes without notice, and unless one is driving along Third street, crossing Main Street eastward, its former utility cannot even be contrived. It is now just a missing space on the map and a memory quickly fading as those who once recalled its presence disappear from the community. It served Joplin for approximately forty or more years, in one form or another. It connected the city’s two halves, East and West Joplin, and finally offered a means to ascend Broadway Hill, an “unpaved, rocky” road that was “a terror to teamsters and distinctly unpopular with all classes of travelers.” It was the Third Street Viaduct.

The union between Joplin in the East and Murphysburg in the West to form modern Joplin in the early 1870’s was at first more apparent in paper than in geography. A small valley and creek generally separated the two, the area once known as the Kansas City Bottoms, and now the home of the Union Depot and parkland. It was the site of Joplin’s first mining endeavors. Thus, the road that connected the two ran through mining camps, which a Joplin Daily Globe reporter referred to as a “tenderloin” and one that law abiding travelers hesitated to venture through on their way from one part of the city to the next.

While the Southwest Missouri Railroad connected the two parts of the town with streetcar service by 1906, there was still not a quick or convenient means to go from the heart of the Joplin business district to the east Joplin. The result, as the Globe put it, was that “Main Street merchants watching the expansion of the city in all directions saw that East Joplin, closer to the business center than South or West Joplin, was being overlooked by home builders because of the inconvenient route…” A solution to the problem had first been proposed about four yeas before 1906, in a conversation between T.C. Molloy, and the owner of the Globe, and at one point, also the House of Lords, Gilbert Barbee. The answer was a viaduct.

Little came of the discussion, other than the belief that Third Street should serve as the location of the viaduct, bridging across the bottoms to the hilly part of East Joplin. It was not until 1906 that the topic finally made ground and in December, 1907 the City Council passed an ordinance calling for a special election to approve the selling of $50,000 in bonds. Mayor Jesse Osborne quickly signed off on the ordinance and an election held on January 15, 1908, resulted in an overwhelming approval from the electorate, 1,366 for and just 274 against. A sell of bonds occurred in May, and resulted in just over $51,000.

This page of the Scullin Franchise agreement required assistance in building the viaduct. Click on the image to be taken to a larger version.

Only a few months later, the construction of the viaduct was caught up in the debate concerning the granting of the Scullin franchise to establish and build a Union Depot in Joplin. It was not coincidence that Councilman Molloy took the forefront of the debate in the City Council meeting by vouching that as part of the deal, the Kansas City Southern Railroad would commit to paying approximately one-third of the Third Street viaduct. The Kansas City Southern was true to its word and the construction of the viaduct became part of the franchise that eventually was passed by the council and signed by Mayor Osborne on October 26, 1908.

The viaduct upon completion.

In the end, the railroad ended up paying approximately $20,000 of the cost of the viaduct, and the Henry L. Doherty & Company successfully bid to construct the mostly steel bridge for $40,000. An additional $10,000 was also spent on building concrete pedestals, which required the use of a mining drill to ensure they were not placed over one of the many mine shafts which still honeycombed the area. The actual steel work of the bridge was crafted by the Southwestern Bridge Company, and sent in pieces from the plant and then sent to the site for assembly.

The actual construction was boastingly described, “The viaduct is said to be equal to any bridge of the kind in the United States from an engineering standpoint. It is of all steel construction with concrete flooring, covered by a three inch layer of creosoted wood blocks, laid paving fashion with asphalt filler.” The wood blocks were noted as a new innovation with “many advantages over brick of asphalt paving.” In fact, the blocks were “light, impervious to water, and are said to outwear bricks.” The floor of the bridge was concrete, reinforced with steel rods. Above this an actual paved street was laid out.

A colorized version of the newspaper photo from above allows for a better view of the viaduct's lamps. Via Missouri Digital Heritage

The viaduct was completed in the last week of September, all but the aforementioned paving, in 1909. It was one part of a signature moment for the city, which was flushed with a continual procession of beautiful buildings and other civic improvements being constructed. A period of growth yet unrivaled in the city’s history.

The viaduct was described as having “a six foot walk, raised eight inches above the level of the roadway and protected on the outer edge by a high latticed railing.” Light was provided by arc lights, each with the power of 2,000 candles. Powerful enough to not just illuminate the viaduct, but also designed to illuminate the dark area of the bottom land below.

As this political cartoon illustrates, the viaduct was considered an achievement on the same scale as the Connor Hotel and the modern fire department.

The impact of the bridge was immediate. It was claimed that real estate values in East Joplin shot up anywhere from 100 to 300%, with new homes being constructed in the area. On the other side of the viaduct, new buildings were quickly being erected north of the busy business district of Fourth and Main streets. For the next several decades, the viaduct served as a landmark of Joplin, the conduit which connected the two parts of town and helped forged them into one.

In another political cartoon, again the viaduct is in good company, as seen on the playing card above.

In what was at least one death connected to the bridge, Joplin Detective William Woolsey, was gunned down upon the span on December 8, 1917 in an attempted robbery. The officer had been crossing the viaduct with another when Frank Warren and Chub Hardin came upon the two. Warren shoved a gun into the detective’s stomach, but it was not enough to dissuade the Joplin police officer from pulling his own. In a tragic case of misfire, Woolsey got the drop on Warren and pulled the trigger with no result. By the time the shock wore off on both men, each tried to fire, Woolsey for the second time. This time Woolsey’s pistol worked, but so did Warren’s. The result was both men felled by fatal gunshot wounds to the abdomen.

The city sought to protect the community at large in 1924 by placing a load limit of 7,000 pounds on the viaduct. Likewise, it directed the Joplin Police to divert traffic from the bridge at the busiest times of day. As the years passed, the condition of the viaduct worsened. In 1943, the City Council made the fateful decision to close the bridge to all but pedestrian traffic out of fear of its “dangerous condition.” Two years later, as the Second World War was in its fourth year, the city was only able to make temporary repairs to the viaduct with the construction of a support column (to replace one which had broken). Due to the global conflict, materials and money were scarce, and it was hoped that much needed permanent repairs would happen after the war.

A disturbing example of the rust afflicting the viaduct, note the circled steel beam was once the same width as the beam above it.

The permanent repairs never arrived. By 1955, the viaduct had been effectively abandoned by the city for a decade. In February, the City Council made the decision to have the viaduct removed. Concerns existed, as the bridge continued to deteriorate, that pieces of falling concrete would strike pedestrians or vehicles below in Landreth Park or on Murphy Boulevard. The Council handed the task to the City Attorney, Loyd Roberts, while City Manager, J.D. Baughman could offer no expected cost of removal. One councilman, W. H. Clark, suggested that perhaps the Kansas City Southern might be induced to pay for some, if not all the cost. The argument was that the sulphuric acid in the coal burning trains had helped to erode the steel.

Two months later, the City Council reaffirmed its decision in April. It was not received happily by all. A hastily organized East Joplin Civic League appeared before the Council and argued that the viaduct be repaired, not removed. Alarmed at the prospect of being cut off from the city’s downtown, the League was supported by a petition of 75 signatories, and the treasurer, A.F. Brooks spoke on its behalf before the council. While Brooks believed the cost to repair was approximately $79,000, the City Council countered that Sverdrup & Parcel, Inc., an engineering firm from St. Louis, had estimated the actual cost at $192,000. That sum, arrived upon in 1953, undoubtedly helped push the Council to its position of removal over repair. Furthermore, an investigation by Traffic Lieutenant Clifford Hill, supposed that a repair would not be worth it unless Third street was strengthened and extended to Rangeline. Despite the protests of the East Joplin Civic League, the city moved forward on the viaduct’s destruction.

A view of the viaduct as demolition proceeded. The removal of the road surface exposed the viaduct's skeleton.

June saw the City Council instruct the City Manager Baughman to seek bids from companies for the viaduct’s removal. The hope, for the city, was to spend as little as possible and even possibly make money from the salvage value of the bridge’s materials. The contract was finally awarded in July to the V.R. Freer Construction Company, which offered to demolish the viaduct and pay the city $1,200 to salvage the steel. It was noted at the time that the concrete would be reused for civic improvements elsewhere.

The demolition of the viaduct signaled the beginning of the end for many Joplin landmarks.

October saw the end of the viaduct. In its destruction, it provided over 1,000 tons of asphalt which at some point was likely applied to road building projects elsewhere by the city. At the time of demolition, it was argued that the steel of the bridge had been prematurely rusted by the train smoke, which created an odd contrast. The viaduct had been in part paid for by the railroads and by 1955, was being demolished because of it. A personal tragedy also accompanied the viaduct’s demise.  Despite the deconstructed state of the viaduct, barricades at both ends, Joplin resident, Arthur Yates, decided to stroll across the viaduct only to fall through a hole and plummet 30 feet to the ground below. Luckily for Yates, he was not killed, but might have been paralyzed below the waist for life.

By 1956, the viaduct was gone. Third Street became something less than what it was and failed to become what it might have had the city elected to repair the bridge. It’s possible the viaduct was a victim of the wartime shortages of the Second World War or an unfortunate design that was exposed to the destructive effects of the iron horses that had helped spur its construction. None the less, it was among the first of many symbols throughout Joplin which had once been proud monuments to a city which had once burst with pride with expectations of a greater future.


Source: Joplin Daily Globe, Joplin Police Department website, Missouri Digital Heritage