The Architectural Legacy of Garstang & Rea: Barbee Park’s Grandstand

Edward Knell is credited with bringing the first “bred” race horse to Jasper County (as well the “art of embalming”) in 1889. The lucky equine was named “Ben McGregor” and cost Knell an estimated $3,000 dollars, quite the figure at the time. However, as early as 1872, even before Joplin came into existence, a race track was built just south of town that ran a half-mile long. Another race track was built in 1879, along with stables, an agricultural hall, and a grandstand. Gilbert Barbee, one time owner of the Joplin Globe, House of Lords, and Democratic party boss, bought this park and named it Barbee Park. The grandstand featured in both images was designed by Garstang & Rea for Gilbert Barbee’s “driving park” for a price of $6,500.

Barbee Park was home to countless horse races, but also served as the venue for such events like the Firemen’s Tournament that was held on the grounds in 1908. It was at the park where Joplinites got their first real glimpse of the speeding prowess of some of the first motorized fire engines in the nation, as well one of the last fire engine horse team races in the city’s history. Unfortunately for Barbee, in the middle of an April night in 1909, the grand stand caught fire and was a complete loss, despite the best efforts of Joplin’s fire department. The grand stand was never rebuilt and in the 1920s, Barbee’s son leveled the track area to develop a neighborhood.

As Joplin history expert Leslie Simpson writes in her book, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture, “He built the Barbee Court addition right on the old race course, preserving the graceful oval of elm trees that once surrounded it…The outline of the old race track can be traced by looping around from 17th to 19th Streets from Maiden Lane to the alley between Porter and Harlem Avenues.”

Harlem Avenue today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murder in the Bottoms

Former location of part of the Kansas City Bottoms, after its leveling for the construction of the Union Depot.

Since Joplin first began as a rough mining town on the edge of the Ozarks, it has seen its share of violence, though many of the crimes have long since been forgotten. In the spring of 1899, the Joplin Daily News trumpeted, “The most startling discovery in crime ever known in the annals of Joplin was made about noon today at a tent in the Kansas City Bottom[s] near the mouth of St. Joe Hollow. Five persons were found dead and their bodies are in a horrible state of decomposition.”

According the news account, two young boys, Mack Hutchinson and Walter Towsley, were in the area when they noticed swarms of flies and a strong stench in the air. They followed the smell to a tent 8×12 in size. What they found was horrifying: “the headless body of a baby on the outside, and on peering inside they discovered the dead bodies of two more children, a man and a woman.” After alerting authorities, a large crowd gathered around the tent, where further investigation showed that the man, James Moss, had bludgeoned his wife and two of his children to death before beheading a third child. He then shot himself with a .38 revolver.

Interviews with neighbors revealed the family had been in the Joplin area for around two months and that the father, James Moss, had worked “scrapping ore.” No one the News reporter spoke to had heard the gunshot or any sounds of a struggle even though their closest neighbor lived only 150 feet away from the Moss family tent. The reporter later encountered two women who claimed that they had heard a single gunshot on a Tuesday evening, but thought nothing of it. The scene, it later was learned, was “within a stone’s throw of the old pump shaft where Lewis Channell was killed by Charley Seaton a number of years ago.” The bodies were claimed by the coroner and taken from the scene.

Examination of the Moss’ belongings revealed a few details about the family. The Moss’ originally hailed from Independence, Missouri. James E. Moss was 35 years old and was a former stagecoach driver between Deadwood and Bismarck, North Dakota, up to 1881. He also worked as a driver for the Emery, Bird, & Thayer department store in Kansas City. It later appeared that Moss, his wife Ida, and his children had lived for a brief time in Los Angeles, California, before heading back east to Missouri. The News reporter remarked James’ possessions showed that he “was somewhat of a misanthropist, judging from some of his writings, and was a reader of Tom Paine.” Moss owned copies of Paine’s Age of Reason and Rights of Man that “appeared to have been read considerably.” The reporter mused, “He probably became despondent and sore on the world, and while in that mood murdered his family and then ended his own life.” The only money found was $1.25.

The Kansas City Journal observed, “Moss was an ardent admirer of Robert G. Ingersoll, especially of his views on suicide, and being a man of intense convictions relative to this and other religious views, it is believed here that he was crazy.” A single note was discovered at the scene of the crime, written in Moss’ hand, which read, “There was no truer wife nor lovelier children than mine. J.E. Moss.”

A few days after the murders occurred, Ida Moss’ brother and half -sister arrived to collect the family’s belongings and shipped them to Independence. The tent, bedding, and other items that remained were then burned. The bodies of the family were to be sent back to Independence within the year for burial. The murders were eventually forgotten over time, but remain one of the grisliest to occur in Joplin’s history.

Happy Easter – Joplin 1905

Historic Joplin hopes everyone has a great Easter weekend. Below is an ad celebrating Easter from 1905 Joplin.

Joplin Easter Ad

Proud to Visit Joplin’s Jail

In early Joplin, there was no shortage of Joplinites who were escorted to the city’s hoosegow. Surprisingly, some of these individuals were quite proud of their predicament. A Joplin Globe reporter interviewed Joplin Constable Arch McDonald about the phenomenon,

“You may not believe that it actually makes some people proud to be arrested. There’s all the difference in the world the way various people take the situation when the officer is compelled to duty. Some men readily appreciate the officer’s difficulties and prepare to go right along just like attending to any other business engagement; while others blame the officer who is called upon to serve the warrant and think its his fault, much the same as some people hold it against the postman when they fail to get a letter.”

Another Joplin police officer, Will Gibson, offered his own experience,

“Proud? Why yes, it’s the event of some fellows’ lives to get arrested, and some of them think it a real honor to be shown the distinction of being singled out of a crowd and marched down the street to jail. I arrested a young miner from Chitwood the other night for being drunk and disorderly on Main Street between Fourth and Fifth, and he didn’t seem half so drunk after I took hold of him. He wasn’t scared sober, either, but was just swelled up over having the strong arm of the law take notice of his antics, I guess. He braced up at once and told me that was all right, that he could walk straight, and then stepped off down Main street like a ham-strung thoroughbred, looking first to the right, then to the left, and making it a point to say something to every acquaintance he saw. He was plainly the cock of the walk.”

Deputy Sheriff Clarence Kier had this for the reporter,

“Nor are the drunks the only ones who feel the honor of being taken into custody. I’ve seen men arrested for some petty offenses of a more or less serious nature who got right chesty over it and swaggered down the street. One man in particular from over in East Joplin put the thing plainly when I started for the car line with him and his wife called to know where he was going. ‘Can’t you see,’ responded the fellow with a sort of self-important air,’ that I’m being arrested!”

Finally, United States Deputy Marshall, Henry Platt, offered his own experience,

“There’s another phase to the seeming willingness of some men to go along with the officer. I’ve seen federal prisoners puff all up when thrown into jail, and hold themselves aloof from common state felons and petty criminals, but that isn’t the secret of it. You’ll find that it isn’t only the novice nor the best citizen who goes along willingly with the officer, but that the very worst criminal of all is a good dissembler and very frequently scores a point by the apparent acquiescence and good nature with which he submits to arrest. The quiet man is often worse because he is shrewdest and most slippery of all evil doers.

He is not the murderer nor the criminal of passion, but the criminal of property, the thief, the forger, the embezzler, the counterfeiter, the one who works along original and stealthy lines. He’s just smart enough to know when he’s cornered, and if he sees that the chances for escape are all against him he quietly submits and goes along with the hope of affecting escape later, or by getting the minimum penalty by arousing the least suspicion. When the time comes for his break for liberty, the seemingly well behaved and tractable prisoner shows himself to be the most desperate of the bunch. He’s the criminal exemplification of the man with the ax to grind.”

An interesting aside to be picked up from the answer is the fact that Joplin police would use the trolley line to take prisoners back to the city jail. The equivalent today having a police officer get on a city bus with a prisoner in handcuffs.