The Man Who Owned 402 Main Street

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

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

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

The ill-fated RMS Lusitania via Wikipedia.


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

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

“New York, May 1

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

Respectfully,
John Ferguson”

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

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

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

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

Docket No. 2481.

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

v.

GERMANY.

BY THE COMMISSION: –

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

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

Done at Washington January 7, 1925.

EDWIN B. PARKER,
Umpire.

CHANDLER P. ANDERSON,
American Commissioner.

W. KIESSELBACH,
German Commissioner.

Video Page Added!

Many months back, we created video slideshows from old photography books of Joplin and posted them on Youtube. Now they are accessible on our site without hunting them down elsewhere. Just click on the “Video” tab at the top of the site on the right. Enjoy!

Joplin’s Snob Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a Great Fourth of July!

The Fourth of July was as popular a holiday in Joplin in the past as it is today. The same emphasis on safety with fireworks continues today, though, perhaps not so much the worry on loaded firearms. A local paper illustrated the dangers of firecrackers, be it from boys throwing them at passersby in the street for laughs to other boys using the explosives as potential tools in arguments. One such event occurred as written:

“Three negro boys were walking down Fourth street this morning with their pockets bulging with fire crackers. As they passed the Miners Bank building two young men, prominent in business circles, began to “kid” the boys about the Jeffries-Johnson fight. The negroes became “riled” and in a moment were willing to take their contemporaries on. In the meantime, one of the negroes, who gave his name as Fred Jackson, stepped behind a telephone post and lit a big fire cracker. It exploded in his hand and the boy’s cries drowned the arguments. In an instant the miniature race war ceased. The young men grabbed the negro and carried him to a drug store, where he was given medical aid. the negroes apologized for their quarrel and the white boys “Set ‘em” up for the sodas.”