Joplin’s First Religious Services Were Held in a Saloon

Sometime in 1872, a group of citizens stood on Joplin’s muddy Main Street and discussed what measures could be taken to improve the community. Numerous suggestions were made when at last someone suggested that Joplin should have a church service.

Kit Bullock, half owner of the Bullock & Boucher saloon located on north Main Street jokingly suggested that, “they could hold church in his saloon.” What Bullock did not know is that one of the men standing in the group was a Methodist preacher. Upon hearing Bullock’s remark, the Methodist evangelist stepped forward and introduced himself as “Rev. Smith from St. Louis” and then told Bullock, “Now, sir, if you are as good as your word, I will conduct church services tomorrow and will be grateful for the use of your building.”

True to his word, Bullock cleaned up his saloon. Liquor bottles were taken from the shelves and candles put in their stead. Kegs that were not stowed out of sight were used to hold up pine boards as makeshift pews. When the next morning came, Rev. Smith found several earnest congregants gathered to listen to his sermon. The evangelist’s message went unrecorded, but according to the News-Herald, “From that first service who can tell what results have sprung up, for an interest was created, an ambition was awakened, that was never stilled until a house of worship was added to the other buildings that were spring up. The years have passed and the interest has never died, but has flowed on and on.” By 1902, Joplin was home to at least twenty-five churches.   Some of those churches still remain, others have replaced them, and while no longer a church meets in a saloon, one does meet in a movie theater.

Source: Joplin News-Herald


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