Men and Dust

In a previous post, we covered Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins’ visit to Joplin in 1940. The reason for Perkins’ visit was to participate in the Tri-State Silicosis Conference, a gathering of industry and labor leaders to investigate and highlight the danger of silicosis. At the conclusion of the conference, a brief documentary film simply titled Men and Dust was shown in the Connor Hotel. The film was produced by the noted Great Depression era photographer Sheldon Dick. Only sixteen minutes long, the film focused on the the danger posed by silicosis generated by the dust created by lead and zinc mining. Dick’s film is surprisingly experimental with a unsettling score and a dramatic narration that has a jarring effect on the viewer.  It is an important piece of Joplin’s history because of its haunting advocacy for the welfare of the region’s miners and their families and its stark images of  the men who worked the Tri-State Mining District during the Depression era.

We encourage everyone to view it who has a chance.

The Missing History of Fourth and Main Street

The four buildings of Fourth and Main Street

More than a century ago, a visitor to the bustling growing city of Joplin could have stood on any of the four corners of the intersection of Fourth and Main and viewed the history of the former mining camp writ large in the buildings about him or her. The ability to taken in the “epochs” of Joplin’s history with a glance was not missed by Joplinites of the era, and one reporter of a city papers wrote,

“The noonday shadow of the old frame landmark of the early seventies almost brushes the base of the half million dollar edifice that represents the highest achievements in building construction of the twentieth century. The monument to the days of Joplin’s earliest settlement seems to crouch lower and more insignificant than ever, now that a colossal hotel has been erected within less than a stone’s throw of it.”

The “old frame landmark” was the Club Saloon owned by John Ferguson until his death on the Lusitania (learn more about that here) and the “half million dollar edifice” was none other than the Connor Hotel, completed in 1908 and considered by many the finest hotel of the Southwest. Unmentioned above were the Worth Block and the Keystone Hotel. A visit to the intersection today, however, would find none of these buildings remaining.

A step back in time, when these four buildings still stood, would let the visitor see Joplin’s history as built by man. For reference by today’s geography, imagine that you are standing on the northwest corner of Fourth and Main Street with the Joplin Public Library at your back. Behind you in the past would be the towering eight story Connor, across the street to your right was the two story, wood-framed Club Saloon, where the current Liberty Building stands, to your left was the three story Worth Block, now home to Spiva Park, and directly diagonal from you would be the six story red-bricked Keystone Hotel, gone for the one story brick building today. The same reporter from above offered descriptions of how each of these four buildings revealed the chapters of Joplin’s past. The history that the Club Saloon represented was one of a camp fighting to become a city.

“When the frame structure at the southwest corner was the leading structure of the city, the site of the present Connor Hotel was a frog pond and the deep booming of the inhabitants of the swampy places echoed over the sweeping stretch of open prairie land.”

The Club Saloon shortly before it was razed.

At the same time, the land where the Keystone Hotel eventually grew, was a mining operation owned by Louis Peters. The reporter is quick to allay fears of sink holes and noted that the drifts and shaft of the mining were filled before the property was sold. The Club Saloon’s home was bought from its owners in Baxter Springs, Kansas, by Oliver Moffett (E.R. Moffett’s son), Galen Spencer, and L.P. Cunningham, among others, and brought to the young mining camp to become the town’s early center. It was first used as a grocery store and flanked on either side of it were “shacks of disreputable apperance.” In the frame building, reportedly, one of Joplin’s early grocers and councilmen, E.J. Guthrie was killed. It was not the only frame building to be brought to Joplin, but those failed to survive for long. The Club Saloon was immuned perhaps because of the temperament of its owner, the ill-fated John Ferguson. Often, he turned down offers to buy it and once Ferguson allegedly declared, “If you would cover the entire lot with twenty dollar gold pieces, it would not be enough. I think I shall keep it.”

Across the street, so to speak, the old frog pond was shortly developed into a three story brick building, the original Joplin Hotel. Described as a “palace” amongst the other contemporary buildings of Joplin, it was given credit for shifting the center of the new city from East Joplin to the area formerly known as Murphysburg. The presence of the brick building spurred the construction of others, particularly on the east side of Main Street. Among those building was Louis Peters, who continued his mining, but also built a two-story building at a cost of approximately $4,600 on the northeast corner. The new building replaced one that had burned to the ground and was built in less than two months, completed in the December of 1877. Later, a third story was added to what was then called the Peters Building, but became better known as the Worth Block when James “Jimmy” Worth became the owner (precipitated by Worth marrying a co-owner of the property).

Worth Block - Joplin, Missouri

The Worth Block circa 1902

As slowly a recognizable Fourth and Main Street began to emerge, Joplin was still a young city that had more in common with a mining camp than a growing metropolis. Saloons proliferated, gambling was common, and other vices not spoken of in good company. This period of Joplin’s past was described as so:

A crimson light hung high over Joplin, shedding its rays over a great portion of the town, would have been an appropriate emblem of the nature of the community. Pastimes were entered into with a wantoness that brought to the town a class of citizenship not welcome in the higher circles of society. But if, in those days there was a higher circle, its membership was limited. Society existed but it was in true mining town style. There was in evidence the dance hall, the wine room and the poker table. The merry laugh of carefree women mingled with the clatter of the ivory chips on the tables “upstairs” and the incessant music of the festival places sounded late into the night, every night of the week, and every week of the year. No city ordinance prevented citizens from expectorating tobacco saliva upon the sidewalks; in fact, the sidewalks were almost as limited as was the membership of the exclusive upper circles.

In 1875, a flood swept through Joplin, and washed away homes, flooded mines, and even killed some Joplinites. The damage, in 1875 dollars, was almost $200,000. For all that was lost, the city continued to gain in wealth, growth and citizens. Ordinances and laws were put in place and a more determined citizenship to see their enforcement. The lawlessness that had persisted in the open air withdrew, the “secrets of the underworld of the Joplin…” were not “broadcast as they were…” The surge of mineral wealth saw more bricked buildings rise and the new owner of the southeast corner of Fourth and Main, E.Z. Wallower, saw more to gain in building than in mining. In 1892, construction of the turreted Keystone Hotel began. Not long after, the intersection was just short of the Connor Hotel in its appearance. This was remedied, as noted above, in 1908, just sixteen years later. In that span of time, “many fine edifices were erected.”

Until the demolition of the Club Saloon, at a glance, one could have seen the history of the city. From the very first days when a wood frame building was a sign of progress, up from shanties and tents; and then the brick constructions of the Peters Building that became the Worth Block, as the first inclinations of wealth from mining began to show progress; and finally, the raising of the Keystone and the Connor, when millionaires brushed elbows as they walked the sidewalks from the House of Lords, and Joplin was in the thick of its first renaissance. A visit to the intersection today leaves nothing of this history to be learned at a glance. The Liberty Building, which now stands where the Club Saloon once stood, is a bridge back however, witness to all of the former inhabitants of Fourth and Main Street but the Club that it eventually replaced. As are all the historic buildings of downtown Joplin, so while some of old Joplin is gone, much thankfully, can still be enjoyed and that history known with a glance.

Currently at the Post Memorial Art Reference Library

From 1pm to 5 today, you can visit the Post Memorial Art Reference Library to see artifacts of Joplin’s past.  Ranging from a key to the Connor Hotel to an embroidered towel from the Keystone Hotel, plus a number of other items, you have the chance to get a glimpse of Joplin’s past through “fragments of people lives.”  The items come from the collection of Mark and Paula Callihan.  Additionally, also on display are a number of tornado recovery posters created to benefit Joplin charity in the months that followed last year’s catastrophe.   The Post Memorial Art Reference Library is located inside the Joplin Public Library.

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.

Merry Christmas from Historic Joplin!

We hope everyone is has a Merry Christmas today, and if you happen to celebrate other holidays this time of year, we hope those were/are just as great! Above is a political cartoon from 1917, in which a child leaves a note for Santa Claus that puts the welfare of her family over wonderful new toys. Below is a menu from the Connor Hotel for those wanting to enjoy their Christmas dinner at the Connor in 1918.

Click on the menu to find a larger version.

Thomas Connor: Philanthropist, Mine Owner, and Prankster?

Thomas Connor, a son of Ireland and immigrant to America, made his fortune in Joplin in zinc and lead mining.  He oversaw the construction of the New Joplin Hotel, which after his death, became known as the Connor Hotel and was a Joplin landmark until its demolition and collapse in 1978.  Connor Avenue, the site of the Extreme Makeover build, is named for him.  Known for being one of Joplin’s wealthiest citizens at the turn of the 20th Century, as well a philanthropist, Connor was also a bit of a prankster.  Below is an account of one of Connor’s more elaborate jokes:

“Though nearly a month has gone by and Tom Connor is far away out west, he’s still chuckling to himself out there over about the best April fool joke of the season, and the biggest practical prank ever pulled off in Joplin.

Elaborate paraphernalia was necessary to stage this idea, but Tom Connor had the resources at his command and was ready when the opportunity of his life offered.  The occasion came with the arrest of an elderly female employee of the Joplin Hotel Company, which is comprised of Tom Connor, Tom Jones and E. Z. Wallower.  The woman was at work about the hotel as a maid when eleven silver spoons disappeared one day and she was promptly arrested on suspicion.  The case seemed to be a pretty good one, and Frank Lee, whom she retained as counsel, went to the benevolent Tom Connor to get the prosecution stopped.

Connor magnanimously assented and passed the tip to Manager Moats, who had instituted the proceedings.

The Old Joplin Hotel was the site of the prank. The Joplin Public Library is now located where it once stood.

At the same time that he caused the prosecution to be stopped, the big-hearted Connor bethought himself of the chance of a lifetime for a practical joke on his partner, Tom Jones.  Attorney Richard N. Graham was employed to draw up the petition for a fake $20,000 damage suit, alleged to have been instituted by the elderly chambermaid for false imprisonment.

The sheriff’s office was the next piece of paraphernalia employed by the practical joker, and Deputy Clarence Rier responded nobly by awaiting an opportunity to catch Connor and Jones together.  He found them in the Joplin Hotel barber shop and cold-heartedly announced that duty compelled him to serve a copy of the petition of this $20,000 damage suit on them as the two resident members of the defendant hotel company.

“What’s that – a $20,000 damage suit!” fairly gasped Jones.  Connor looked astounded – but his funny-bone was paralyzing him.

“What is it?” demanded Connor, feigning, then the deputy sheriff’s heart failed him – at least risibility threatened him and he walked on away, leaving the victimized Jones pouring over the bogus typewritten petition, which the attorney had purposefully made very, very lengthy, padding it with all the whereases, wherefores and other legal verbiage to be found in the revised statutes.

“Thunderation!” boomed Jones.

“Consternation!” echoed Connor, with a look of blank dismay, but with that ecstatic feeling creeping up his sleeve.

And the best of the joke is that Connor went away on his western trip and Jones don’t know till this day that the chambermaid’s $20,000 damage suit was a “pipe.”

Dining at the Connor: 1923

Another in our “Where to Eat Should You Time Travel Back to Joplin” series brings a menu from the Connor hotel in June, 1923.  A little more accessible than the previous menu from the House of Lords, this time period marks the era when the Connor was the undisputed place to stay when visiting Joplin or passing through.  In her lobby passed all famous men and women and below are a few things they might have enjoined at the Connor’s restaurant.

 

A Business Man at the Connor

The gift of a donor, below you will find a letter written by a traveling business man from the Peerless Bread Machine Company of Sidney, Ohio.  The letter, presumably written on a portable typewriter, was typed on Connor Hotel letterhead in 1923.  As the premier hotel in the region, or as some might argue, the entire Southwest, the Connor was a customary stop over for business men like the writer of the letter.

Click on the Image for a larger version

Click on the Image for a Larger Version

Click on Image for Larger Version

Update on Gryphon Building and Dedication of Joplin High School

There are two articles concerning history in the Joplin Globe this weekend.  The first is a further update on the recently renovated Gryphon Building.  Last week we referred to an article on the present status of the building and its progress in finding tenants.  In that article, it was mentioned that a restaurant would be entering the building.  This weekend brought more news along that front.

Richard and Amy Sanell, owners of the successful Cafe on the Route over in Baxter Springs, will be the ones behind the Gryphon building restaurant.   Of interest, Richard Sanell suggests that the menu might be based upon previous menus of downtown’s former great dining locations, the Connor hotel and the House of Lords.  More info on the Sanells and their plans can be found in the article.

The other article is a short write up by Joplin Museum Director, Brad Belk, on the dedication of Joplin High School in 1958.  The article briefly covers the decisions behind building the new school, the funding measures that succeeded and failed, and the final result with some specifics, such as the number of bricks used in the school’s construction.

We hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving weekend.   Now back to the trenches!

Joplin Celebrates the Fourth

Bingville Bugler 4th of July

Bingville Bugler, insert of Joplin News Herald, 4th of July banner.

The celebration of America’s Independence Day was no less important a hundred years ago in Joplin than it is today.  A principal slogan of the city of Joplin in 1910 was to have a “Safe,  Saner Fourth of July for Joplin.”  In June of that year, the city council had passed the Kelso ordinance which oversaw the sale, display and use of fireworks.  Proponents of the safer and saner Fourth were women groups and the Ministers Alliance.   Both Mayor Guy Hume and Chief of Police John McManamy supported the measure and the idea of a “quieter Fourth.”   Further support was also sought by the local school systems.  Unsurprisingly, the motivation for the ordinance had been to reduce the injuries from the celebratory play with explosives.  If injuries could be reduced it was hoped the city could proceed with more support for the holiday.  The “Sane” Fourth motto was also raised the next year in 1911 and reinforced by a city ordinance that prevented the sale of firecrackers more than 2 inches in length, as well “exploding canes and blank pistols”.

If people were not buying fireworks, Joplin shopkeepers likely hoped they would do some holiday shopping.  One such business was Meyers, which paid for a patriotic Fourth of July ad three years later (when the same belief in a “quieter Fourth” prevailed):

A patriotic ad from Meyers in 1913.

Many in Joplin opted instead of celebrating in town to travel to two of the popular recreational parks in the area, “Since early morning wagons, buggies, autos and street cars have been busy carrying people from the city.  Contrary to the usual custom, there seem few people from the country coming to town to spend the day.  Both Electric and Lakeside parks are the scenes of great activity.”  The bill of events in 1911 for the Electric Park in, located within Schifferdecker Park, advertised a fun and entertaining day:

Electric Park Fourth of July ad from 1911.

An advertisement for the Electric Park in 1911.

An entertaining area of the Electric Park of Joplin, Mo.

One area of the Electric Park where visitors enjoyed the nearby stage.

Not mentioned in the ad above was an inviting swimming pool, an escape from the hot July heat.  Likewise, as the name reveals, Lakeside Park also offered a cool, aquatic retreat.  The attractions at Lakeside in 1911 were several.  The Trolley League, a local baseball league of four teams, was scheduled to present a doubleheader.  A standard at Lakeside was boating, in addition to swimming, and a band had been secured for a patriotic performance.  For those in the mood for dancing, a ballroom was also available.

Lakeside Park, Joplin, Missouri

By accounts, the there was far less room to stroll, as presented here in the photograph of Lakeside Park

Lakeside Park 4th of July ad from 1913

A 1913 Fourth of July ad for Lakeside Park

For those in Joplin who opted to celebrate without visiting the parks, one option was to enjoy a meal and music atop the Connor Hotel.  48 booths were made available in “The One Cool Spot in Southwest Missouri,” each designated with a separate flag which represented one of the 48 states of the United States.  “A telephone message to the Connor Hotel will be all that is necessary to have a state held.”  For those who opted to reserve “a state,” the rooftop garden was decorated with lanterns, flags, and festoonings, and the evening was filled with cabaret singers such as, “Ward Perry, Ned LaRose, Nell Scott and Grace Perry.”  Of course, fireworks of some sort were to be expected and for the Connor Hotel diners, a “grand illuminated display of pyrotechnics” among other novelties was offered.

Connor Fourth of July ad from 1913

Ad for the 4th of July entertainment atop the Connor Hotel

The Connor Hotel's rooftop garden.

A view of the renovated Connor's rooftop area where the 4th of July celebration was held.

From we at Historic Joplin, have a great Fourth of July!

Sources: The Joplin Globe, Joplin News-Herald

For more on the Connor Hotel, click here!