To Cure Evils: The Joplin Automobile Club

The founding members of the Joplin Auto Club met at the meeting room of the Joplin Commercial Club located at the Club Theatre.


“To cure evils,” was the purpose of the establishment of the Joplin Automobile Club, a branch of the Southwest Missouri Association. In the February of 1911, the city of Joplin was faced with the new problems and dangers of a populace that increasingly turned toward motorized travel in the streets. In response, the city attorney, W.M. Andrews, oversaw a crack down on motor vehicle violations with a veritable flood of arrests and fines. Outrage was immediate. In the quarters of the city’s Commercial Club “bankers, doctors, lawyers and businessmen,” the elite who could afford automobile ownership, demanded answers from Andrews. Andrews, in turn, was blunt. Fourth Street, the city prosecutor decried, had turned into a race track and “only miracles have prevented deaths as a result of fast and reckless driving.”

At issue was a city ordinance which required illuminated numbers on cars to help Joplin’s police department identify and arrest offenders. A number of owners complained that the length of their car identification numbers made adherence an impracticality. Andrews, however, was undeterred and argued of the dangerous driving, “This must be stopped. If there are no numbers on the machines how can an office detect the guilty parties? Within the past two weeks there have been several people injured by autos, and in one instance a woman and two children were thrown from a buggy.” In compromise, Andrews stated that adherence within ten days would result in a dismissal of charges and fines. Unsurprisingly, this was well received.

Taken sometime after 1908, this photo reveals that at least 3 years before the creation of the Joplin Automobile Club, Main Street was still mainly a place of horse and buggy.


The car owners were not without a sense of responsibility for their machines of a new century. The Joplin Automobile Club was only part of a series of clubs created throughout Jasper County, with additional clubs associated with the other towns of the county. Approximately 100 men joined that February with the expectation that membership would grow as word and knowledge of its existence spread.

Two weeks later, the men gathered again to elect officers. Taylor Snapp was voted president, Fred Basom and Victor Young, vice-presidents, A.H. Waite treasurer and W.M. Pye, secretary. At the same meeting, the club voted to create reward money for the arrest and conviction of individuals who sought to ruin the enjoyment and lives of car owners. $100 for a car thief, $25 for someone stealing a part of a car, $10 for anyone who cut a tire or threw rocks at a car or its occupants. Interestingly, the club also voted to encourage a crack down on teamsters, who “persist in taking the entire road and who refuse to permit automobiles to pass” in violation of state law. It was Snapp, in this capacity as president who later spoke for the club after a car accident resulted in the creation of Joplin’s first motorcycle police officer. In short, however, the Joplin Automobile Club came into existence as a means for mostly wealthy men to protect their interests in the new and expensive world of car ownership. The distinction of car ownership would fade eventually with the production of cars affordable by all, such as the Ford Model T.

A Glimpse of the Miners Bank in 1911

Above is a glimpse of Fourth Street looking west, and in the foreground, the Miners Bank Building. You can find a short history of the Miners Bank Building (and the bank, itself) here. It was home to the offices of one of Joplin’s finest architects, August Michaelis and his brother. Fourth Street, in turn, was one of the more attractive locales in the Joplin business district, home not only to the Connor Hotel, but also to the Club Theater and Elks Club.

Globe Coverage of the Joplin Supply Company

On Saturday, the Joplin Globe ran an article about the Joplin Supply Company.  The one time location where later on Ford Model Ts were built within and moved within the building by large elevators.  That building is now one of the historic locales receiving the renovation treatment.

The article here.

Below is a photograph of one of the earlier locations for the company on Fourth Street.  The parking lot adjacent to the former Federal building and located behind the library is all one will see if they attempt to hunt down this building today.

The Joplin Supply Company building at Fourth and Wall Streets.

The Joplin Supply Company building at Fourth and Wall Streets.

Source: Historic Joplin

Growth of A City – Fourth Street Looking East

At the height of Joplin’s boom days, the intersection of Fourth and Main streets was the beating heart of the city’s commercial district.  It was no coincidence that the city’s two greatest hotels, the Connor and Keystone, faced one another from opposite corners, or that Democratic party boss, Gilbert Barbee owned the House of Lords on another corner.  Along Fourth Street, particularly that west of Main, was prime real estate.  One venturing down west Fourth Street found themselves passing the Club Theater, as well the Elks Club lodge and the home of the Miners Bank.  In the next few photos, we’ll examine the change to the street over just a few years.  In addition, with a nod to Leslie Simpson’s latest book, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture, a present day view of the street.

A view of Fourth Street looking east - sometime before 1906.

A view of Fourth Street looking east - sometime before 1906.

In this first view there are several clues to time the photograph was shot.  First, visible to the right is the steeple roof of the Club Theater.  The Club Theater was completed in 1891.  The conical roof further down the street marks not only the Keystone Hotel, built in 1891 and completed a year later, marks the intersection of Fourth and Main.  On the left side of the street, a block down and hardly noticeable is the old Joplin Hotel.  What is not in this photograph is the Connor Hotel, an eight story building that was built where our squat Joplin Hotel now stands.  The Joplin Hotel was razed in 1906.  As such, we know this photograph dates from before that time.  Speculatively, sometime from 1891 to 1906.

View of Fourth Street looking east sometime after 1908.

View of Fourth Street looking east sometime after 1908.

In this view we have some familiar faces.  The Club Theater on the right, the Keystone down the block, and on the immediate right, the once Elks Lodge and offices of the Joplin Water Works.  The main difference is now the reverse of our previous photograph.  Where the old Joplin Hotel stood, now stands the Connor.  Its presence lets us know that this photograph was taken after its completion in 1908.  Note the change in design of the automobiles on the street and the lack of horse drawn wagons or carriages that were present in the previous view.

Fourth Street looking east - sometime before 1913.

Fourth Street looking east - sometime before 1913.

Our third view of Fourth Street.  The Connor and the Keystone are both present.  The steeple roof of the Club Theater is conspicuously absent, though you can see the roof line of the club’s western side.  Incidentally, by this time, the Club Theater, despite a renovation in 1905, had lost its status as the finest theater in town to the Shubert Theater which was located several blocks down to the south.  The vehicles are a little more modern and a subtle aspect is the switch from one set of trolley tracts to two.  Also different, which allows us to place this photograph as more recent, is the addition of electric signs to the facades of the buildings.  Now, we state that this photograph is dated as having been taken before 1913.  How did we come to that number?  In this case, its simply knowing your source.  This photograph came from a booklet published in 1913 to publicize the city, which allows us to place that hard date.

Fourth Street looking east - present day.

Fourth Street looking east - present day.

This photograph, taken on March 13, 2010, is not for the faint of heart for those who love the architecture of bygone days.  All that remains from the previous photographs is our friend the one time host of the Elks and Joplin Water Works building on the immediate right.  The row of buildings on the left are gone, though a few halfway down the block disappeared in the 1920′s when the Connor built an annex further down the block from its Fourth and Main location.  The Club Theater is gone, the front of a car, marks the parking lot that now remains in its place.  On the left down the block is the Joplin Public Library, situated where the Connor Hotel stood until 1978.  The Keystone, destroyed several years before the Connor, is gone.  The building visible beyond the library is the Joplin Globe office, visible only because the Worth Block was demolished (taking with it the House of Lords).  On a bright note is the tall building at the end of the block on the right side.  It was built around 1923 and managed to survive the devastation that was “Urban Renewal.”

If any comfort can be taken from this view of modern day Fourth Street it is that the City of Joplin has embarked on a mission to restore and recognize the city’s remaining historic buildings.  A drive down Main Street reinforces the belief that while a lot has been lost, that which remains will be saved.

Sources: Historic Joplin collection, Missouri Digital Heritage.

Growth of a City – Northwest Joplin

Sometimes it’s worth letting photographs speak for themselves.   Below are three photos taken from what is likely the Keystone Hotel of northwest Joplin, essentially a view of Fourth Street heading west.

1902 or earlier view of Northwest Joplin centered on Fourth Street

A photo of northwest Joplin, particularly Fourth Street from at least as early as 1902.

In the first photo we can see the Club Theater, which is on the left with the steeple at the intersection of Joplin and Fourth Street.  On the immediate right, we have the old Joplin Hotel which was constructed like the Club Theater prior to 1900.  What is missing  is the Miners Bank building which has not yet been built across the street from the Club Theater, as well the new Joplin post office building that was completed the same year as the aforementioned bank in 1905.

1905 - 1906 view of northwest Joplin featuring Fourth Street

1905 - 1906 view of northwest Joplin featuring Fourth Street

A few years later and there’s a recognizable change in Fourth street and the northwest view of Joplin.  Now across the street from the Club Theater is the Miners Bank building and to the right of it on Joplin Street is the brand new Joplin post office.  The vacant lot across the street from the Club Theater (the other side of Joplin Street) now has a two story building and laid down the center of Fourth Street are trolley rails.  The old Joplin Hotel is still in the right hand corner, but by this time Thomas Connor is likely already planning to tear it down to build a brand new hotel that one day would bear his name.  It was demolished at some point in 1906, which helps date this view.  Thus, sometime after 1905 and before a point in 1906.

1906 to 1907 view of northwest Joplin featuring Fourth Street

1906 to 1907 view of northwest Joplin featuring Fourth Street

If only this photograph was not torn, we might have had a better view of the Joplin of 1906 or 1907.  Not much has changed from the last photograph except the absence of the old Joplin Hotel in the lower right hand corner.  Instead, we have the beginning excavations for the foundation of the future Connor Hotel.   Constant in all three photos are two narrow buildings in the center bottom or left, one with a flat roof and the other with a peak.  In a few short years, a seven story building would take their place and might have contributed to the decline of the Keystone Hotel as a popular spot to take a northwest view of Joplin.

Thus, in three photos that likely cover a time span of less than a decade, you can get an inclination of the rapid growth of Joplin.

Sources: Historic Joplin’s private collection.