Progress

From the city’s founding in 1873, a spirit of progress seemed to buoy Joplin.  This illustration from the Joplin Globe exemplifies that spirit of a city that believed that growth and industry was ever in its future.

Joplin Progress

Progress in the future!

Source: Joplin Globe

A Plunge Down a Sixty-Foot Shaft

Every day hundreds, if not thousands, of automobiles rumble through downtown Joplin.  Most drivers  go about their business without a thought that there may be empty mine shafts below their wheels.  We here at Historic Joplin do – which is not to say we’re afraid of our vehicle plunging into a gaping chasm on Main Street, but in an area riddled with mine shafts, tunnels, and sinkholes, the ground giving way does happen from time to time.  Mine shafts even presented a threat to folks, who despite having a familiarity with the dangers of working in the mines, had the misfortune to make a misstep.  Or, in the case of James “Jim” T.  Bodine, the wrong way home.

In the summer of 1904, Jim Bodine was on horseback herding the family cow home for the night.  As he passed south of Twenty-Sixth Street, he had to ride through some brush when he and his horse unexpectedly encountered an abandoned mine shaft.  Bodine, who was a, “well known and very popular mine superintendent and operator,” undoubtedly knew about mine safety, but riding your horse into a mine shaft in the middle of the night was something he had thought little about up to this point.  Bodine’s horse pitched forward into the shaft.  It managed to dig its forelegs into the mine shaft so that it seemed as if it would be able to get both itself and Bodine out of the shaft.  Unfortunately, its legs buckled and the two plunged sixty feet into a water-filled mine shaft.

An abandoned mine shaft via Bureau of Land Management

Abandoned mines poise significant danger risk in any mining area, such as this one located in California.

Both man and horse surfaced with Bodine still in the saddle.  The horse struggled to keep its nose above the water.  Bodine tried to sit in the saddle as long as he could, but realized the horse could throw him at any time, so he slipped into the water.  His head throbbing from a bump to his head, Bodine managed to climb two or three feet onto the walls of the mine shaft.  As the strength began to leave his arms, he began to cry for help.  There he remained for over an hour yelling for help.  In the water below Bodine, his horse was “plunging and striking his feet right and left.” Gritting his teeth, he sank his fingers “into the sides of the shaft as far as possible.”

Fortunately for Bodine, a Mrs.  Carter was passing by when she heard his cries for help.  She “ran to the shaft, shouted a word of encouragement to Mr.  Bodine, and then ran for help.” Mrs.  Carter brought James Ingram, D.E.  Krokroski, and H.  Dillon back to the mine shaft.  There the three men lowered a rope to Bodine which he tied around his waist.  Together the men pulled Bodine up to the surface where he was rushed home.  Four doctors were summoned, but found that Bodine was in good shape despite his harrowing ordeal.

Bodine later told a Globe reporter, “There was a time when I thought I would have to give up and fall into the water.  After Mrs.  Carter looked into the shaft and then ran for assistance it seemed hours before assistance came.  I felt my strength gradually giving away, and it seemed that every minute would be my last.” Even as the rope was being lowered to him, Bodine confessed, “I thought I would not e able to keep my position until I could get it tied, but it is remarkable how a man’s strength will stay by him when his life is at stake.” As for his horse, several men tried to extricate it, but as of the newspaper’s deadline, they had not been able to pull it out of the shaft.

Source: The Joplin Globe

Proof that Joplin needs a Police Matron

While the Joplin city council had by 1904 agreed to the necessity of a police matron due to popular demand, a year later, no matron had yet been appointed.  As a response, the Joplin Globe ran an article offering proof to the need of the city to hire a matron.  The headline read, “PROOF THAT JOPLIN NEEDS A POLICE MATRON,” and the paper argued the following:

“The police records show the arrest of eighty women during the month of May.  Eighty women are supposed to have been locked up in the Joplin city jail in the last month without the care of counsel of a police matron.  There was none but the regular police force to listen to the appeals of, or to advise these erring women charges of the city.  True, most of them were doubtless hardened and seemingly deserving of little better than they got, but who can say?

Who can say to what depths each separate individual has fallen to what extent any one was irreclaimable?  The charges as a result were in the cat-purse of blanket charges, if the term may be so used.  Twenty-nine of these eighty women were charged with prostitution, twenty-one with lewd conduct, thirteen with street walking, thirteen with disturbing the peace, and one each with drunkenness, petty larceny, interfering with an officer, and being suspected of robbery.  Hard charges, those, yet many cried when locked up.  Some were not really bad.  Surely one or two, at least, might be prevailed upon to repent and change her ways.  Certainly enough soul remained to cry out through the tears of those eighty bad women to justify the attention of a good and worthy police matron.

The records prove that one, anyhow, might have been saved from death, if not also from deeper depths of sin, for one of these eighty was Lucy Scott, the young, fair, but wayward girl who took her own life as she confessed, because nobody would come and talk to her about going to a reform school.  A police matron could have saved one life last month.  Who knows, how many wrecks could have been averted?”

A year later, the position was finally assumed by Ellen Ayers.  See our earlier post on Mrs. Ayers concerning her appointment and reaction to the job.

Sources: The Joplin Globe

The Chinese Immigrants of Joplin

Walter Williams, founder of the University of Missouri’s Journalism School, once wrote “Joplin is a city of self-made men, nearly every one of the moneyed citizens having made his fortune there. They are largely American born and American educated.” As Williams observed, Joplin was primarily populated by American citizens, but there were many immigrants who called Joplin home.  Few, however, were Chinese.

Chinese immigrants arrived on America’s shores beginning in the late 1840s during the California Gold Rush. Two decades later, even larger numbers of Chinese laborers were recruited to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. The influx of cheap labor and threat of economic competition sparked racial animosity. Violent anti-Chinese riots broke out in several American cities, including Denver, Seattle, and Rock Springs, Wyoming.  In 1882, in response to growing outrage over Chinese competition, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act. The act suspended Chinese immigration to America for a period of ten years. Only those Chinese immigrants who arrived prior to the act’s passage were permitted to stay.

An anti-Chinese immigration illustration from the virulent Wasp magazine of San Francisco

An illustration from "The Wasp" a magazine of San Francisco often noted for its virulent depictions of Chinese Immigrants. Available from the Library of Congress

At the turn of the century, both St. Louis and Kansas City were home to sizable Chinese communities but the Chinese presence in Joplin was less substantial.  Historians can be stymied by gaps in the historical record. The earliest Joplin city directory to have survived the ravages of time dates to 1899, leaving a gap in the city’s history that ranges decades. Meanwhile, county histories often overlooked and ignored the presence and contributions of minorities. Although the state of Missouri attempted to collect birth and death records beginning in 1883, the effort failed until 1910, when the Missouri General Assembly passed a law making it mandatory for counties to record birth and death information.  Few archival collections can boast of letters, diaries, and manuscripts from early Joplin, much less one kept by Chinese resident. Thus, it is often difficult to piece together the history of an immigrant group at the local level, especially if it was a particularly small immigrant group.

According to the 1870 U.S. Federal Census, there were no Chinese immigrants living in Joplin. By 1880, however, at least one Chinese immigrant called Joplin home. Lum Wong, a single twenty-seven year old native of China, listed his occupation as “servant – clerk in store.” He could not read or write English. Wong lived with sixty-four year old Jacob Wise, a retired merchant. A few years later, in1883, an advertisement appeared in the Joplin Daily Herald for a “Chinese Laundry” run by Lee Hem.

Ad for Chinese Laundry

An advertisement for Hem's Chinese Laundry in Joplin

Although Lum Wong did not appear in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, five other Chinese immigrants are listed as residents of Joplin. Most, if not all, worked in the laundry business. G. Goro, a thirty-six-year-old immigrant, lived on Main Street. According to the census, his neighbors described themselves gamblers, blacksmiths, day laborers, miners, and traveling salesmen. Sing See, Jung Jin, and Low Chung described themselves as “partners” in a laundry. See and Chung listed the year of their immigration as 1877 while Jin arrived in American in 1879. Thirty-four-year-old A. King, who roomed in a boarding house on Main Street, listed his occupation as “Chinese laundryman.” Unable to work in the mines, Chinese immigrants were forced to eke out their living in whatever industry was accessible, and often greatly restricted along racial lines.

Albert Cahn, a German-born clothing salesman who spoke at the opening of the Joplin Club in 1891 echoed the words of many American politicians when he declared, “This is the best apple country to be found and had Adam and Eve been placed here that Garden of Eden story would never have been told. We have vineyards here for the German, railroads for the sons of the Emerald Isle, commerce for the English, but no use for the Chinese.”

By 1910, only two Chinese immigrants lived in Joplin. One, Jung Low, gave his occupation as “Chinese laundry.” The other, John Jungyong, ran a restaurant.

Within ten years, the Chinese population in Joplin grew when Toy Jung, an immigrant to America since 1890, opened a Chinese restaurant. Toy, the proprietor, was assisted in his business by a partner, Ling Kwong, who had reached the states five years after Toy. Additionally, five cousins of Toy worked as cooks and waiters. Only two of Toy’s cousins were born in California; Toy, his partner, and his three other cousins were all born in Canton, China.  Another Chinese run business listed in 1920 was a laundry run by a Chinese-American named Charlie Hoplong.

The 1930 Census revealed the presence of another Chinese restaurant run by Shang Hai Lo, a sixty-year old restaurateur from Canton, China who had arrived from China the same year as Toy Jung.  It also noted the absence of Charlie Hoplong and his laundry business.  Four years later, Toy Jung, who had spent at least fourteen years in Joplin, passed away leaving only his wife Quong Jung to mourn his death.

Today there are a small number of Chinese residents in Joplin. If you want to sample some of the finest Chinese in the Midwest, stop by Empress Lion. This small, unassuming restaurant located in a strip mall at the corner of 32nd Street and Connecticut, offers some of the finest Chinese to be had.  (We hope you’re well, Tiger and Lily!)

Sources: United States Census, “History of Jasper County and Its People” by Joel Livingston, and the Joplin Daily Herald, “The State of Missouri” by Walter Williams, and the Library of Congress.

Before the Joplin Miners

While Joplin no longer has a professional or semi-professional baseball team, perhaps its best known team was the Joplin Miners, where Mickey Mantle began his baseball career.  Perhaps the city’s least known team may have also been its first.  One of the first mentions of a team, and a brief one at that, appeared in 1880:

A reference to the Joplin Blue Stockings

The Joplin Blue Stockings, perhaps one of Joplin's earliest baseball teams.

Source: Joplin Daily Herald

A story from Joplin courtesy of Vance Randolph

One of the most important figures in recent Ozark history is Vance Randolph. Randolph, born just across the stae line in Pittsburg, Kansas, first visited the Missouri Ozarks in 1899 when he and his parents visited the O-Joe Club in Noel, Missouri. Enthralled by the people and places of the Ozarks, Randolph spent the rest of his life traveling throughout Missouri and Arkansas collecting folklore, tall tales, superstitions, and folk culture. Randolph was no stranger in Joplin. He claimed that the best bar in the region was at the Connor Hotel.

Vance Randolph
Vance Randolph

Of the hundreds of stories he collected, this one comes from Mr. Reggie Courtney of Joplin, Missouri, on March, 1926:

“Once upon a time there was a fellow who was always telling big stories. Folks used to say he wsa the champion liar of the country. But them tales of his wasnt’ really lies, and everybody knowed it. They was just big windy stories, and folks used to come for miles around to hear him tell ‘em when he got going good.

One day a bunch of the boys was setting in front of the store at the crossroads when this here windy fellow come riding along on a mule. “Howdy, Emmett,” says the postmaster. “Light down, and tell us one of them big lies of your’n.”

But the fellow didn’t stop only a minute, and he looked mighty serious. “No time for foolishness today, boys,” says he. “Old man Slinkard has fell off’n the barn, and it looks like his back’s broke. I’m going after Doc Holton.”

After Emmett went down the road towards town the boys just set there and looked at one another. They all knowed Old Man Slinkard and most of them was kin to him. Pretty soon they all got on their horses and rode over to the Slinkard place, to see if they could do anything to help out. It was pretty near four mile, through mighty rough country. They was all hot and sweaty and tired before they come in sight of the house. And the first thing they seen when they got there was old man Slinkard out a-plowing his corn.

“Well I’ll be damned!” says the postmaster. “He never fell off’n the barn at all! That goddamn Emmett lied to us!” The other boys was all pretty sore too, but they couldn’t pass up a chance to pour it on the postmaster. “I don’t see where you got any kick a-coming,” says one fellow. “Didn’t you ask him to tell us one of them big lies?” The postmaster he says yes, but he didn’t figure on riding no four miles in this heat just for some fool idea of a joke.

“Well, I don’t see how you can blame poor Emmett,” the fellow says, “because he just done what you told him.” And then they all laughed like fools, and that’s all there is to this story.”

Source:  Hoosier Folklore, A Quarterly of Folklore, vol. IX, No. 2 and Vance Randolph: An Ozark Life by Robert Cochran.

The Miners Bank

As the riches of the mining fields of Jasper County drew investors, miners, and speculators in the 1870s, the need for a banking institution was obvious. One of the first men to step into this void was one of the fathers of modern day Joplin, Patrick Murphy, originally of Carthage. He and an associate established the town of Murphysburg, which later merged to form Joplin in 1873, and two years later, Murphy opened the Banking House of Patrick Murphy. A two story brick building, it was located on Main Street between Second and Third Streets. Murphy’s endeavor was a success.

A sketch of Patrick Murphy in his prime.

A sketch of Patrick Murphy in his prime.

Such was the success that the financial institution attracted investors and in 1877, the Banking House of Patrick Murphy was re-chartered and organized as the Miners Bank of Joplin. Murphy served as the first president of the bank, and was followed by Thomas E. Tootle. The first head cashier was Frank Kershaw. Kershaw’s successor was A.H. Waite. Most customers would have more likely known and recognized C.H. Spencer, who served as head cashier for at least sixteen years leading up to 1906. Local magnate Thomas Connor had served two terms as bank president. In fact, the board of directors included many of the wealthier citizens of the city, such as Connor, Howard C. Murphy, Edward Zelleken, C.W. Glover, and H.O. Bartlett.

Miners Bank in Joplin Hotel

Magnified here is the corner of the Joplin Hotel, displaying the Miners Bank sign.

Miners Bank’s success was also reflected in its financial holdings. At its inception the bank held $25,000, by 1890 this was increased to $50,000 and a year later doubled to $100,000. Due to growth of its assets and the increasing number of depositors, Miners Bank moved from its location between Second and Third to take up residence to offices in the Joplin Hotel, and there remained from about 1885 to 1905. Over a slightly longer period of time than its stay at the Joplin Hotel, reported deposits at the bank grew from $35,700 to $949,000. Loans increased from $6,500 to $425,000. Cash on hand went from $15,000 to a bank robber’s dream of $97,000. Figures from 1905 listed the six most successful banks by deposits, and the Miners Bank was first and foremost, besting its nearest competition by more than $55,000. Until the bank’s move in 1905 from the Joplin Hotel, its chief competitor and runner up in the 1905 figures was the Joplin National Bank, located just across the intersection situated on the bottom floor of the Keystone Hotel.

Miners Bank opening

The Miners Bank building as featured in an article announcing its opening.

The move in 1905 may have been prompted by the plans of Thomas Connor to raze the three story Joplin Hotel with plans to build a larger, grander establishment, or may simply have been due to the banking institution’s success. The bank’s new home was just a block away from Main Street, where Fourth Street intersected with Joplin Street. The new building was described by one of Joplin’s paper as a “beautiful modern building, with elevators and all modern conveniences.” The offices were equally beautiful and constructed of marble, tile and steel. Designed by August Michaelis, one of Joplin’s most prolific and talented architects, the building was designed to accommodate an additional four more stories should the need arise. It was built at a cost of $125,000 by the firm of C.A. Dieter who later oversaw the construction the Connor Hotel.

The Miners Bank building sometime after its opening, but before a prominent sign

Another photograph of Miners Bank not long after it opened.

From July 1st of 1905, Miners Bank inhabited the ground floor, leaving the upper floors open to paying tenants, architect Michaelis included, and remained there until 1930 when it merged with Conqueror First National Bank. After the merger, the bank moved back to Main Street for the first time in twenty-five years, and with its departure ended an illustrious history that began in 1877. The last home of Miners Bank remained in use until a disastrous fire prompted its demolition in 1982.

Miners bank a few years after its opening.

The Miners Bank building a few years after its opening.

Miners Bank on corner of Fourth and Joplin Streets

A view of the Miners Bank building in context at the intersection of Fourth and Joplin Streets.

Sources: Missouri Digital History, Joplin News Herald, and the Story of Joplin by Dolph Shaner.

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.

The New Club Theater

When the Club Theater was renovated in 1902, the interior was trumpeted as a “color scheme of Empire Red, with Exquisite Trimmings of Gold and Ivory.” The theater, originally built in 1891, stood watch at the intersection of Fourth and Joplin Streets. After its renovation it was commonly referred to as the New Club Theater. The idea for its construction originated as a meeting place for Joplin’s business and social elite.

The Joplin Club, formed in 1889, was comprised of Joplin’s most influential and powerful citizens. They were civic minded men who were inspired to promote and improve Joplin.  The club members played a key role in the construction of the Keystone Hotel in the early 1890’s, the finest lodging in the city until it was eclipsed by the Connor Hotel which opened in 1908.

Once a week Joplin’s captains of commerce, men like German born brewer Charles Schifferdecker and real estate mogul Thomas Connor, met to discuss the future of Joplin.  Members of the club realized two things.  First, the club needed a proper meeting place to hold their gatherings. Second, and most importantly, they realized that Joplin lacked what they believed every up and coming city needed, a first class theater. Intent on building a clubhouse for the betterment of Joplin, the club purchased lot located a block west of the center of city’s commercial heart at Joplin and Fourth Streets. The lot was reportedly purchased at a price of over five thousand dollars (though this may have included cost of construction).

On January 26, 1891, the Club Theater formally opened. It boasted seating for 1,400 patrons in a theater situated in on the west side of the building along Joplin Street.  A painted scene of local landmark Grand Falls adorned the stage curtain.  On the north side of the second floor was an area reserved for the Joplin Club to host its formal and informal functions and meetings.  This area may have consisted of two grand rooms.

Street view of Club Theater

This photograph likely taken prior to 1902, the Club Theater is the steepled building on the right. The Keystone Hotel at Fourth and Main Street is just down the block with the conical roof.

The first production to grace the stage of the theater was Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII.  Centuries before, when Shakespeare’s Globe Theater had produced the play, an accident during the show had resulted in a fire that burned the theater to the ground.  Tragically, the Club Theater would later suffer a similar fate.

The clubhouse section of the theater was formally dedicated on March 4th, 1891, with Joplin’s finest in attendance.  It was a scene of well-dressed gentlemen sipping spirits and filling the air with the rich aroma of Havana’s finest. Speakers included the head of the Joplin Club, W.H. Picher, who spoke and then read from a letter sent to the Joplin Club from Governor David Francis.  The next to speak was the Honorable Gabriel Schmuck, who had traveled from Galena, Kansas, and then a local judge, O.H. Picher.  Other speakers, from nearby Carthage, Webb City, and Neosho all spoke of the prominence and promise of Joplin.

The New Club Theater as pictured in 1902

An ad for Attorney General Herbert Hadley is evidence of the powerful and important figures who the Club Theater hosted in its heyday.

Eleven years later, wear and tear had taken its toll upon the Club Theater. By this time the Joplin Club had sold its interest in the theater to other investors, and renovations were begun in August, 1902 at a reported cost of at least $15,000. Period newspapers claimed the newly refurbished theater had no equal in the great state of Missouri with the exception of perhaps the Willis Wood Theater in Kansas City.  Renovation work had taken three months to complete. Workers replaced stained and worn panels with new panels of empire red and ivory wainscoting trimmed with gold.  Gold and ivory were also used to dazzling effect throughout the interior in the ornamentation of the boxes, gallery and balcony fronts.

Interior illustration of Club Theater

An interior illustration of the Club Theater

For the wealthy, eight boxes were available as well as six loges. All were carpeted with plush red velvet.  The same lush carpeting extended to the gallery floor for the enjoyment of those of more modest means.  The stage was expanded to a size of forty-five by sixty-five feet, with an arch overhead complete with a sounding board painted a soft blue and decorated with white clouds and branching red roses.  The stage even had the capability to expand even greater to allow for the production of the most modern and elaborate plays or musicals.

Of the men in charge, only one was a local to Joplin, Don W. Stuart. Stuart had worked at the theater under its previous management.  The other three were essentially absentee owners, C.U. Philley from St. Joseph, L.M. Crawford of Topeka, Kansas, and F.C. Zehrung of Lincoln, Nebraska.  All three men were involved in the entertainment business.  For another six years, the New Club Theater was the premiere venue in Joplin, attracting operas, minstrel shows, and famous conductors as they swept across the nation entertaining Americans with the music of a new century.  In that time, the theater charged anywhere from ten to thirty cents for admission.

Sketches of the New Club Theater's managers

The New Club Theater's Managers: From Left to Right is C.U. Philley, L.M. Crawford, F.C. Zehrung, and Don W. Stuart

However, in 1908, the Shubert Theater opened several blocks away, and assumed the position as the premier theater of the city of Joplin.  All that was left to the New Club Theater was the low brow amusements of vaudeville and memories of the great operatic performers and productions.  An implicit indication of this loss of status was the absence of the New Club Theater in a promotional photo booklet put out by the city of Joplin in 1913, where as the theater had been included in a 1902 version of this booklet.

Ad for Commercial Club

By 1906, the Joplin Club had moved out of the premise and the Joplin Commercial Club placed an ad in the local paper describing its value and place in Joplin society. (For easier to read version just click on image).

Ten years  following the opening of the Shubert, in 1918, the theater portion of the building burned and was never replaced.  What remained of the New Club Theater continued on regardless, eventually being remodeled as an office building.  A fire struck again in 1939, but the building persevered, but ultimately was unable to escape a fiery fate when in 2003 a grease fire from a restaurant located within brought the once proud building down to ashes.  Today only a parking lot remains.

Sources: History of Jasper County by Joel Thomas Livingston, Missouri Digital Heritage, and the Joplin Daily Globe.

One Day a Texan Got Himself A Drink

A short article in an early Joplin paper reflects the southwest spirit of the city in its early days.

A Texan and his horse have a drink in a Joplin Saloon