A History of the Joplin Union Depot – Part V

Catch up on the previous installments of the history of the Joplin Union Depot here: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Despite the progress made in December of 1910, work came to a sudden stop in the first week of January 1911 due to a snap of extreme cold weather.  The approximate forty men at work on the depot building had to lay down their tools and watch the skies for better weather.  The stop was short, however, and by the end of the month work was well on its way.  1/6th of the grading was left to be completed with only an estimated 25,000 yards of dirt remaining to be used to flatten the depot yards.  Already 125,000 yards of fill dirt had been brought to the depot, mainly from cuts made by the Kansas City Southern between Joplin and Saginaw.

The hills and hollows of the Kansas City Bottoms were filled in or leveled off to create the needed flat surface for the depot's many tracks.

By the end of February, it was believed that the permanent track would soon be laid.  At the start of March, the Joplin Daily Globe offered a glowing update on the Depot and at the same time, offered insight into how much the Depot meant to the people of Joplin.  The paper elaborated on how a depot represents a city to the growing number of rail travelers, that in effect, the depot was the face of the community.  The paper went on to describe the depot nearing completion:

“Few residents of Joplin fully appreciate the magnitude of the new union passenger depot, now rapidly nearing completion at the corner of First and Main Streets. Its location at the foot of a gently sloping hill, some 100 yards from the intersection of the streets, combines with the style of its architecture to make it appear smaller than it really is.

The building is 300 feet long and 80 feet wide. These dimensions are more significant when it is remembered that 300 feet is the length of a city block….Built of reinforced concrete throughout, the depot is absolutely fireproof, and its walls are thick enough to bear the weight of several additional stories if they should be desired.

The interior of the building is provided with every convenience that has yet been devised for the benefit of the traveling public. The structure is divided into three general parts, north and south wings, each 60 feet long, and the central section, 180 feet long. The wings are of one story only, while the central part, in which will be located the ticket office, general waiting rooms and other apartments, is of two stories, with a rectangular opening in the second floor. The general arrangement of the depot is very much similar to that of the union depot in St. Louis, although the interior is more beautifully decorated than its larger counterpart.”

The article also noted the presence of more waiting rooms, lavatories, check rooms, ticket offices, and even a “great dining hall, 30 by 60 feet in extreme dimensions…”  More so the paper proudly stated, “Nowhere in the country can there be found a depot site that offers greater opportunities for artistic effort.”  The Globe wrapped up its article, “It is simply this – that when seven great railroads decide to spend a million dollars improving their facilities in a city, there must be something decidedly attractive about the city’s future…And Joplin will soon have an entirely new “face” to show strangers who ride the trains past her gates.”

At the same time, high ranking officials from the Santa Fe Railroad visited the depot site.  A vice president of the company was quoted, “I have heard so much regarding the Joplin depot that I was anxious to see it…”  The article noted that the vice-president was pleased with the depot, its progress, and its location, which would serve as a stop for the railroad on its way south to Arkansas.

The depot nearing completion in March, 1911.

The end of March raised expectations that the depot would be finished early.  The filling of yards had been practically completed and work was underway for the installation of a round house approximately 100 yards northeast of the depot.  The house would have three or four stalls, a “small affair” the Joplin News Herald noted before describing the turn table to be installed with it.  The turn table, the paper described, “will bear up the largest engine that travels on any road in the United States.”  Technologically advanced, the table would be turned by machinery, not by hand.  Inside the depot building, meanwhile, carpenters were busy with wood work that was to have a “mission finish” and, “like the rest of the building, is artistic.”

“Let the eagle scream in Joplin,” announced a member of the City’s council in April, upon a motion to hold a celebration to recognize the completion of the Depot on the Fourth of July.  In connection to the decision of the City Council, Mayor Jesse F. Osborne appointed a committee to work with the city’s Commercial Club on planning the gala.  A ball, it was believed, should be held that night inside the depot with officials from every railroad invited to attend while a celebration at Cunningham Park earlier in the day to celebrate the nation’s anniversary.  Curiously, an article on the matter refers that it was not the custom of the city, but surrounding cities, to hold such celebrations on the Fourth.

April did not pass without some mishap on the depot construction site.  The first problem arose at the moment when the construction company believed the depot building virtually finished.  It was then that they realized that either their construction or the design of the depot had failed to include space for the extremely important telegraph operators.  As a result, two rooms were quickly added to either side of the ticket offices which required, “workmen…tearing out big slices from the side of the concrete structure…”  These slices were not the last.  It was not until this moment that it was discovered that the two big doors for the large baggage room had been built on the wrong side of the depot building.  As a result, new doors had to be built into the building lest “teamsters would have been forced to risk their lives in driving over the railroad tracks at the east side of the depot.”

Hastily, doors had to be relocated from the south side of the depot to the north.

With construction otherwise subsiding, thought was finally given to the preparations of the grounds of the depot.  The churned soil, “a sea of red clay, sticky as fish glue,” would soon be transformed into flower beds and grass plots.  The excavation of the hill upon which Main Street was to the west and Broadway to the south had resulted in an area described as “great amphitheater” and an article bragged, “This land…will probably be used for a depot park…” and believed that no other depot in the country compared for its potential to be developed.

The depot otherwise constructed, the News Herald took time to praise the unique application of local materials in its building, primarily “flint and limestone tailings secured from waste piles of several Joplin zinc and lead producers.”  Described as a “fitting monument to the successful efforts of the pioneers,” the concrete was deemed as hardy as a granite wall.  The paper noted that while concrete had been used to great effect for sidewalks, curbs, retaining walls, dams, and culverts, it had never in Joplin’s history been used to such an extent in a building before the depot.  Perhaps as motivation for future use, the article offered a recipe:

“Of the 22 parts in the concrete mixture used in constructing the station, 15 parts came from the Joplin mines, the exact formula being as follows: Mine tailings, 10 parts; Chitwood sand, 5 parts; River sand, 3 parts; Portland cement, 4 parts. Chitwood sand is the term used to describe the fine tailings from the sand jigs. In the mixture of the preparation for finishing the interior, the following formula is used: Portland cement, 2 parts; Chitwood sand, 2 parts; River sand, 1 part.”

The article noted that the best tailings for the project came from mines stratified with steel blue flint.  The paper also reminded the reader of how much the Kansas City Bottoms had been transformed by the depot’s construction, “The new station is built on filled in ground in a district which was a waste of sluggish waters, dotted with dense growths of willows.  For years this tract, of which 30 acres have been taken over by the Union Depot Co., was the city’s dumping ground.  A sickly stream, carrying filth of every kind, crawled through the swamp.  The Depot Co. has changed the course of this stream so that it no longer touches the station grounds.  Hundreds of carloads of boulders and dirt have been used as filler.”  Another, later article also extolled the depot which, “occupies a strip of filled in land that was an eyesore to the community for years.  The building of the station and the filling in of the old swamp has converted a weed-grown bottom land into a beautiful valley, level as the floor of a dance hall.  All the old swamps and marshes have been filled in, the course of Joplin creek changed so that it flows on the east side instead of the west side of the Kansas City Southern tracks, and when the grounds are finally finished and planted in blue grass, flowers and trees, they will be picturesque.” The landscape was forever changed and in the opinion of the people of Joplin, for the better.

By the end of construction of the Union Depot, much of the Kansas City Bottoms had been physically erased from the landscape of Jopin.

Then later in the month of May, the 19th, the first train was switched into the yards of the Depot, a string of work cars.  Despite the presence of the cars, the Depot’s yards were not yet ready to receive passenger cars, and as officials quickly pointed out, the honor of “first train” is given to the first passenger train.  The depot building was considered virtually complete, but contractors declared that the station would not be ready for a formal opening before July 1.  The main work left to complete was the laying of permanent rails, and amazingly, still more grading work.  Amongst the five railroads a growing rivalry had emerged to have the honor of the “first train” into the depot.  A week later, the depot building itself was considered completed.  By June 3, even the windows had been washed and the floors scrubbed and prepared for use.  The woodwork had been completed and “the walls have received their last coat and the brass and iron railings fitted in position.”  Depot officials bravely declared that the station would open on June 15.  Four days before the set date, an announcement was made, “Unforeseen delays have been met in the track construction work,” stated the President of the Kansas City Southern, J.A. Edson, and that, “It would be impossible to properly complete the tracks and station before July 1.” Unsurprisingly, it was also mentioned that the depot building itself still awaited its furnishings and fixtures that were on order.  Some furnishings had arrived in the form of furniture for the lunch room, such as kitchen cabinets, tables, and a “huge gas range of the regular restaurant type.”

Regardless of the delay, fifteen officials from the various railroads behind the depot met at the Connor Hotel.  The meeting was for the purpose of discussing the various contracts between the railroads and to discuss the details of the depot’s opening.  Station appointees had been made in the previous two weeks.  Shortly thereafter, it was reaffirmed that July 1st would be the opening day of the depot.  Comically, over a week later, it was realized that the Santa Fe railroad would not have a train available to enter the depot until July 15.  Accordingly, the official opening was postponed yet again to July 20.  However, the depot would accept trains before then.  In preparation for the celebration, former Missouri Governor David R. Francis was invited to be the guest speaker. And, like the continually shifting opening day, the invitation fell through when a telegram alerted the organizers of the celebration that Governor Francis had departed from St. Louis for the summer and would not return until fall.

Meanwhile, the Depot construction had spurred construction elsewhere.  Across the street from the depot on Main Street three buildings were under various states of construction.  J.C. Jackson was the owner of one and had erected a three story building at a cost of $20,000.  It was hoped the lower two floors would be home to a restaurant and the third a hotel.  On the north side of Jackson’s site, Charles W. Edwards owned a lot and planned to build a four story building.  The excitement of new buildings was quickly to be overshadowed by an even more exciting event back across the street.

One of many ads placed by the railroads in the Joplin newspapers to alert travelers of the pending opening of the depot.

On the night of July 1, 1911, and under the “fiery salute” of “skyrockets and torpedoes,” the headlight of Missouri, Kansas & Texas railroad train No. 83 “flashed around the curve at the north end of the depot” and pulled into the Union Depot at 10:30 pm (“exactly on schedule time”).  An engineer, perhaps P.J. Nagle, responded with a tug on the steam whistle which shrilled to the cheers of over 2,500 spectators.  The Katy Railroad had secured the honor of being the first train into the union depot.  Crowds of railroad officials mingled together and shared welcomes and congratulations, while Joplinites “extended cordial greetings to the crew and passengers of the epoch-making train.”  An article conveyed the sensation of all present, “Everyone seemed to feel that he was personally concerned in the event and took a part in the celebration.”

The honor of the first tickets sold went to Mrs. A. McNabb, a wife of one of the depot telegraph operators, and then immediately after to H.A. Adams, a traveling salesman from Kanas City.  The event of the first tickets, which began approximately at 11 o’clock on Friday night, was retold a day later by the News Herald, “Both were anxious to secure the first ticket, but Dave Joseph, ticket agent, with the wisdom of old King Solomon, divided the honors by passing out the two tickets at the same instant.  He shoved one over the counter with his right hand, the other with his left.”

The day before the arrival the Depot had been a scene of organized chaos as depot employees and officials had moved into offices and set to work preparing for business.  Amongst them were most likely employees of Brown Hotel & News Company, such as F.P. Leigh, the general manager, who was in charge of running the dining room and lunch counter.  Leigh was also assisted by a “corps of pretty girls.”  Meanwhile, the formal opening was currently set for July 20, still.  The highly anticipated Fourth of July celebration had also failed to coalesce.  Officials in charge of Cunningham Park had protested the planned use of the park and the City Council immediately had surrendered.  Perhaps from unreported blow back, the park officials changed their minds, but the City Council’s chief proponent of the celebration, Councilman Phil Arnold, had resigned his place on the city’s planning committee and the idea of a Fourth of July celebration was unceremoniously set aside.

An important arrival at the Depot a week later was a new clock.  The Globe described the Chicago made timepiece: “The clock is seven feet high and will be run by compressed air, which will be made by a motor power.  It is said to be one of the finest clocks in any station in the west.”  Surprisingly, the location of the clock had yet to be decided and so the “enormous timepiece” was left crated for at least a day until the question of its location was decided.  The main furniture had arrived a week before the arrival of the first train.  A visitor to the Depot would have cast their gaze on beautiful Mission furniture described as such:

“…consignments of massive oak have already arrived and more is coming. This will be the heaviest and most attractive furniture in any depot in the Southwest…The lunch room has been furnished and is now waiting for the opening to begin work. It is fitted with an elliptical counter, at which can be seated nearly 200 persons. The table is covered with a heavy granite face, and the chairs are fitted with backs, and swing on a pivot…

In the office rooms desks of the mission style in dark oak are being placed in position…The furniture in the general waiting room is the first to attract attention. It is composed principally of heavy double settees, with high backs and heavy arms. These are also of the prevailing dark oak mission style, with the designating little double keystone which is in evidence in the architecture of the depot in all appropriate places.”

While preparations continued for the formal opening, such as the Missouri & Northern Arkansas planning special excursion trains to Joplin from as far as Seligman for the opening, other events were afoot.  One such event was the visit to the Depot of the president of the Missouri Pacific Railroad.  Dutifully impressed, the president implied that his railroad may abandon their old Joplin depot in lieu of the impressive Union Depot Station.

Finally, at 2:30 pm on July 20, 1911, a parade of Joplin’s finest began under a drizzling rain from the intersection of 20th and Main Street.  The procession was led by a vanguard of twenty mounted members of the Joplin Police Department with Joplin Police Chief Joe Myers and his assistant chief, Edward Portley at the front.  Planned to follow, though not noted in an article printed afterward, were members of Joplin’s labor unions, secret societies, and civic societies.  Among the noted was a procession of the city’s “fire automobiles” and more than thirty other automobiles set to carrying officials from the railroads.  Members of the Commercial Club were present, as were four cars with members of the South Joplin Business Men’s Club and another with officers of the Villa Heights Booster Club.

At the depot, many sought shelter from the rain inside and around the depot, Mayor Jesse Osborne and Frank L. Yale, president of the Commercial Club, made speeches.  Despite the wet summer day, Osborne spoke with enthusiasm of the depot’s construction, “The people of Joplin should congratulate themselves on securing even at this late day, a beautiful structure of this type.  It is not only a monument to the progressiveness of the railroads entering this city, but it is a striking example of the uses to which a waste product may be put…”  Yale followed Osborne and declared the depot impressive and the fulfillment of a “long felt want.”

From July 1, 1911 to November 4, 1969, the Union Depot served the city of Joplin.  Over the fifty-eight year span, it was at the depot that Joplin saw her fathers, brothers and sons depart and hopefully return from two world wars.  It was in the shade of the depot’s awnings that families bid farewell to friends and fellow family members who were departing for the wider world beyond Joplin’s city limits, and it was where they stood in eager anticipation for their return.  For a city that foresaw Joplin as a great metropolis positioned at the intersection of the Great American Plains, the Southern Ozarks, and the Southwest, it was one more proud achievement to count among its others.  It was one more step down a road to a brighter future.

In the March of 1949, the Kansas City Southern showed off its latest liner, the Southern Belle at the depot.  Just over twenty years later, it was the Southern Belle which pulled away, the final train to leave the Joplin Union Depot.  The following decades of the Twentieth Century were turbulent for the former pride of Joplin.  Only three years after its closing, the Depot’s first chance to become relevant again in the daily life of Joplin was lost when the City Council refused to renovate the building as a home to the Joplin Museum Complex in honor of the city’s 100th birthday.  Not long after, the depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places, an honor, but not a safeguard against demolition.

The depot next was passed from one speculative buyer to another, each espousing plans to put the building to use which inevitably always failed to materialize.  In the mid-1980’s, an attempt was made once again to renovate it, but it dissolved into lawsuits and accusations.  Finally, in the late 1990’s, the Department of Natural Resources bought the site.  It was not until approximately 2009 that for the first time the depot became the subject of serious discussion regarding renovation and restoration.  In 2010, City Manager, Mark Rohr, proposed a plan to use the depot as part of a north Main Street development, possibly as a new home to the Joplin Museum Complex (JMC).  Despite resistance from the boards overseeing the JMC, steps were taken toward this ultimate goal.  However, at the start of 2012, such talk has been replaced by more important and pressing matters that arose in the aftermath of May, 2011.  Until the time that they resume, the depot remains enclosed behind a chain link fence, waiting for a chance to once again become the pride of Joplin.

 

The Early Mayors of Joplin

The city of Joplin came into existence in 1873.  Since that time period, there have been a number of mayors.  Below is our attempt to slowly build up a convenient list of Joplin’s early leaders.  Eventually, each mayor will also have their own post which will offer more detailed information about these early leaders and the roles they played in the city’s development.

1873

Elliot R.  Moffett

1874

.

Lee Taylor

+

J.H. McCoy (finished Taylor’s Term)

1875

Patrick Murphy

 

1876

 

F.J. Thompson

 

1877 – 1878

Frank E. Williams

 

1879

 

F.M. Roberts

 

1880 – 1881

W.E. Maynard

1882 – 1883

Galen Spencer

 

1884

W.B. Halyard

 

1885 – 1886

A.B. McCarty

 

1887

 

J.L. Briggs

 

1888

 

C. Livingston

 

1889 – 1892

 

R.B. Tyler

R.B. Tyler

 

1893 – 1894

W.B. Halyard

 

1895 – 1896

E.D. Porter

 

1897 – 1898

T.W. Cunningham

1899 – 1900

J.H. Spencer

J.H. Spencer

 

1901 – 1902

J.C. Trigg

 

1903 – 1904

T.W. Cunningham

 

1905 – 1906

 

C.W.  Lyon

 

1907 – 1908

Jesse F. Osborne

 

1909 – 1910

Guy Humes

Guy T. Humes

 

1911 – 1914 (to April 20)

Jesse F. Osborne

 

If you have photographs of the above listed men or documents connected to them, we’d love to share them here on Historic Joplin.

It Can Happen Here

Distinguished historian Richard Hofstader observed in his book, American Violence: A Documentary History that Americans have a “remarkable lack of memory where violence is concerned and have left most of our excesses a part of our buried history.”

Like most cities across the country, Joplin has had its share of wild and wooly episodes throughout its history, though most of these events have faded into the past. The most common story that has stayed with us, perhaps because of their perceived glamour and mystique, is that of Bonnie and Clyde.

Perhaps a more harrowing story is that of what happened in Joplin during the hysteria of World War I. During this time, stories of German spies, disloyal citizens, and labor unrest created an atmosphere in which communities could turn upon their own. Joplin was no exception.

Gustav A. Brautigam, the owner of a delicatessen and bakery at 305 Joplin Street, was a native of Frankfort Germany. In 1881, he immigrated to America, and eventually arrived in Joplin. Brautigam was by no means the first German in Joplin.

Germans had been in Joplin since the very beginning. According to Joel Livingston’s history of Jasper County, “It was a German who built the first bakery in the city and a German who interested in the organization of the first bank in Joplin. In many ways the sturdy sons of Germany have taken a great part in the building and developing of the city.” In 1876, when the Germania Social and Literary Society of Joplin formed, it had over fifty charter members. Thus it was a small, but established German community, that Brautigam discovered upon his arrival in Joplin.

As Brautigam prepared for business on a Saturday morning during the height of World War I, he found that during the night someone had painted his store windows bright yellow. There were also warnings not to remove the paint from the windows. One warning read, “This place is pro-German. Take notice, Americans!”

The 59 year-old Brautigam may or may not have already been the subject of controversy as rumors alleged he had previously declared that he hoped, “to live to see the day when the German flag replaces the Stars and Stripes on top of the Joplin post office building.” Despite such rumors, Brautigam had participated in the Third Liberty Loan, as he was permitted to hang a flag honoring his contribution to the loan fund drive in the window of his deli, as well as one from the Red Cross.

The decorated car played a role in selling war bonds during the First World War.

Upset, Brautigam began to clean the paint from his windows. As he did so, however, an unnamed individual stepped forward with a bucket of paint and began to repaint the window “as fast as it was washed.” A crowd began to gather to watch. Witnesses later disagreed whether or not Brautigam made disloyal remarks as he washed his windows. The crowd began to grow and soon it numbered an estimated 400 people. Brautigam, worried for his safety, went inside his delicatessen and locked the door.

The mood of the crowd remained uncertain until someone broke through the front door of the delicatessen and entered the building in order to rip down an American flag hanging inside the front window. At this point, Brautigam, fearing for his life, dashed out the back door of his business and escaped down the alley between Main and Joplin streets to the Joplin Police Department.

As he did, the crowd, now an angry mob, chased after him. Fortunately for Brautigam, he reached the safety of the police department before the mob caught him.

Upon alerting authorities to the situation, Brautigam was “arrested for his own safety” by the Joplin police. He asked Police Matron Wathena B. Hamilton to take charge of the perishable foods in his store and distribute them to those in need. She was able to assist eleven families in addition to the children at the Children’s Home. Brautigam was then transported to Carthage under guard and turned him over to Jasper County Sheriff Oll Rogers. Sheriff Rogers released Brautigam because “there was no charge on which they could hold him.” Brautigam reportedly then left Carthage by train.

After the mob discovered the Brautigam was out of its grasp, its members formed an impromptu parade. At the urging of an unnamed individual, the unruly mob decided to march on the Joplin Sash and Door Works located at Twelfth and Wall streets to “get” Peter Braeckel, the newly elected president of Joplin’s Germania Society. Only half of the mob made it to the business and the remainder was persuaded by James M. Leonard, identified as one of the original leaders of the mob, to calm down. Braeckel emerged from the Joplin Sash and Door Works to make a short speech to the mob in which he proclaimed his loyalty to the United States. It was reported that Braeckel’s words “had a great deal to do with quieting it.”

James Leonard informed the mob that Braeckel had contributed to the Red Cross “nearly all of the tables and shelves at the society’s headquarters and how he had made a screen door for the local selection board and sent a man to place it in position.” Leonard also told the mob that Braeckel had contributed “to every war work campaign and public charity campaign that had been conducted” in the recent past. Leonard was joined by an unnamed man who “turned squarely about and instead of advising violence, counseled calmness and helped to disperse the crowd.” It was only when Leonard pointed out a man who demanded they paint Braeckel yellow and declared, “It’s just such remarks as that one and such fellows as you that are going to cause this country as much trouble as Germany does” that the crowd finally dispersed.

Word of the mob interrupted a city council meeting, but officials quickly leapt into action. Joplin Mayor C.S. Poole and Chief of Police J.J. Cofer ordered all Joplin saloons be shut down immediately for fear that alcohol would only fuel the smoldering fire of potential mob violence that threatened the city. The entire police force was ordered out to patrol the city in addition to all available constables and deputy sheriffs.

Edward Zelleken, one of Joplin's prominent German businessmen.

City and business leaders met at the Joplin Chamber of Commerce and adopted a resolution to request that saloons be kept closed and that Home Guards be dispersed to deal with any potential violence. Among those present were: Sheriff Oll Rogers, Albert Newman, Haywood Scott, Mayor-elect J.F. Osborne, R.M. Shepard, Hugh McIndoe, J.J. Cofer, Burt W. Lyon, Sol Newman, O.P. Mahoney, G.F. Newburger, P.E. Burress, and E.A. Norris.

Captain Frank W. Sansom of the Home Guards mobilized a squad of forty men to patrol the city. Each man was armed with revolvers and Springfield rifles. Chief Cofer gave the home guard authority to make any arrests necessary to preserve law and order. Fortunately, the day and ensuing night were peaceful and without incident.

Although Brautigam eventually returned to his business and remained in Joplin until his death in 1956, the damage had been done.

A short time later, Joplin’s Turnverein Germania Society, led by its president Peter Braeckel and vice president Gustav Brautigam, voted to disband the organization and donate its property located on the southeast corner of Third and Joplin streets to the local Red Cross. The property was valued at $25,000.

The group issued a statement which read in part:

“Pioneer conditions, such as existed twenty, forty, or sixty years ago, and which forced people of a class to band together and create livable conditions are things of the past and can never reoccur. German immigration has diminished from year to year.

All German societies, as such all over the country are, and were at the beginning of the war, on a decline. About 50 percent of our present members are American born. At our business meetings of the past few years, we seldom had many more than a quorum (nine members). The Verein is dying a natural death. It has outlived its usefulness. The fact that we had the property held us together. The older members sometimes paid it a visit by force of habit – and the younger members did not come at all.

Germanism in this country, even if the war stopped today, will have no prestige for several generations. Too much harm has already been done. We must realize the vastness of the change of conditions. Never in the history of the world has our situation been duplicated. It is a unique situation, but it is a surprisingly clear and plain situation: We left one country. Why? Because we were not satisfied with our conditions.

We entered another country with the full knowledge (unless we were lunatics) that we had to abide by the rules and conditions imposed by this new country. The new country was very lenient with us, we hardly knew that we were being governed.

To us this war comes like a bolt of lightning out of a clear sky. We are awakened from a dream, awakened to the realization that when we changed countries it was also our duty to change our sentiments and sympathies.

The object of our Verein is to advance German customs, German habits, and the German language. This is, under the conditions which have arisen, intolerable and impossible. Our countrymen cannot and will not and should not be expect to countenance the existence of our Verein.”

Charles Schifferdecker, was born in Germany and later immigrated to the United States.

Thus came the end to an organization that had once included leading Joplin citizens such as H. Geldmacher, Charles Schifferdecker, G.W. Keller, and Edward Zelleken as members.

Sources: Joel Livingston’s History of Jasper County, Joplin News Herald

A Bridge Now Gone – The Third Street Viaduct

Present day bird's eye view of Third Street, Joplin. Via Google Maps.

Its absence regularly goes without notice, and unless one is driving along Third street, crossing Main Street eastward, its former utility cannot even be contrived. It is now just a missing space on the map and a memory quickly fading as those who once recalled its presence disappear from the community. It served Joplin for approximately forty or more years, in one form or another. It connected the city’s two halves, East and West Joplin, and finally offered a means to ascend Broadway Hill, an “unpaved, rocky” road that was “a terror to teamsters and distinctly unpopular with all classes of travelers.” It was the Third Street Viaduct.

The union between Joplin in the East and Murphysburg in the West to form modern Joplin in the early 1870’s was at first more apparent in paper than in geography. A small valley and creek generally separated the two, the area once known as the Kansas City Bottoms, and now the home of the Union Depot and parkland. It was the site of Joplin’s first mining endeavors. Thus, the road that connected the two ran through mining camps, which a Joplin Daily Globe reporter referred to as a “tenderloin” and one that law abiding travelers hesitated to venture through on their way from one part of the city to the next.

While the Southwest Missouri Railroad connected the two parts of the town with streetcar service by 1906, there was still not a quick or convenient means to go from the heart of the Joplin business district to the east Joplin. The result, as the Globe put it, was that “Main Street merchants watching the expansion of the city in all directions saw that East Joplin, closer to the business center than South or West Joplin, was being overlooked by home builders because of the inconvenient route…” A solution to the problem had first been proposed about four yeas before 1906, in a conversation between T.C. Molloy, and the owner of the Globe, and at one point, also the House of Lords, Gilbert Barbee. The answer was a viaduct.

Little came of the discussion, other than the belief that Third Street should serve as the location of the viaduct, bridging across the bottoms to the hilly part of East Joplin. It was not until 1906 that the topic finally made ground and in December, 1907 the City Council passed an ordinance calling for a special election to approve the selling of $50,000 in bonds. Mayor Jesse Osborne quickly signed off on the ordinance and an election held on January 15, 1908, resulted in an overwhelming approval from the electorate, 1,366 for and just 274 against. A sell of bonds occurred in May, and resulted in just over $51,000.

This page of the Scullin Franchise agreement required assistance in building the viaduct. Click on the image to be taken to a larger version.

Only a few months later, the construction of the viaduct was caught up in the debate concerning the granting of the Scullin franchise to establish and build a Union Depot in Joplin. It was not coincidence that Councilman Molloy took the forefront of the debate in the City Council meeting by vouching that as part of the deal, the Kansas City Southern Railroad would commit to paying approximately one-third of the Third Street viaduct. The Kansas City Southern was true to its word and the construction of the viaduct became part of the franchise that eventually was passed by the council and signed by Mayor Osborne on October 26, 1908.

The viaduct upon completion.

In the end, the railroad ended up paying approximately $20,000 of the cost of the viaduct, and the Henry L. Doherty & Company successfully bid to construct the mostly steel bridge for $40,000. An additional $10,000 was also spent on building concrete pedestals, which required the use of a mining drill to ensure they were not placed over one of the many mine shafts which still honeycombed the area. The actual steel work of the bridge was crafted by the Southwestern Bridge Company, and sent in pieces from the plant and then sent to the site for assembly.

The actual construction was boastingly described, “The viaduct is said to be equal to any bridge of the kind in the United States from an engineering standpoint. It is of all steel construction with concrete flooring, covered by a three inch layer of creosoted wood blocks, laid paving fashion with asphalt filler.” The wood blocks were noted as a new innovation with “many advantages over brick of asphalt paving.” In fact, the blocks were “light, impervious to water, and are said to outwear bricks.” The floor of the bridge was concrete, reinforced with steel rods. Above this an actual paved street was laid out.

A colorized version of the newspaper photo from above allows for a better view of the viaduct's lamps. Via Missouri Digital Heritage

The viaduct was completed in the last week of September, all but the aforementioned paving, in 1909. It was one part of a signature moment for the city, which was flushed with a continual procession of beautiful buildings and other civic improvements being constructed. A period of growth yet unrivaled in the city’s history.

The viaduct was described as having “a six foot walk, raised eight inches above the level of the roadway and protected on the outer edge by a high latticed railing.” Light was provided by arc lights, each with the power of 2,000 candles. Powerful enough to not just illuminate the viaduct, but also designed to illuminate the dark area of the bottom land below.

As this political cartoon illustrates, the viaduct was considered an achievement on the same scale as the Connor Hotel and the modern fire department.

The impact of the bridge was immediate. It was claimed that real estate values in East Joplin shot up anywhere from 100 to 300%, with new homes being constructed in the area. On the other side of the viaduct, new buildings were quickly being erected north of the busy business district of Fourth and Main streets. For the next several decades, the viaduct served as a landmark of Joplin, the conduit which connected the two parts of town and helped forged them into one.

In another political cartoon, again the viaduct is in good company, as seen on the playing card above.

In what was at least one death connected to the bridge, Joplin Detective William Woolsey, was gunned down upon the span on December 8, 1917 in an attempted robbery. The officer had been crossing the viaduct with another when Frank Warren and Chub Hardin came upon the two. Warren shoved a gun into the detective’s stomach, but it was not enough to dissuade the Joplin police officer from pulling his own. In a tragic case of misfire, Woolsey got the drop on Warren and pulled the trigger with no result. By the time the shock wore off on both men, each tried to fire, Woolsey for the second time. This time Woolsey’s pistol worked, but so did Warren’s. The result was both men felled by fatal gunshot wounds to the abdomen.

The city sought to protect the community at large in 1924 by placing a load limit of 7,000 pounds on the viaduct. Likewise, it directed the Joplin Police to divert traffic from the bridge at the busiest times of day. As the years passed, the condition of the viaduct worsened. In 1943, the City Council made the fateful decision to close the bridge to all but pedestrian traffic out of fear of its “dangerous condition.” Two years later, as the Second World War was in its fourth year, the city was only able to make temporary repairs to the viaduct with the construction of a support column (to replace one which had broken). Due to the global conflict, materials and money were scarce, and it was hoped that much needed permanent repairs would happen after the war.

A disturbing example of the rust afflicting the viaduct, note the circled steel beam was once the same width as the beam above it.

The permanent repairs never arrived. By 1955, the viaduct had been effectively abandoned by the city for a decade. In February, the City Council made the decision to have the viaduct removed. Concerns existed, as the bridge continued to deteriorate, that pieces of falling concrete would strike pedestrians or vehicles below in Landreth Park or on Murphy Boulevard. The Council handed the task to the City Attorney, Loyd Roberts, while City Manager, J.D. Baughman could offer no expected cost of removal. One councilman, W. H. Clark, suggested that perhaps the Kansas City Southern might be induced to pay for some, if not all the cost. The argument was that the sulphuric acid in the coal burning trains had helped to erode the steel.

Two months later, the City Council reaffirmed its decision in April. It was not received happily by all. A hastily organized East Joplin Civic League appeared before the Council and argued that the viaduct be repaired, not removed. Alarmed at the prospect of being cut off from the city’s downtown, the League was supported by a petition of 75 signatories, and the treasurer, A.F. Brooks spoke on its behalf before the council. While Brooks believed the cost to repair was approximately $79,000, the City Council countered that Sverdrup & Parcel, Inc., an engineering firm from St. Louis, had estimated the actual cost at $192,000. That sum, arrived upon in 1953, undoubtedly helped push the Council to its position of removal over repair. Furthermore, an investigation by Traffic Lieutenant Clifford Hill, supposed that a repair would not be worth it unless Third street was strengthened and extended to Rangeline. Despite the protests of the East Joplin Civic League, the city moved forward on the viaduct’s destruction.

A view of the viaduct as demolition proceeded. The removal of the road surface exposed the viaduct's skeleton.

June saw the City Council instruct the City Manager Baughman to seek bids from companies for the viaduct’s removal. The hope, for the city, was to spend as little as possible and even possibly make money from the salvage value of the bridge’s materials. The contract was finally awarded in July to the V.R. Freer Construction Company, which offered to demolish the viaduct and pay the city $1,200 to salvage the steel. It was noted at the time that the concrete would be reused for civic improvements elsewhere.

The demolition of the viaduct signaled the beginning of the end for many Joplin landmarks.

October saw the end of the viaduct. In its destruction, it provided over 1,000 tons of asphalt which at some point was likely applied to road building projects elsewhere by the city. At the time of demolition, it was argued that the steel of the bridge had been prematurely rusted by the train smoke, which created an odd contrast. The viaduct had been in part paid for by the railroads and by 1955, was being demolished because of it. A personal tragedy also accompanied the viaduct’s demise.  Despite the deconstructed state of the viaduct, barricades at both ends, Joplin resident, Arthur Yates, decided to stroll across the viaduct only to fall through a hole and plummet 30 feet to the ground below. Luckily for Yates, he was not killed, but might have been paralyzed below the waist for life.

By 1956, the viaduct was gone. Third Street became something less than what it was and failed to become what it might have had the city elected to repair the bridge. It’s possible the viaduct was a victim of the wartime shortages of the Second World War or an unfortunate design that was exposed to the destructive effects of the iron horses that had helped spur its construction. None the less, it was among the first of many symbols throughout Joplin which had once been proud monuments to a city which had once burst with pride with expectations of a greater future.


Source: Joplin Daily Globe, Joplin Police Department website, Missouri Digital Heritage

A History of the Joplin Union Depot – Part II

Our first installment of a history of the Joplin Union Depot covered the contentious debate between those for and against a franchise agreement offered by the Joplin Union Depot Company. Now we return to Mayor Jesse Osborne’s approval of the franchise and the long wait between approval and the start of construction.

On October 26, 1908, Mayor Osborne signed the franchise agreement after the City Council passed it with nearly a unanimous vote.  Osborne’s approval was definitely made more likely when City Engineer J.B. Hodgdon returned from a trip to Kansas City two days before with a contract signed by the president of the Kansas City Southern, J.A. Edson, promising to supply material for 324 feet of a viaduct.  As the Joplin Daily Globe noted, a viaduct was “Joplin’s dream,” for it would connect East Joplin with West Joplin.  Despite the union of the two towns of Murphysburg and Joplin into one town over thirty years before, there still existed a recognizable separation of the neighborhoods that lay on the west side of the Kansas City Bottoms and those which resided on the east side.  The viaduct would help erase these separate identities.  Thus, the assistance of the Kansas City Southern provided a great impetus for Osborne to sign the franchise agreement.

Guy Humes, later mayor of Joplin, but fierce opponent to the depot franchise passed by the City Council.

After the council had voted, but before Osborne had signed, the Joplin News Herald, one of the opponents to the franchise, went so far as to dedicate multiple columns to local attorney, Arthur E. Spencer, who claimed that the reaction of the Commercial Club (also an opponent to the franchise) was a reasonable one.  Among the arguments Spencer relied upon was an existing franchise agreement which did not have such a contested “reasonable facilities” clause. (See our prior post for more information on that clause).  For all the noise that the opponents of the franchise created, it was not enough.

“Every such accession makes for bigger values within the city of today, and makes for a bigger city of tomorrow,” stated Mayor Osborne upon signing the franchise.  The signing occurred despite a planned mass rally by Clay Gregory, the secretary of the Commercial Club.  The rally, reported the Globe, was called off when Gregory was chastised by two other members of the club.  It was the end of the opposition to the depot franchise.  What followed may be construed as a big wait.

This Joplin Globe article noted the exasperation that many felt with the opposition to the depot franchise, including that from the much maligned Clay Gregory, Secretary of the Commercial Club.

News of the Union Depot virtually fell out of the headlines of both Joplin newspapers until a front page headline nearly five months after Osborne’s approval of the franchise.  “WILL BEGIN WORK UPON UNION DEPOT WITHIN 30 DAYS, DECLARES EDSON,” announced the Globe.  The news came from Gilbert Barbee, a Democratic political power in Joplin, as well editor and owner of the Joplin Globe, who had traveled to Kansas City and claimed to have spoken with the Kansas City Southern president, Edson.  The claim initiated a brief spat between the Globe and the News Herald, which immediately set out to prove its rival wrong.

An editorial, published in the Globe, on April 4, 1909, summed up the dispute, which involved the News Herald sending its city editor to Kansas City to find contrary evidence to the news brought by Barbee.  The Globe then charged that the News Herald was and had remained opposed to the Union Depot for two damning reasons.  The first, that the newspaper wanted to “get on the roll” of James Campbell, whom the Globe labeled Joplin’s largest landowner and perhaps, Missouri’s richest man (and a large shareholder of the St. Louis & San Francisco “Frisco” Railroad).  Campbell had been labeled an opponent to the Union Depot project because he wanted to establish a new Frisco depot, which would be in competition with the other depot.  The second charge was that the individual who controlled the News Herald, unnamed by the Globe, but perhaps P.E. Burton, was actually a resident of Springfield and purposely used the “evening paper” as a means to vocalize against any improvement to Joplin.  More so then than today, Springfield and Joplin were rivals, each competing to become the larger metropolis in Southwest Missouri.  It was not beyond the vitriol of either populace to accuse the other of undermining their interests.

For all that the Globe had knocked its competitor for trying to undermine its claim, construction of the actual depot was still very far off.  However, preliminary work to prepare the Kansas City Bottoms was underway by late April.  One of the tasks deemed essential to a successful construction was the taming of the branch of the Joplin Creek which ran back and forth along the Bottoms.  The creek, one of the barriers that separated the east and west parts of the town, had a reputation for flooding the Bottoms after intense rains.  A representative from the Kansas City Southern was assigned the task of getting the permission of those who owned land (not owned by the Union Depot company) upon which the creek ran to change its course.  The plan was to straighten the creek along the bluff near Main Street.  By the time the representative departed, permission had been secured.  As a trip to the former Kansas City Bottoms today will attest, the plan was well carried out.

It was a belief, at least of the editors of the Joplin Globe, that Springfield actively sought to keep its rival Joplin from benefiting from any improvement which might make it more of a competitor.

The anticipation continued, however, as Joplin awaited news of the start of construction.  In May, 1909, former Missouri governor, David R. Francis, an investor in the depot, along with other investors, visited Joplin.  The former governor reassured the locals, and commented, “Plans for the depot are well in hand and arrangements are practically completed for work to begin soon.”  News on the depot, however, was scarce until August, when it was announced that the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad, also known as the “Katy,” had agreed to join the Union Depot company.  This brought the number of railroads affiliated through the company to four: Kansas City Southern, Santa Fe, and Missouri & Northern Arkansas railroads, in addition to the Katy.

Additional news was the appropriation by the company of $200,000 for the construction of the station.  The appropriation came as engineers from the Kansas City Southern, directed by William H. Bush, completed surveys of the depot and station site.  The depot, Bush stated, was planned to be located near Broadway and Main, “situated 200 feet east of Main Street and the south line 150 feet north of Broadway.”  When quizzed on the status of the depot, Bush confirmed that the plans and specifications were completed, as well the architectural plans drawn up.  In a short time, assured Bush, the company would begin accepting bids from contractors.  As part of the preparation process, the Kansas City Bottoms would be filled in to make a proper rail yard.  As the engineer departed, it seemed that the building of the depot was not far behind.  Indeed, not long after, on August 17, engineers from the Katy railroad arrived to survey a spur that would take their railroad to the future depot.

Despite the build up, developments of the depot again drifted out of the newspapers.  In October, a fifth railroad, the Missouri Pacific railroad, expressed interest in joining the Union Depot company.  Then, for the next three months, news about the depot, its impending construction, vanished from the headlines.

The citizens of Joplin, as the months passed, grew anxious for news about their expected Union Depot, as depicted in this Joplin Globe cartoon.

The silence broke on the first day of February, with the News Herald taking its turn to offer a reported start time from a traveler to Kansas City.  The news came from a former Joplin resident, H.H. Haven, who passed on “reliable information” that work would begin soon.  The paper, which noted the long wait by beginning its article, “After months of inactivity…,”  brought forward the news that the cost of the depot construction had grown to anywhere from half a million to 700,000 dollars.  The station, itself, the paper noted was still expected to be about $40,000.  This figure was quickly upended by a report a few days later, based on information from the city engineer, Hodgdon, who was being tasked with overseeing the depot construction.

Hodgdon, in early February, was tasked with completing more survey work, specifically for the station itself.  The reported plans he worked from described a station that at some points was three stories high.  More incredibly, the estimated cost of the station had more than tripled to $150,000.  In terms of immediate work, the city engineer expected that a great number of men would be hired to grade the Kansas City Bottoms, filling in places that needed filling in, and other places required lowing.  A retaining wall was expected for the area near Main Street, as well.  In all, Hodgdon explained to a News Herald reporter, “there remains a big amount of engineering work to be accomplished before actual work on the station can commence.”

“$750,000 OF UNION DEPOT BONDS ARE SOLD,” loudly announced the Daily Globe, on February 12.  The bonds, issued at thirty-five years and 4.5% gold backed bond, had been sold to the George C. White, Jr. & Co., located in New York, as well the Pennsylvania Trust, Sate Deposit and Insurance Company.  Of the $750,000, $500,000 was to be put to immediate use in the construction of the depot.  The Globe also raised the figure for the station upward again to $280,000 and noted that plans for the station were complete.  The paper described the station as such, “the building proper will be constructed from brick and that it will contain ample waiting rooms,  adequate facilities for handling baggage, railroad and other offices.”

The signing of the depot franchise was considered a major victory for the administration of Mayor Jesse Osborne. Furthermore, it was viewed as victory for democracy. Note that Joplin here, unlike other political cartoons, is depicted as a miner.

Perhaps the most accurate timeline yet for depot construction was presented with the grading alone, which was to cost at least $50,000, to take at least eight months to complete.  The magnitude of the grading problem was made evident with the expectation that in some places, depths of as much six feet would need to be filled in.  Again, the overall cost of the depot was raised, now to an estimated million dollars.  The actual station and train sheds were expected to be finished by January 1, 1911.  While the million dollar price tag was impressive, the Connor Hotel, completed only a couple years earlier, had also a hefty expense.  The metropolitan Joplinites were growing use to expensive additions to their city.

Valentine’s Day in Joplin brought confirmation from Kansas City Southern president, Edson, that the project was assured with the successful sale of bonds.  Jesse Osborne, now former mayor (replaced ironically by the opposition councilman Guy Humes), declared, “The definite announcement that Joplin is to have the handsomest new union depot in the state in spite of the efforts of a narrow-minded faction to oppose the plan, marks an epoch in the history of this city.”

The day before, the Globe offered an editorial entitled, “Victory and Vindication.”  The opinion piece began, “This Union Depot is a betterment of such big and splendid utility, and a project of such substantial promise in many ways, that the people have endured delay and disappointment in a cheerful spirit.  Of the ultimate realization of the undertaking there has never been any honest doubt, though the influences which for political purposes, attempted to defeat the ordinance known as the Union Depot franchise have periodically striven to poison the public mind into thinking that this great public improvement was only a hazy, distant dream.”

The achievement of the union depot was seen as one of the top achievements by Joplin democracy, whereas the will of the people triumphed over the opposition of a well-funded minority opposition. It's presence was ranked with the Connor Hotel, the fantastic automotive fire department, and other improvements.

The piece was divided between praise for the reassurance brought by the sale of the bonds, and in typical inter-paper rivalry, prods at those who opposed the depot franchise, such as the News Herald.  In an earlier piece, the Globe had noted of James Campbell, the Frisco owner, that it would support Campbell in any quest to build a new Frisco depot in Joplin (rumors of which were plenty).  However, as victory was indeed within grasp, the paper took time to lambaste the current Frisco depot located at 6th Street in scathing terms, “One of the very prompt results of this Union Depot will be the passing of the imposition at Sixth street which the Frisco still presumes to call a depot.  We have been told with the pathetic trembling of lips that grieved at the confession of helplessness, that the sodden, barbarous inadequacy at Sixth street was permitted to remain because the Frisco didn’t have the money to build a better depot.”  More over, the Globe refused to accept “manifestly false absurdities,” and pointed to the millions spent by the railroad on its facilities in nearby Springfield.  In the haze of victory, with no little forgiveness for those who opposed the depot, the newspaper helped voice the frustration of a city impatient to continue its climb to greatness.

Two days later, the man who had helped to personally usher the franchise which bore his name, John Scullin, arrived in Joplin.  The agent of the Joplin Union Depot company recounted the delays which the company had encountered due to the opposition of what Scullin described as a “faction who handicapped the initial steps for the erection of a station.”  None the less, Scullin acknowledged that wiser heads prevailed, and promised the station would be completed by January 1, 1911.

The first view of the Union Depot which greeted the readers of the Joplin News Herald on March 1st

On March 1, 1910, the people of Joplin were offered their first glimpse of their future union depot.  Printed prominently across the top of the front page of the News Herald was an architect’s rendering of the front of the station.  Kansas City Southern chief engineer, A.F. Rust, introduced the building, “Louis Curtiss of Kansas City is the architect of the depot and we believe he has done well.  As you may notice, the middle section of the building is two stories high and on the second floor will be the offices.  At the right will be the baggage and express offices, while the east end will be occupied by the restaurant.”  Rust went on to add of the station, “The construction will be of concrete faced with stone.  Title will play a prominent part in the interior decorations, the mission effect being carried out in a happy fashion.  Entrance to the station from the rear will be from Main by a driveway that will circle at the back away from the trains.”  Rust finished his appraisal of the station with yet one more proposed cost for the station at $75,000.

The city now knew what to dream of, when it waited in anticipation for construction to begin and for what it hoped to be a boastful addition to their home at the start of the next year.  Between then and the station’s opening, a long road yet remained to be traveled.

Sources: Joplin News Herald, Joplin Daily Globe

Joplin Union Depot Franchise

Earlier this week, we brought you the heated debate that surrounded the passage of the Union Depot franchise, also known as the Scullin franchise.   For those of you who’d like to see the elephant, rather than hear about its parts, we now provide you scans of the original franchise.   Click on the images to be taken to a flickr page where you can read them far more comfortably! [Then click "back" on your browser to return here.]  Thank you to those who helped us in getting a copy!

Page 1

Page Two

Page 3 - contains the perpetuity clause, the 2 year construction clause, and the controversial facilities clause.

Page 4

Page 5

Page 6 - concerns the demand that the Depot company help with 1/3 the cost of constructing viaducts

Page 7 - Note Mayor Jesse Osborne's signature

Source: City of Joplin City Archives

The Joplin Fireman’s Tournament and Farewell To Old Friends

In our earlier coverage of the origin of the Joplin Fire Department, we concluded with the transition by the department from horse drawn fighting apparatus to fire fighting equipment mounted on automobiles.  This transition did not occur without fanfare or no little publicity.

The Joplin Fire Department received many responses to the Southwest Firemen's Association tournament

The Joplin Fire Department received an overwhelming response to the tournament invitation.

Instead, the Joplin Fire Department opted to showcase their new fire trucks by hosting the Southwest Firemen’s Association annual tourney.  The tournament, which was to run for three days, was expected to draw the biggest crowd yet in the history of the tournament.  At least 30 teams were expected to come from the four state region to compete in multiple events in teams of 17.  The main attraction, however, was the Joplin Fire Department’s new fire engines, which claimed to be among the first in the nation to harness the power of the automobile engine to power the attached fire fighting apparatus. (Previously, the apparatus was merely attached).  Also of note, Joplin believed itself the first to attach a chemical tank to an automobile, which combined two of the most modern fire fighting technologies.  Highlighting the exhibition would be a race between the 75 horse power fire engines around Barbee racetrack, a first ever in the United States.  The News Herald excitedly predicted the experience:

“At Barbee park they will see the big machines on the line, hear the starter’s revolver fired, then with a chug the red devils will be off, sailing around the track, only a mass of bright colors in which the blue of the fire laddies mingles with the gaudy red and gold of the machines, and they will see the machines, only a streak of red, as their drivers send them down the home stretch faster than 75 miles an hour, with the gong of the big fire bells sounding as the winner shoots over the tape.”

Cartoon of a fire engine racing on a race track

A cartoon depiction of fire engines racing around the Barbee track!

Not to be forgotten were the fire horses, who had there own races as well.  The horses, still retained by the Joplin department, would have a chance to race against those from other departments before literally being put out to pasture.  The big horses which had the hard task of pulling the fire wagons through the streets of Joplin at breakneck speeds, had one last opportunity to demonstrate their ability.

On September 8, 1908, the first day of meeting of the Southwest Fire Association began on a Tuesday morning with the business meeting of the association at the Commercial Club.  Mayor Jesse Osborne enthusiastically greeted the firemen, “Joplin wants you to have a good time.  The city is thrown wide open to you and if you see anything which you want that is tied down, tear it loose.” Speakers included an invocation by Reverend W.F. Turner, the president of the Commercial Club Col. H.B. Marchbank, as well as two past presidents of the association, and the current president from Neosho, Missouri, Jonathon M. Sherwood.  Present at the meeting were 25 delegations from the four states, who opted to adjourn at 10 am.

Jonathan M. Sherwood, President of Southwest Firemen's Association in 1908

Jonathan M. Sherwood, President of Southwest Firemen's Association in 1908

The afternoon must have been a delight to small boys and girls who crowded Main Street and the other streets along the parade route to witness a mile long parade of firemen and their fire fighting apparatuses.  It began at approximately 2:30 pm at the central fire fighting station with the vanguard composed of a handpicked squad of 18 mounted police officers lead by Joplin Police Chief, Joe Meyers and his Assistant Police Chief Cofer.  Behind them marched a band, and behind this musical introduction, companies of firemen from Galena, Weir City, Scammon, Gas City, Neosho, Carterville.  Veteran firemen of the association followed with veteran Joplin firemen right behind them.  These veterans pulled a cart with them, the first piece of fire fighting equipment ever employed by the department. Behind them rode city officials in carriages who were trailed by the four automobile engines of the department, as well four horse drawn engines.  Over a thousand visitors, it was estimated, had arrived in Joplin for the tournament.
After the parade, crowds gathered at the central fire station to examine the “big machines” which demonstrated their capability and even raced down Main Street in a demonstration and “the speed of the automobiles and the dexterity with which they were handled elicited much applause.”  However, the appreciative crowds had to wait until 1pm the next day to see the machines on the race track.

Joplin fire engines on race track

Photograph from 1909 Popular Mechanics of Joplin's fire engines on the racetrack.

Wednesday saw the main attractions of the tournament with fire engines raced around Barbee racetrack.  Nor were the fire departments ready to forget their fire horses with an exciting race between the Joplin departments taking place.  Before an estimated crowd of 3,500, the victor of that narrow contest was Station No. 3 of South Joplin.  The firemen of South Joplin were pulled to victory by the beloved bay and iron gray fire horses, King and John.  They defeated the other Joplin pair of fire horses, Tom and Dan.

“ The horses started on the word “go,” and with a bound were off, throwing dust.  With the bells of the wagons clanging, the horses tore around the track, coming down the home stretch with remarkable speed.”

Other competitions involved laying out 150 feet of hose and then “water thrown” to stop the clock.  Specifically, teams had to race to a line, then attach a hose to a hydrant and put a nozzle on the hose.  It was the firemen from Carterville who ended up excelling at this contest.  Numerous other competitions occurred which revolved around other skills essential to the task of fighting fires.

Highlights from the Southwest Firemen's Association tournament

A depiction of moments from mainly Wednesday's activities at the tournament.

The final day of the tournament was expected to draw even more to Barbee’s racetrack than the 3,500 from the day before.  The main attraction was a real demonstration of firefighting by the Joplin stations.  A two story wood structure, doused in oil, was built upon the race grounds and set aflame.  It was decided before hand that the structure would “be allowed to get well under way before the automobiles leave their stations.”  Before a crowd of thousands, the Joplin firemen arrived, bells ringing, and extinguished the flames.

It was a seminal moment for not just Joplin’s fire department, of which the city and its residents intensely proud, but also for fire fighting across the nation.  It represented the beginning of the end of the fire horse and the introduction of the modern fire engine.  Though, as one editorial cartoon depicted about a week after the tournament, the fire horses, while replaced, were loved and would be missed.

Joplin fireman saying goodbye to his fire horse.

A Joplin fireman bids a tearful farewell.

Source: Joplin News Herald