Death Escaped, But Not Avoided

Jesse Laster, circa 1910.

On a May day in 1910, Joplin nearly lost a councilman.  Jesse Laster, not a stranger to the zinc and lead fields of Southwest Missouri, listed zinc mining as his profession in the 1910 Federal Census.  It was that same year that Laster had been elected on the Democratic ticket to represent the Seventh Ward of Joplin.  A father to three, later to add one more son to the son and two daughters he already had, Laster had ventured out with a mine superintendent, Harry Williams, to a mine in Duenweg.

The afternoon sun high above, the 28 year old councilman and Williams made the decision to board a tub to descend to the mine 200 feet below.  Both had years of mining experience and undoubtedly the act of being lowered in the metal container into the dark depths of the mine shaft was a familiar one.  Inside the tub, one or both of the men likely signaled the mine’s hoisterman to lower them down.

The hoisterman was new at his job and the equipment purported to be in good shape.  However, as the tub with the councilman and the superintendent began to lower, the hoisterman released the brake and to his horror, watched the tub with the two men plummet to the bottom of the shaft.  Nothing the hoisterman did slowed or stopped the tumbling tub.  In a sickening sight and loud crash, it smashed into a bucket full of dirt.  Laster and Williams were thrown out and into an adjacent drift, both men knocked unconscious.

It was not uncommon for miners to die in such accidents, but both Laster and Williams survived that day.  When astonished and fearful miners reached the men, they found Williams with severe wounds to the head and a broken arm.  The councilman suffered a cut to the face, an injured shoulder, and a broken right femur.  Williams was taken to his home to recover, Laster was rushed to St. John’s hospital.  At the time of the reporting of the incident, it was believed both men would recover.  Laster did, though only to live for another sixteen years.

The dark eyed and dark haired councilman, perhaps wary of the mining profession, had by 1918 joined the Joplin Police force and achieved the rank of detective.  By 1926, Laster had been promoted and wore the title Chief of Detectives.  On a hot August evening, the chief with his family were heading home when Laster spotted an armed man by the side of the road.  Unknown to the former councilman, the man was engaged in bootlegging and mistakenly believed Laster and his family to be rival bootleggers.  When Laster identified himself, the man shot and killed the 46 year old father of four.  Laster was the tenth Joplin police officer to fall in the line of duty.

 

Sources: 1910 Federal Census, 1920 Federal Census, Joplin Police Department website, and Joplin Daily Globe.

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

A History of the Joplin Union Depot – Part I

In the middle of October, 1908, the union depot franchise was up for debate before the Joplin City Council.  The hope of John Scullin, a president of the Missouri and North Arkansas railroad, along with representatives of the Santa Fe railroad, was to bring the franchise to the City Council meeting on the night of Tuesday, October 13th. The intent was to have the franchise quickly passed.  The Council, likewise, was prepared to request a clause be included in the contract which would force the Joplin Depot Company, which Scullin represented, to allow any railroad access to the depot so long as the facilities were available to accommodate such.  The Council also hoped to convince the builders of the depot to help pay the costs of constructing viaducts for Broadway, Third Street, and “C” Street.

As the time for the arrival of Scullin and the Santa Fe representatives neared, the word was that the Joplin Depot Company officials had claimed that any provision in the franchisee that forced the company to admit other railroad companies would be unacceptable.  Likewise, the franchise agreement said nothing about viaducts.  A number of the city councilman also were not keen to the idea of one night of deliberation and passage of the franchise.

Joplin Union Depot East Facade

The afternoon of the meeting, Clay Gregory, a secretary of the Commercial Club, an organization composed of Joplin’s leading businessmen who worked to promote Joplin’s business interests, warned that one night would not be enough time to examine the details of the franchise.  Especially, Gregory claimed, if the city allowed the Joplin Depot Company to retain the right to deny any other railroad access.  The Joplin News Herald, unabashedly supported his position and wrote in accompanying bold lettering, “THE COUNCIL MAY BE GIVING AWAY THE LIBERTY OF THE CITY IF IT PASSES IT.”  Gregory went on to doubt the certainty that if the franchise was given to the Missouri and North Arkansas and the Santa Fe, that it would mean that both railroads would build lines into Joplin.  The article noted that a few months earlier, the Joplin and Eastern Kansas, a local branch of the proposed St. Louis and Oklahoma Southern, had been denied a franchise that had requested the same and likely for the purpose of cutting off Joplin from the Missouri and Northern Arkansas.

The franchise was not passed that night, instead the evening was composed mainly of agreements between representatives of the Missouri and Northern Arkansas, the Kansas City Southern, and Santa Fe, and the city council members on a franchise committee.  The meeting was held at the Connor hotel and seemed at first to achieve everything that the city wanted before the earlier proposed vote on the franchise.  The agreements consisted of the Joplin Depot Company paying for one third of the costs of the Broadway viaduct, as well any costs incurred from changing the plans of the Third street viaduct, and right to build over any ground owned by the company to construct the “C” street viaduct.

Also gained was a promise to allow other railroads into the depot and inserted into the franchise agreement an arbitration clause, considered a “liberal” contract element to the agreement.  In exchange, the city was given the rights over the streets and alleyways that ran through the property it had already purchased two years earlier in advance of pushing for the passage of the franchise.  The Santa Fe additionally promised that construction would begin shortly on extending the railroad’s tracks from nearby Pittsburg to Joplin.  Likewise, the Missouri and Northern Arkansas noted that only eight miles remained to complete the line to Joplin.  All together, the completion of the tracks promised to allow trains passage from New Orleans to as far as the great Northwest.

The franchise committee, headed by councilman N.H. Kelso, initially had some worries, though later he remained quiet upon the final vote.  Kelso also participated in the discussion of the franchise committee of Joplin’s Commercial Club.  Of immediate concern of the franchise was language in the franchise agreement, “…and provided the reasonable facilities of said depot company shall admit thereof.”

Joplin Union Depot South Facade

Chief among those worried was councilman Guy T. Humes, a future mayor of Joplin, who actively sought to prevent a vote from being taken, despite Scullin arguments.  “I came to Joplin two years ago,” stated Scullin to the franchise committee, “and made the land purchases we now hold.  We bought them to be ready when we needed terminals…Now we want the terminals.”  The president of the Missouri and Northern Arkansas went on to sourly grumble, “I think I made a mistake in not asking you for something when I came here.  You would have appreciated us better.  We think we have presented a fair ordinance and we don’t think we should be asked for anything more.  The railroads are hard up.  Money is difficult to get.”  Scullin then threatened, “As far as we are concerned, though, I can tell you we’re not going to be held up.”

The clause, detractors argued, could be used by the operators of the depot to prevent the admittance of other railroads into the depot.  Thus, one railroad company, as a member of the Joplin Depot Company, might possibly use the excuse that the depot’s facilities could not reasonable sustain any new railroads as a means to keep out its competitor.  Another element that worried some was the use of the word “continuously” in a clause stating that construction, once it began, should continue until completion.  At the time, the fear was that if the company building the depot paused for a few weeks, the franchise would be lost.  The City Council opted to discuss the matter on Tuesday, October 20th, while the Commercial Club chose to discuss the matter on Sunday, the 18th.

Humes, meanwhile, argued, “The wording contains to me a danger to the city’s future.  We all know how the city is encircled by railroad tracks, and how the granting of this franchise means the giving away of practically all the remaining terminal grounds in the city.”  Humes was worried that the franchise might give the Joplin Depot Company a terminal trust, “I may be wrong, but as I see it, it gives the railroad company absolute dictation as to what roads shall or shall not use the depot yards.”  The councilman went on to loudly question, “Who is to determine what constitutes the ‘reasonable facilities’ of the depot and yards?  Who is to interfere when the company says to a road that wants to come in here that the full facilities of the depot and yards are taken up, and that they can’t come in?”

Joplin Union Depot West Facade

As the time neared for the Commercial Club to meet and discuss the nicknamed Scullin Franchise, the reported local sentiment was that the council intended to vote for passage of the franchise regardless of the Commercial Club’s opinion.  Other issues rose to join the controversy of the so-called “Joker” clause, which concerned the depot company allowing other railroads access to the depot.  One issue was whether the clause in question clause would be available to be discussed under the “liberal” arbitration clause.  Another issue was the potential cost of the depot and the worry that the depot would not be built large enough to keep up with the city’s progress. Scullin assured the city council the depot would be “$40,000,” to which the city’s response was, “If he really expects to spend that much money it won’t hurt him, and the city will be protected.”  The actual cost of the depot would be much higher.

After a meeting dedicated to examining the Scullin franchise, the Commercial Club, led by its secretary, Clay Gregory, voiced strong disapproval for any rushed vote on the franchise.  Most of the worrisome issues raised by Humes and other detractors to immediate passage, was voiced by the Commercial Club.  The meeting, described as a rapid cross-fire between the proponents and detractors, consisted of points raised, refuted or confirmed one after another.  In lead of the passage was Councilman Kelso whose concerns from before were satisfied and voiced the opinion that immediate affirmation was necessary, since the railroads “mean business” and warranted less than “mature” examination of the franchise.

The two sides argued back and forth.  Proponents argued the city had received everything it desired from the Joplin Union Depot Company without giving anything.  Detractors quickly pointed out that the city had conceded approximately $100,000 in vacated land and any other means to access the center of town would otherwise come at a much higher price.  Likewise, detractors worried that the Kansas City Bottoms, the proposed location of the depot, was too small and would inhabit future growth.  Proponents pointed out the railyards of Kansas City, which while small, were plenty large enough.  Humes, who was present, worried about the absence of language controlling the regulation of switching and terminal charges at the depot and later introduced an amendment that would allow the city oversight.

By the end of the meeting between the city franchise committee and the Commercial Club’s franchise committee, only three strong points of contention existed.  First was the existence of a perpetual life clause for the franchise, which the club wanted reduced to 99 years.  Second, the addition of a clause demanding that construction of the depot commence within 2 years, which the city council committee refused to consider.  Third, the injection of a forfeiture clause to penalize the union depot company for failure to carry out the contract, another clause the city council refused to consider.

Joplin Union Depot

As the city council moved to consider the Scullin franchise, the amount of vacated land was considerable.  The value was estimated between $50,000 to $100,000 and consisted of three hundred and thirty-two thousand square feet of land, or more than 50 lots at 120 by 60 feet.  The land, which would be transferred to the Joplin Union Depot company was at the time purportedly growing in value as factory land with individual lots selling between $2,000 and $3,000.  In addition were sections of streets and alleyways that ranged from 1st to 4th streets, and Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Broadway.

Despite the protestations of Councilman Humes and the Commercial Club, the city council quickly moved to accept the franchise at their meeting on the 20th of October.  As divided the Commercial Club and the city council were, so were the two city newspapers.  The Joplin News Herald presented the city council vote as one forced by intimidation via a telegram from the railroads, and where the city “forgot” its promise to protect the business interests of the city.  In contrast, the Joplin Globe trumpeted the passage of the franchise and dismissed as unimportant the concerns that had worried the franchise detractors.  More so, the Globe ridiculed Humes and noted that the true detractor were not the News Herald, Humes, and the Commercial Club, but the St. Louis and San Francisco railroad, also known as the Frisco, headquarted in St. Louis, which used the councilman, the newspaper, and club, as mouthpieces to voice opposition against the passage of the franchise to the railroad’s rivals.

The passage of the franchise was done quickly by the city council.  Presented by Kelso, the franchise was read three times, and then voted upon.  Prior to the vote, Humes, joined by councilman Hennessy, refused to vote.  Hennessy claimed he favored the franchise, just not the speed by which it was being processed.  Hennessy, however, did not join Humes in the final vote, with Humes finding himself the odd man out of a 13 member vote. The Globe referred to Humes as “Honk! Honk! Humes” and described his reaction to the addition of minor changes to the franchise, “These miner changes were not enough to satisfy Honk! Honk! Honk! Humes, and he sprang out of his chair, and for several minutes waved his Commercial Club big stick over the head of the council.  This amused the other twelve men who also represent the people of Joplin, but who do not represent the Commercial Club.”

The Globe continued, “They laughed at Humes, and the great reformer became angry, offered amendments, and made objections to he proceedings.  The council and Mayor Osborne were in a good humor, and for once in his life, Humes was permitted to mangle all of the language with which he was familiar and kill all the time he wished.”  The paper noted Humes was forced to beg for a second to his motion to propose an amendment, which was voted down.  After which, the Globe stated, “Humes again made a noise like an auto horn,” where upon the council opted to continue its business “without paying further attention to the uplifter of morals of the entire world, and official representative of the Commercial Club.”

The News Herald offered a far more respectful review of Humes’ cautionary words (as well more of a blow for blow report of the meeting), presenting the councilman as offering a rational argument in opposition to an approving vote by the council.  Humes, after the second reading of the franchise, reportedly arose and said, “It seems to me that the haste being displayed in pushing this franchise through is unseemly.”  The News Herald described his words, “Mr. Humes continued, outlining his objections in the form of the franchise, calling the attention of the council to the absence of a forfeiture clause, the defective construction of certain sections, and the danger lurking in others.”

The paper also noted the behavior of the proponents amongst the council, particularly Councilman Molloy, whom the paper described as the master of ceremonies.  “While Humes was speaking Councilman Molloy…sat glancing about, reassuring with a glance or giving an order by a sign.  As Humes was about to close he turned to Councilmen King and Wells, and with an authoritative wave of his hands said, “Don’t answer him.  Let it come to vote.” The councilmen obeyed.”

It was at this point in the discussion that Humes had proposed an amendment to attempt to fix the faults he and the Commercial Club perceived in the franchise.  It was voted down.  Hennessy, who eventually caved to the pro-franchise faction of the council, stood up to point out this was a rerun of another proposed franchise vote that had happened earlier in the year and had been voted down.  Next to speak was Councilman Brown who firmly stated, “I have listened carefully to the reading of the ordinance and do not see anything wrong with it.”

The aforementioned Councilman King spoke next to explain away why no further attempt was being made with regard to the factors that concerned Humes and the Commercial Club, “We telegraphed to Kansas City this afternoon and asked them if they would accept the franchise without it [the contested clauses].  They answered positively no, so we reported the france with it in.”  King went on to claim that the franchise had been before a city council committee for six months, to which Humes immediately interjected, “The franchise has not been before the committee but a week!”

The chairman of the Commercial Club, C. Newberger, also attempted to reason with the City Council and pointed out that St. Louis had made such a mistake.  Newberger expounded on the problems with the franchise and declared, “You need not be afraid Mr. Scullin will not come here.  He is a past master in the art of bluffing through franchises.”  At this statement, it seemed Newberger had worn out his welcome, as Councilman Brown leapt to his feet and exclaimed, “Is the Commercial club running this city or is it the council doing it?”  Newberger quickly responded he appeared only as a private citizen interested in Joplin.  Tired yet of Newberger, Brown called for a point of order and had Mayor Jesse Osborne order Newberger from the floor.

In the wake of Newberger’s ejection from the floor, Councilman Hennessy inquired if a written contract existed yet between the Kansas City Southern and a promise to assist in the construction of the Third Street Viaduct.  To this question, the city engineer, J. B. Hodgdon, piped up, “We have Mr. Rusk’s word for it.”  The engineer continued, “If we vacate Third street to the depot company the Kansas City Southern will not be afraid of us.”  Mayor Osborne chimed in, “That’s a point I want to know about.”

Finally, Councilman Molloy rose and spoke, “I’ll personally guarantee that the Kansas City Southern will take care of 338 feet of the viaduct.”  The question of the aid for the viaduct caused a brief stir until the mayor promised, “I will veto the measure unless I get from the Kansas City Southern and the other two railroads in the union depot company, a written agreement that they will take care of 338 feet of the Third street viaduct.”  The mayor continued, “An agreement to this effect must reach me within ten days.”

The council then voted for the franchise and the News Herald scathingly noted, “It is quite probable that not more than half of the councilmen  who enacted the franchise ever read it.  There was an evidence of ignorance concerning its provisions and its import last night that indicated this.”  The paper, in contrast to the Globe, summarized the council vote not by what it had achieved, but how it had failed.

The next day the Commercial Club began what resulted in an extremely short lived campaign to persuade Mayor Osborne not to sign the franchise as passed by the City Council the night before.  The Club expressed the same reasons which had been pushed by Humes and Newberger in the council meeting.  Clay Gregory, already accustom to speaking out in the newspaper against the deal pointed out, “The Kansas City bottoms are the only feasible route of entry to Joplin.”  Gregory then warned, “The franchise gives the union depot company control of this choice site,” the Commercial Club secretary then added, “As the franchise stands the city is helpless to enforce its provisions upon the company.”

The hopes of the club were dashed when city engineer Hodgdon reported a telephone call from Kansas City which assured the mayor that two of the railroads behind the depot company, the Kansas City Southern and Missouri & Northern Arkansas would help build the Third street viaduct.  The Globe mocked the Commercial Club, “No-More-Railroads-for-Joplin organization,” and stated that prior to the telephone call, the Mayor had “listened with patience and courtesy” to it, something that most Joplin citizens would not bother doing.  In fact, the paper claimed, “Many of the biggest property owners in the city have either laughed at the ridiculous objections preferred or have denounced them with indignation.”

Perhaps with the taste of immediate victory in the future, the Globe launched into a refutation of the worries of the naysayers.  In addressing the question of the length of the franchise, be it perpetual or 99 years, the paper presciently wrote, “By the time another century, minus one year, has rolled around, the conditions in and about this city will have been transformed beyond the recognition of any of us alive today.  This franchisee will have become an obsolete instrument, a yellow, faded document in the city’s archives.”

Refutations done, the Globe saved the last of its ink for what it perceived to be the power behind the main objectors, “James Campbell, esquire, king, crown prince, and owner of most of the kingdom acquired by the St. Louis Big Cinch.”  Campbell, the Globe noted, contemplated building a depot for the Frisco to enhance his own land in the city, as well the railroad.  The paper declared Campbell a “forceful personality” who exerted a “private car opulence” over certain citizens of Joplin.  One such citizen was Clay Gregory.

“And yet Clay Gregory, secretary of the Commercial Club, who never did anything for Joplin until he got on the Commercial Club’s payroll, and has never done anything since excepting to draw his salary, who is now getting $150 a month from the Commercial Club for playing chess at the Elks Club, the money used to pay his salary being drawn from a trust fund which the Commercial Club directors have no moral right or expressed privileges to use for that purpose.”  The Globe continued its scathing attack, “Gregory who was given the job of secretary because he was hard up and needed the salary, whose only achievement publicly has been to hang onto the job.”  Of Gregory, the paper declared, “this fellow has the effrontery and gall to attempt to dictate to the city council and the mayor.”  The Globe concluded of the Commercial Club, “has degenerated into the fat fatuousness of Clay Gregory…”

The paper finished with a declaration against the interests of the Frisco, “There are some things which this paper hopes to compel the Frisco to do.  There is one thing that the citizens of Joplin don’t propose to allow the Frisco to do, and that is to keep other railroads out of Joplin and to tear down parts of this city which years of effort have built up in order to build up Jim Campbell’s individual interests.”

On October 26, 1908, Mayor Osborne signed the ordinance confirming the City Council’s passage of the franchise.  Joplin was to have a Union Depot.

Source: Joplin Daily Globe, Joplin News Herald

Coming soon will be the next installment of a history of the Joplin Union Depot, beginning with the events surrounding Mayor Osborne’s signing of the ordinance and the long wait to the start of construction.  Stay tuned!



Union Depot Update – Sorta

Joplin Union Depot

East Facade of Joplin Union Depot

We haven’t heard much about the Union Depot lately, be it its renovation or moving the Joplin Museum Complex to the Depot. Finally, last week, we received a small update in the form of a $48 million dollar proposal on establishing an arts center on North Main Street, which would incorporate the Union Depot (pretty much the same plan City Planner Marc Rohr announced earlier this year).

From the article by the Joplin Globe on the plans:

“The plan calls for a performing and visual arts center of about 150,000 square feet to be built at First and Main streets. It could house a 1,200-seat auditorium for touring shows, a 500-seat theater for Pro Musica concerts, the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts, and the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. It could include spaces that could be used as classrooms, for convention and meetings, and for receptions.

An amphitheater could be built at the base of the hill north of the Union Depot, and the depot renovated for use as the Joplin Museum Complex, according to the North plan. Green space for use as a park or for outdoor events is proposed down the hill alongside Main Street, and another green space is envisioned between the depot and the amphitheater.”

The overall plan sounds both ambitious and a great improvement and addition to North Main Street. It’s a plan that would have been immediately accepted and lauded by the Joplin City Councils during the heydays of the City that Jack Built. The Joplin Globe, in an editorial, likes the idea and noted the extended helpful hand of the Walton Arts Center of Fayetteville, Arkansas, which has pledged assistance in booking shows and other events. The Walton Arts Center, located in downtown Fayetteville, is probably ten minutes away from the nearest interstate, and succeeded greatly in bringing rejuvenation to Dickson Street and surrounding area. Last we heard, the arts center current problem is not filling its seats, its having enough seats.

We support the plan as well. Joplin’s greatest moments occurred when the city took the bold steps of building a better future. It measured progress in the monuments of art and architecture that rose above its expanding streets, not by shying away or tearing down its former accomplishments. It’s wait to see if the funding is there to achieve the plan, but if it can be gathered, then by all means, full steam ahead.

HJ Joplin Union Depot

Be Bold, Joplin!

Tepidness Reigns Supreme at Museum Board Meeting

Joplin newspaper cartoon

Don't Let the Obstructionist Win!

This last week’s meeting of the Joplin Museum board was a showcase in tepid response to bold planning for the future.  The topic of the meeting, covered by the local news station KODE, was the possible relocation of the museum to the Union Depot.  The news segment featured interviews with board member Allen Shirley and City Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg.

Shirley continued what is now becoming a two month long hem haw of expressing a cautious disapproval for the idea of moving to the Union Depot.  The main point expressed by Shirley in his interview was the lack of exhibit space, a point raised by Museum Director Brad Belk previously.  The matter of sufficient space appears to be growing into the banner to be waved by the Joplin Museum Board, we expect to hear it raised again and again as their argument against the move.

From even before City Manager Mark Rohr’s presentation, the Joplin Museum Board has not wanted to move to the Union Depot, and since the presentation, have protested as much as possible without appearing reactionary.  It is clear that if the Joplin Museum Complex is to be moved to the Union Depot, the board will have to be dragged kicking and screaming.  The angry child who did not get its prized relocation and taxes to take over Memorial Hall now just want to take their ball and go home, rather than settle for something less than they desired.

Disconcertingly, the meeting was attended by three city council members, which as the news report explained were there in support of the museum board.  Of the three, only Benjamin Rosenberg opted to speak with a reporter and offered a fascinating rebuttal against Mark Rohr’s well grounded plans for Joplin’s growth over the next five years.  Rosenberg, when asked about the plan declared, “I had no part in the city manager’s vision.  I had no pre-warning. I had no consultation with the city manager.”  By all appearances, it seems Mr. Rosenberg does not like or agree with Rohr’s plan that was presented earlier this summer.

Rosenberger also told the reporter that he strongly believed the fate of the museum should be left in the hands of the museum board and not forced by the hand of the city.  This would be a rational position to take were the museum lead by forward thinking, competent and experienced individuals, but that is not the case.  The only imaginative thinking the museum has displayed in recent years has been to spring an idea that was overwhelmingly disapproved of by 75% of the city’s voting residents.  Meanwhile, the popularly supported plan of moving the museum to the Union Depot languishes because neither the museum board nor apparently some of the city council are willing to take bold steps for Joplin’s future.

Is Joplin anymore the city of Thomas Connor, Charles Schifferdecker, or Thomas Cunningham?

We say nay!

Where is the vision?  Why the desire for mediocrity?  Where is the leadership that has helped to restore downtown?  Joplin became the city that is resplendent with beautiful buildings and good people because its leaders in the past were unwilling to quietly abide.  It would do the museum board well to remember this, a lesson they should learn if they are at all familiar with the history they have sworn to safe keep.

HJ Union Depot image

It Is Time To Be Bold!

Heck No – We Won’t Wear Helmets!

On a hot summer night 1904, the Joplin City Council was in session when someone raised the issue of the “dress of the Joplin policemen.”  A simple complaint about enforcing Joplin’s helmet ordinance revealed many of the underlying problems plaguing the Joplin police force.  Like many law enforcement agencies at this time, the Joplin police force was undermanned, underpaid, and overworked.  They were expected to maintain law and order in a city wracked by cocaine abuse, plagued by saloons, riddled with gambling dens, and infested with men ready to fight at the drop of a hat.  Wearing a helmet was of little concern to a member of the Joplin police force.

Cartoon concerning requirement of Joplin Police to wear a helmet.

The mood of the Joplin Police officers were quite the opposite as expressed in this cartoon.

Councilman Kost reminded attendees that the council had previously passed an ordinance requiring police officers to wear helmets and carry a “policeman’s club of certain size.”  According to Kost, few members of the Joplin police force were complying with the ordinance.  The Joplin Globe noted that prior to the ordinance, Joplin police officers were allowed to wear “slouch hats” and very few carried a club.

Councilman Lane shrugged off Kost’s remarks and suggested that the ordinance need not be enforced, but Mayor Thomas W. Cunningham disagreed. Cunningham opined, “the ordinance was not passed for amusement and that it should be lived up to by all policemen.”

One unnamed Joplin police officer who spoke to a Globe reporter proclaimed, “If I am compelled to wear a helmet or lose my position on the force, I will lose my position.  You cannot realize until you have worn one how hot a helmet is.  I wore one when I first went on the force, but will never do so again.  Fired up, the police officer continued, “And as for clubs, it is very foolish for the council to attempt to force a man to carry a club in his hand.  Every time a patrolman makes an arrest he has to drop his club in order to handle his man.”

The real problem, the police officer snorted, was that city council members “want to see a metropolitan police force on a suburban salary. If the council will pay its police force a salary, the city will not only be able to get better men, but the men will have enough money to buy a belt in which to carry the ornamental club.”

A second Joplin police officer agreed, “Not a helmet for me. I wear what I can get.  If the city of Joplin wants me to wear a helmet while on duty the city will have to put up for it as I can’t afford to buy one.”  He continued, “The police force of Joplin now numbers twelve men.  Five men patrol the business section of the city during the day and the same number are on at night.  From noon until midnight there is one man on duty in East Joplin and another at Smelter Hill.  The twelve men are doing the work of sixteen men.  One man on the force walks from Fourth Street to C Street covering six blocks of territory in the toughest section of the city.  There isn’t even a man to drive the patrol wagon yet we must make a showing and wear a helmet and a club.”

Curiously there was no mention of the death of Joplin police officer John Ledbetter who was killed the previous summer by a rock wielding assailant, though a helmet may not have been enough to save his life.  Unfortunately, helmets and clubs were not enough to save the lives of subsequent Joplin police officers killed in the first few decades of the twentieth century.

Source: The Joplin Globe