The Missing History of Fourth and Main Street

The four buildings of Fourth and Main Street

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

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

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

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

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

The Club Saloon shortly before it was razed.

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

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

Worth Block - Joplin, Missouri

The Worth Block circa 1902

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

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

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

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

Currently at the Post Memorial Art Reference Library

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

Joplin Carnegie Library – Photographs

Last summer, Historic Joplin wandered about downtown with a camera and one of the stops was the Joplin Carnegie Library, the former home of the Joplin Public Library.  Below are a few of the photographs from that visit.  Previously, we’ve brought you the history of the library building (here and here), as well a glance at how the library has changed or not changed over the century since its construction.  Enjoy!

Modern telephone and electric wires mar the view of the library today.

Guest Piece: Chapters Erased from Joplin’s Architectural History – Leslie Simpson


By Leslie Simpson

caption for photo: Carl Owen house at 2431 Porter. Built ca. 1911. Destroyed by tornado May 22, 2011 via Post Memorial Art Reference Library

I am having a difficult time knowing what to say.  In fact, I hesitate to even write anything about brick and mortar, when human life, hopes, and dreams are what really matter.  However, since I have written so much about Joplin’s architecture through the years, I feel compelled to say something.  I have had several CNN reporters contact me for interviews, but I have not wanted to talk to them.  First of all, I had not personally seen all the damage.  It is impossible to get around, and I did not want to get in the way of emergency workers nor be a voyeur.  Secondly, I just did not think I could articulate what has happened to my beloved Joplin.  So now I will attempt some general (and unofficial) impressions of Joplin’s historic identity and how this incomprehensible tragedy has affected it.  Also, rather than catalog specific buildings that have been lost, I will focus on three historic residential areas.

I begin with the historic town of Blendville in southwest Joplin, which was established in 1876 as “Cox Diggings.”  The prosperous little community incorporated as Blendville, so-named because of the huge amounts of zinc blende in the ground.  Thomas Cunningham owned the residential area, which he divided into lots and sold at low rates so that miners could afford their own homes.  The city of Joplin extended its streetcar line to Blendville, with lines going south on Main to 19th Street, west to Byers, south to 21st Street, west to Murphy, then south to 26th.  In 1892, Joplin annexed the village.  Thomas Cunningham donated “Cunningham Grove” as Joplin’s first city park.  The tornado took out most of the original Blendville area, including Cunningham Park and the historic water plant with some of the original equipment preserved inside.

The next area of historic significance is “Schifferdecker’s First Addition”, a residential area developed in south Joplin beginning in 1900.  The Joplin Globe referred to the area lying south of 20th Street and fronting on Wall, Joplin, and Main Street as “a beautiful new addition affording the most desirable building property” to be found anywhere in the city.  A second addition continued development south of 20th on Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania Avenues as well as along 21st, 22nd, and 23rd Streets to the east and west.  The residential district continued to expand to the south throughout the teens, twenties, thirties.  The homes in the region ranged from high Victorian styles to bungalows and eclectic Tudors, Colonial Revivals, Spanish mission, etc.  Tragically, this charming old neighborhood has been wiped out.

After World War II ended, Joplin families faced a housing shortage.  Some Camp Crowder buildings were moved to Joplin, while others were dismantled to provide construction materials.  Hundreds of small efficiency houses were mass-produced for veterans and financed through FHA.  Many of these were built in the Eastmoreland area.  As people prospered in the 1960s and 1970s, they built more substantial brick homes east and south of the new high school at 20th and Indiana.  Although most people do not think of these homes as historic, they do have their own place in Joplin’s architectural history, and their loss is devastating as well.

Entire chapters of Joplin’s history have been forever erased.  I have not even touched on the loss of churches, schools, medical buildings, and businesses.   Again, I am not relating the loss of our buildings to the loss of our people.   Joplin will rebuild.  It has already begun.   During the first week after the tornado, I saw a business being rebuilt in the midst of the war zone surrounding West 26th Street!

Porter House following Joplin Tornado. Photo by Leslie Simpson

Porter House following Joplin Tornado. Photo by Leslie Simpson

Porter House following Joplin Tornado. Photo by Leslie Simpson

Leslie Simpson, an expert on Joplin history and architecture, is the director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, located within the Joplin Public Library. She is the author of From Lincoln Logs to Lego Blocks: How Joplin Was Built, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture. and the soon to be released, Joplin: A Postcard History.

Guest Post: Down Not Out – Leslie Simpson


By Leslie Simpson

On a pleasant Sunday evening, May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado suddenly raged through densely-populated south Joplin.  It destroyed almost everything in its path for 13.8 miles in distance and up to a mile in width.

The tornado smashed down in southwest Joplin, wrecking residential areas, Cunningham Park, schools, medical offices, and a major hospital complex, St. John’s. It headed east, obliterating untold acres of late nineteenth and early twentieth century houses.  The storm’s wrath intensified as it forged east, razing businesses along Main Street, more neighborhoods, and Joplin High School.  It wiped out much of the lifeblood of Joplin’s economy, the commercial strip on Range Line Road, then rampaged on, demolishing housing, banks, industrial buildings, and more schools and churches.  It finally dissipated east of Joplin, after destroying or damaging an estimated 8,000 homes and businesses.

At the time of this writing, authorities have confirmed 138 fatalities, a number which continues to rise.  More than 1,150 people sustained injuries.  The Joplin tornado, the deadliest since modern record keeping began in 1950, ranks eighth among the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history.

We are in shock.  We drive familiar streets yet cannot even recognize where we are.  The cruel landscape of endless rubble and shredded trees reminds us of shattered lives and endless grief.  We have lost so much, and we are hurting on many levels.  But our spirit is strong, as evidenced by the person who spray-painted “Down not out” on the shards of his former home.

Leslie Simpson, an expert on Joplin history and architecture, is the director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, located within the Joplin Public Library. She is the author of From Lincoln Logs to Lego Blocks: How Joplin Was Built, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture. and the soon to be released, Joplin: A Postcard History.

Post Memorial Art Reference Library Debuts New Website

For those of you who may have missed the announcement last week, the Post Memorial Art Reference Library recently unveiled a newly designed website. The new look is a good one, adding separate pages about the library which cover the library’s great benefactors Winfred and Elizabeth Post, the art and antique collection (broken down by type), library resources, and library news. Including in the library resources is information on resources concerning historic preservation. Additionally, the website now offers up to date information on exhibits at the library, as well exhibits of the past.

If you’re not familiar with the Post Memorial, it’s the little gem tucked away in the back of the Joplin Public Library by the computer area, directed by one of the experts of Joplin history, Leslie Simpson. If you haven’t visited it yet, there’s no excuse not to do so after visiting its new website.

Music Video Joplin

For those of you who just want to sit back and look at photographs of historic Joplin and listen to good music in the process, we present to you Patrick McPheron’s work, Presenting Joplin (click here!).  McPheron is a free lance designer in Los Angeles with Joplin roots and crafted this music video using photographs and images from Digital Postcard Collection at the Joplin Public Library’s website.

For a look at the rest of McPheron’s work, including photographs, other videos, and music, just follow this link to

Joplin Carnegie Library – Then and Now

The Joplin Carnegie Library may come up in a city plan to be discussed tonight, July 6, 2010, by City Manager Mark Rohr, as part of the redevelopment plan for the city. As such, we figured to show a series of photographs (and one drawing) of the Joplin Carnegie Library.

First, we have the award winning sketch of the library by August Michaelis, a distinguished Joplin architect of the time.

August Michaelis' winning design for Joplin's Carnegie Library

August Michaelis' winning design for Joplin's Carnegie Library

Next we have a photograph not long after it was built:

The Joplin Carnegie Library

The Joplin Carnegie Library not long after completion.

Now we have the library as it appears today. It is privately owned, but in need of restoration. It is easily one of the most beautiful buildings in Joplin.

Joplin Carnegie Library

The Joplin Carnegie Library as it appears today.

Source: Historic Joplin Collection

The Joplin Carnegie Library and the Origins of Joplin Public Library: Part Two

Under a bright October afternoon sun, a crowd of ten thousand gathered to watch a parade snake its way from Fourth and Joplin streets to Main Street.  It turned under the watchful gaze of the Keystone Hotel and then proceed south to Ninth, where it turned again to the right and came to a stop at Ninth and Wall.  It was October 8th, and the people of Joplin had come to celebrate the laying of the cornerstone of the new Carnegie Library.

The parade had formed at 2:30 pm and consisted of a number of different groups.  In the vanguard was Police Chief Jake Cofer with a platoon of police officers.  Behind the police, the South Joplin band played and stomped in celebration, and were followed by 66 members of the Knights Templar from Joplin and the surrounding area.  The contingent of Knights Templar was outnumbered by the 151 members of the Masonic Blue Lodge.  Behind the Masons came 2,386 excited school children, headed by 29 high school students and teachers, walked four abreast down the city streets.

An Elks Parade on Joplin's Main Street

A different parade, but an example of a parade down Main Street and how the Elks might have marched that October afternoon.

Behind the flood of children came 24 grey headed members of the Grand Army of the Republic from  Joplin’s O.P. Morton Post. As in 1865, the veterans marched proudly behind a cherished battle flag.  Approximately 60 individuals of the Elks and Eagles followed the veterans and then bringing up the rear were thirty members of the Knights of Pythias commanded by Joplin attorney Joel T. Livingston.

Thousands surrounded the construction site of the library.  The limestone walls soared over the crowd, such was the progress that had been made since Augustus C. Michaelis was selected as the architect in February.  A platform rested against the side of the building next to where the cornerstone was to be laid.  Children, anxious to see the ceremony, climbed the surrounding trees and hung perilously from branches.

A band took up position beside the platform while the mayor of Joplin, John C. Trigg, climbed onto the platform to address the crowd.  His speech, the lengthiest of the day, began with the origin of the movement for the library.  The mayor boasted that the tax revenue from property valued at $4,000,000 was more than sufficient to support the library, but also noted that it had not been enough for the construction of the building.  For this, Mayor Trigg credited industrialist Andrew Carnegie who, “came to the rescue and dissipated all doubts and disquieting fears.”  Trigg continued:

“No event in the history of the city of Joplin will perhaps stand out in bolder or more prominent relief in the future than the laying of the corner stone of the Carnegie public library building…It should be accentuated as a distinct epoch in the annals of the city, from which to date as from the dawn of the new century, an augmented zeal in the material, moral and intellectual improvement of our people of all classes and conditions…”

After the mayor established the effect of the library on the city, he then described the benefit of books, “The inestimable value of books is no longer a vexed or mooted question.  The wise, the good and the great of all ages and nations, divines, poets, philosophers and statesmen, have contributed the most cogent and convincing testimony in support of the premise.”  Trigg went on, reading excerpts from such authors as Joseph Addison, Richard DeBury, and Louisa May Alcott.  Finally, and perhaps to the relief of some in the crowd, the mayor concluded his speech.  This was followed by a brief rendition of the song, “Remember Now Thy Creator,” that setup the next speaker, Reverend Paul Brown.  Brown was a substitute for Judge Picher, who had been unable to attend the ceremonies that day.

Reverend Brown reflected on the origin of free libraries and then spoke of libraries as essential to democracy:

“What is the end of democracy?  I answer the end of democracy is a natural aristocracy.  There is an aristocracy of nature which no contract or statute can ever abolish….Here in the district, our chief industry, mining, weeds out weaklings and cowards, and creates a natural aristocracy of physical courage and vision in the depths of the earth.  Now what does democracy guard against?  Not natural aristocracy, but artificial, the aristocracy of mere birth or place or force or accident.  Democracy means that equality of opportunity which will give the natural aristocracy a chance.”

It was books, Brown argued, that provided the opportunity for men to overcome the privileged aristocracy who were born to fame, title, or fortune.  Brown, after noting famous authors of history, praised the city’s superintendent, J.D. Elliff, whom Brown stated, had played the crucial role in seeing the library created.  Brown soon concluded his remarks, followed by a song from the band, and again, when the time finally came for the actual laying of the cornerstone.

Laying of the Joplin Carnegie Library cornerstone

The laying of the cornerstone of the Joplin Carnegie Library.

This august moment was overseen by the Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Masons, John C. Yocum.  The Grand Master announced the placement of the cornerstone, as it was guided by a small crane and lowered carefully into place.  An invocation was given by the Mason’s Grand Chaplain, who was accompanied by the Masonic ceremonies of deposit and consecration.  One last speaker arose, Dr. W.P. Kuhn, a senior grand warden of the Masons from Kansas City.  Dr. Kuhn opted to win the crowd through praise of the children present, as well a quick joke about Methodist and Presbyterian preachers:

“ The Methodist preacher never prepared a sermon or at any rate never had any reference notes, but his services were largely attended, while the Presbyterian divine labored conscientiously over his discourses, wrote them painstakingly out and read them with painstaking fidelity.  But, his flock was few, and in a spirit of discouragement he came to the Methodist preacher and asked him why it was that the people crowded to hear him who never prepared a sermon while his own church was all but empty.  And the Methodist replied, “My good friend, you write out your sermons and the devil is right there behind you.  He knows every word that you’re going to say and he is able to circumvent every effort you make, no matter how praiseworthy.  Now I don’t know what I’m going to say and I know the devil don’t know what I’m going to say either, and that’s the difference between us.”

Dr. Kuhn concluded by stressing the importance of free libraries, as they were part of the “three planks that the structure of every American community is founded.”  The other two planks were free thought and free speech.  Immediately after the crowd sang, “America,” and the cornerstone laying ceremony ended with a benediction offered by the Rev. Charles A. Wood.

With the cornerstone laid, construction on the library resumed.  The building incomplete, the actual Joplin library, which was already in existence was housed at the Joplin high school and overseen by Lucile Baker, the first librarian.  Ms. Baker was a writer for the Joplin News-Herald and used the byline of “Becky Sharp” in a nod to Missouri’s own Mark Twain.

The library was finally completed a year later.  The city received its first check from Andrew Carnegie at a sum of $5,000.  Twelve years later, the city sought and received another $20,000 from the generous benefactor for an addition to the west side of the library.  In charge of the library, now at home in its new building, was Mary B. Swanwick, who was joined by assistant librarians Blanche Trigg, Mary Scott, and Hattie Ruddy Rice.

The Joplin Carnegie Library

The Joplin Carnegie Library not long after completion.

As of 1911, the library had 15,737 books as well as 2,643 magazines and periodicals.  Over the year, over ten thousand people used the library, around 1/4th of the city’s population, and almost 65,000 books were circulated.  Active card holders numbered almost 7,000.  Ten years later, the head librarian, Swanwick, passed away and was eventually replaced by Blanche Trigg, daughter of Joplin Mayor John Trigg. She oversaw the institution until 1949.  It was under the oversight of Trigg’s successor, Margaret Hager, who helped lead the movement in the 1970s to purchase the Connor Hotel and the rest of the 300 Block as the site of a new library building.  That building, the present home of the Joplin Public Library, opened in April, 1981.

Sources: Joplin News Herald, Joplin Globe, “A History of Jasper County, Missouri and its People,” by Joel Livingston, and Missouri Digital History.

House of Lords article in the Joplin Globe

In support of ReadMOre Missouri, a statewide reading program, the House of Lords will be “recreated” at the Post-Memorial Library in the Joplin Public Library from 7:00 to 8:30 pm on Friday, April 23.  While the gambling history of the House of Lords will be brought to life with several games of chance, the focus will be on Mark Twain, the selected author for ReadMOre Missouri this year.  On Tuesday, a living history presenter will channel Mark Twain in a presentation to be given at the event.  For a brief history of the House of Lords, you can read the article at the Joplin Globe here.

House of Lords event poster for Post-Memorial Library

House of Lords event poster for Post-Memorial Library