Guest Piece: Leslie Simpson – Joplin’s Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian House

In the mid-20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright invented the concept of “Usonian” houses, which were based on the utopian ideals of simplicity, economy, and convenience. The first step in constructing a Usonian house was to lay down a concrete platform with cast-in heating pipes. Next came a grouping of brick supporting screens, creating a chain of linked boxes. The brick supports were topped by a series of flat concrete roofs, with a higher roof over the living-dining area and lower ones over the bedrooms and bath. The difference in roof heights allowed extra light to come in through clerestory window strips. Light also streamed in through floor to ceiling windows, usually overlooking a garden or pool.

One of these Usonian designs was built on the outskirts of Joplin, ¼ mile west of Stone’s Corner on Highway 171. Joplin architect Robert Braeckel adapted Wright’s plans to construct this ultra-modern dwelling for Stewart and Naomi Ruth Stanley in 1950. All steel construction supported Carthage limestone walls and large expanses of glass. Copper tubing built into the floor provided radiant heat. The ultimate in modern living, the house also featured a pool and bathhouse.

Unfortunately, I had to use past tense in my description; the house was demolished May 3, 2012. It is ironic as well since May is National Historic Preservation Month. This month’s Preservation Magazine devotes the entire issue to Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and the efforts to preserve it.



This piece was adapted from Leslie Simpson’s “Little House on the Prairie” that was published in Joplin Souvenir Album, G. Bradley Publishing, 2001. Photographs courtesy of Leslie Simpson and the Post Memorial Art Reference Library.

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 Joplin: A Postcard History.

Guest Piece: Leslie Simpson – Route 66: A Method to the Madness

I have always wondered why Route 66 took such a circuitous path through Joplin.  Coming in on West Seventh, it made a sharp turn left onto Main, then headed east on First over the viaduct.  It continued on Broadway, turning north on St. Louis; after crossing Turkey Creek, it took off at a 45-degree angle on Euclid.  It went a couple of blocks on Florida, then right on Zora and left on Range Line.  If it were not for the fact that Route 66 was built during Prohibition, one might wonder if the cartographers had been a little tipsy!

 

Route 66 through Joplin

Recently I was looking at some old plat maps of Joplin, and I noticed something.  The Southwest Missouri Electric Railway, an electric streetcar that was established in 1893 by Alfred H. Rogers, took an identical 45-degree angle after crossing Turkey Creek in its route from Joplin to Webb City, Carterville, Lakeside Park, Carthage and other points east.  The trolley line angled through Royal Heights, a separate village that had incorporated in 1907.  Eureka!  This information may be common knowledge, but since I did not know about it, I was excited to figure it out on my own.

Plat map showing the Electric Railway line north of Turkey Creek

At its peak, the railway company operated a huge fleet of streetcars and 94 miles of tracks in three states. But its days were numbered. As private ownership of motor vehicles increased, railway patronage dwindled. In 1925, the company began running passenger buses and phasing out its streetcars.  The Joplin stretch of Route 66 was under construction from 1927 through 1932.  After Royal Heights was annexed into the city of Joplin in 1929, the railway company removed the tracks through Royal Heights. The old track-bed was paved as Euclid and became part of the historic “Mother Road.”

The Architectural Legacy of Garstang & Rea: Barbee Park’s Grandstand

Edward Knell is credited with bringing the first “bred” race horse to Jasper County (as well the “art of embalming”) in 1889. The lucky equine was named “Ben McGregor” and cost Knell an estimated $3,000 dollars, quite the figure at the time. However, as early as 1872, even before Joplin came into existence, a race track was built just south of town that ran a half-mile long. Another race track was built in 1879, along with stables, an agricultural hall, and a grandstand. Gilbert Barbee, one time owner of the Joplin Globe, House of Lords, and Democratic party boss, bought this park and named it Barbee Park. The grandstand featured in both images was designed by Garstang & Rea for Gilbert Barbee’s “driving park” for a price of $6,500.

Barbee Park was home to countless horse races, but also served as the venue for such events like the Firemen’s Tournament that was held on the grounds in 1908. It was at the park where Joplinites got their first real glimpse of the speeding prowess of some of the first motorized fire engines in the nation, as well one of the last fire engine horse team races in the city’s history. Unfortunately for Barbee, in the middle of an April night in 1909, the grand stand caught fire and was a complete loss, despite the best efforts of Joplin’s fire department. The grand stand was never rebuilt and in the 1920s, Barbee’s son leveled the track area to develop a neighborhood.

As Joplin history expert Leslie Simpson writes in her book, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture, “He built the Barbee Court addition right on the old race course, preserving the graceful oval of elm trees that once surrounded it…The outline of the old race track can be traced by looping around from 17th to 19th Streets from Maiden Lane to the alley between Porter and Harlem Avenues.”

Harlem Avenue today.

History in the News: Historic Home in Joplin In Danger

A historic Joplin home in danger of demolition.

This last weekend, the Joplin Globe published a story on the two story house on Schifferdecker Ave. The handsome house with a stone facade belongs to the late J.T. Goodman and his wife, Yvonne. The historic home, which likely dates to the early years of Joplin, was damaged by the May 2011 tornado. As seen in the above photograph, the home presently has no roof which is accelerating its danger of being declared condemned by the city. Joplin history expert and director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, Leslie Simpson, is presently trying to research the history of the home in an effort to help its preservation. So far, Simpson has discovered that it was on the property of Thomas Cunningham, one of Joplin’s wealthiest citizens at the turn of the century. Likewise, a mortgage deed indicates it might have even been built in 1873.

The historic home is currently before Joplin’s Building Board of Appeals. Unfortunately, due to the death of J.T. Goodman and a refusal by the Goodmans’ insurance company, the family has no funds to make the repairs needed to save the home. At the moment, Simpson is seeking to learn more of the home’s history which might translate to convincing the city Board of Appeals to spare the house more time to be repaired.

If you know anything about the house pictured above, located at 2725 S. Schifferdecker Avenue, please contact Leslie Simpson at the Post Memorial Library: (417) 782-7678. This is a piece of Joplin’s history, it needs to be saved!

Guest Piece: Joplin’s Black History – Leslie Simpson

The history of Joplin from the point of view of its black population has been difficult to trace. People are probably aware that Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, but his family left when he was still an infant. There was also the infamous lynching episode and subsequent flight of black citizens in 1903. But what about those who stayed, worked, raised their children, and died in Joplin? What were their lives like?

The earliest black inhabitants of southwest Missouri were, obviously, slaves belonging to the first white settlers. The 1850 slave schedule for Jasper County listed 212 slaves, including 3 belonging to John C. Cox, who later established the town of Joplin. There were 166 slaveholders registered in the county in 1861. Slaves were itemized on county probate records and deed transfers as well. It is heart-rending to read some of these documents. For instance, there is the account of an entire family (Sarah, Mary, Henry, Lewis, Susan, and Matilda) being sold for $1 and of three “copper-colored slaves” given to Arabella Sanders by her mother Margaret as a gift.

What happened to these people after they were freed? How did they earn a living? The 1870 census reveals the few occupations that were available to them—mill work, farm labor, and housekeeping. The mining boom, which put Joplin on the map in 1872, gave the freed slaves many more options. The 1880 census indicates that they held jobs in hotels, butcher shops, saloons, laundries, livery stables, in addition to doing farm and domestic work. They also worked in the mines. In fact, some were even mine owners! The Black Seven mine was owned by seven black men.

Joplin’s population grew from 9,943 in 1890 to 26,023 in 1900. Business was booming, and there was work for all. The 1900 census reveals an interesting trend. In addition to the previously noted occupations held by blacks, there were also more skilled professions listed—teacher, preacher, physician, barber, stone mason, plasterer, coachman, ice man, carpenter, taxi driver, grocer, upholsterer, and woolen mill, to name a few. But this trend did not last, probably due to the Great Depression and to the end of the mining era. In the 1937 Negro City and County Directory the majority of Joplin’s black citizenry were porters, domestic workers, and janitors. The only black-owned businesses were a dry cleaner, shoe shine parlor, barber shop, shoe repair shop, and a boarding house.

Speaking of 1937, the introduction to the Joplin city directory for that year, written by the Chamber of Commerce, enthuses that “The population is almost entirely white and almost entirely composed of intelligent, native stock, thereby eliminating the chief source of recurrent labor troubles.”

These are merely observations based upon a few historic documents. The black history of Joplin has yet to be written.

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 Joplin: A Postcard History.

Review of “Joplin” by Leslie Simpson

Leslie Simpson, the director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, writes in the epilogue of Joplin, “This book is my love letter to the city of Joplin, of which I am proud to be a citizen!”

Simpson’s latest book is a wonderful love letter to Joplin, a fine work that covers the history of the city from its establishment in 1873 to the present day. It is a lavishly illustrated postcard history of the city accompanied by detailed, informative captions. The book provides readers with an understanding of the people, places, and events that shaped Joplin into the city that it is today. Simpson does an excellent job of balancing the past and present so that readers are taken through Joplin’s early years, subsequent growth, Route 66 years, up until the time of the tornado.

The book is helpfully divided into nine sections that cover different topics such as mining, industry, residences, schools, churches, and hotels. Although one might expect that because the book is postcard history the book might be poorly researched, it is not. The captions for each illustration are insightful, well written, and historically accurate. Each illustration has been carefully chosen and offer unique glimpses into Joplin’s social, cultural, religious, and architectural history.

Sadly, Simpson’s work illustrates just how many Joplin buildings and other landmarks have been lost to the ravages of time, benign neglect, or lack of vision. Our advance copy notes that “Profits from the sale of this book will be donated to the Joplin Chamber of Commerce Business Recovery Fund” so you can be assured that your money will go to a good cause. We also recommend that you might consider giving a donation the Post Memorial Art Reference Library.

Those who own Leslie Simpson’s prior works may recognize some, but not all of the images used, however all offer entertaining glimpses into Joplin’s past. For those who have and enjoyed the above mentioned Now and Then and Again, they have a great companion to Joplin.

Joplin is a well written and illustrated history of Joplin, Missouri. It is accessible to readers of most ages and is a enjoyable read for those who enjoy local history, the history of Joplin, and illustrated histories. Hopefully it will leave most readers with an even greater appreciation for the City that Jack Built.

Joplin, $21.99, Arcadia Publishing
Available at Hastings and through the publisher at www.arcadiapublishing.com

New Joplin History Book Honors the Past & Helps Rebuild the Future

Leslie Simpson, Director of the Post-Memorial Art Reference Library, has a new book coming out on Joplin history, appropriately titled, Joplin. The book is a history of Joplin as told “in hundreds of vintage images” and will be launched at an event at Hastings on September 24, this Saturday, at 10:00 AM. Profits from the first printing will go exclusively to the Joplin Chamber of Commerce Business Recovery Fund.   Once we get a hold of a copy, we’ll be posting a review.  Until then, please find the press release below concerning the event below!

New Joplin History Book Honors the Past &
Helps Rebuild the Future

Longtime Joplin resident Leslie Simpson is the author of a new history
book that tells the story of Joplin’s past in hundreds of vintage images.
Joplin, the newest addition in Arcadia Publishing’s Postcard History series,
will be available on Saturday, September 24 exclusively at the Hastings
store in Joplin.

Covering a span of more than 130 years, Joplin traces all aspects of the
city’s history through vintage postcard images. Author Leslie Simpson
describes the book as “My love letter to the city of Joplin!”

Local history publisher Arcadia Publishing and multimedia retailer
Hastings Entertainment, Inc. will donate proceeds from the first printing of
the book to the Joplin Chamber of Commerce Business Recovery Fund.

The CEO’s from both companies have been personally involved in the
project and hope the initiative will support Joplin’s ongoing business
recovery efforts.

“When a tragedy like this happens, no matter how far away it is, your
first instinct is to want to find a way to help,” said Arcadia Publishing
president and CEO Richard Joseph. “I’m glad we could do this,” he
said.

Hastings Entertainment CEO John Marmaduke shared, “We are
pleased to have this book available at a time when locals truly need
something to be excited about.”

Joplin will be exclusively available at Hastings through October 2011.
Non-local residents can order online at www.goHastings.com, from the
publisher at www.arcadiapublishing.com, or by calling (888)-313-2665.

###
About Arcadia Publishing
Arcadia Publishing is the leading publisher of local and regional history in the United States. Books celebrate the
places and faces that give America its spirit and life. Distinctive sepia covers, local authors, and vintage images
present a curbside look and street level understanding of a town’s bygone times. Find your place in history at
www.arcadiapublishing.com.

About Hastings
Founded in 1968, Hastings Entertainment, Inc. is a leading multimedia entertainment retailer that combines the
sale of new and used books, videos, video games and CDs, and trends and consumer electronics merchandise,
with the rental of videos and video games in a superstore format. www.goHastings.com

Book proceeds to benefit Joplin local businesses

Author Leslie Simpson has
lived in Joplin for the past 32
years. She helped establish
Main Street Joplin and the
Joplin Historic Preservation
Commission.
Joplin

Postcard History Series
Price: $21.99
128 pages/ softcover
Available: September 24, 2011

MEDIA INQUIRIES

Arcadia: Mrs. PJ Norlander, Director of Marketing
843.853.2070 x160 pjnorlander@arcadiapublishing.com

EVENT INQUIRIES

Hastings:
Phone: 417-659-9828

Joplin Book Launch Event
Saturday, September 24, 2011
10:00 a.m.

Host

PUBLIC IS WELCOME
Come share your own stories.
Meet the author.
Take a walk back in time.

Who:
Hastings will host the author, Chamber of Commerce members,
community leaders, the publishing company, and any and all residents who
wish to attend.

What:
A special launch event celebrating the publication of a new local history
book, Joplin, by Leslie Simpson.

When:
Saturday, September 24, 2011 from 10:00 a.m. to 12 noon
10:00 a.m.
Welcome, Ribbon Cutting Ceremony,
Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors Presentation
10:30 a.m.
Author Book Signing

Book

Where:
Hastings located at 526 South Range Line Road.

Why:
Proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the Joplin Chamber
of Commerce Business Recovery Fund.

Beneficiary

Directions and event information can be found online at

www.arcadiapublishing.com/Joplin.

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

CHAPTERS ERASED FROM JOPLIN’S ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY

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

DOWN NOT OUT

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.