Alfred W. Rea: An Architect’s Portfolio

Unity Baptist Church (African-American), Joplin Missouri.

One of the joys of researching the past is serendipitously stumbling across a wonderful discovery, but sometimes a wonderful discovery finds you. We are excited to announce that a relative of preeminent Joplin architect Alfred W. Rea contacted us last week and informed us that he will generously share photographs of roughly seventy-six different buildings that Rea and his partner, Charles E. Garstang, designed during their time in Joplin.

Alfred Willemin Rea was born on August 12, 1869, in Decatur, Illinois. He attended the University of Illinois and graduated with a B.A. in 1893. Rea worked as a draftsman in several architectural firms, including Wigg & Mahurin (Ft. Wayne, Indiana); J.W. Ross (Davenport, Iowa); Reeves & Baillie (Peoria and Decatur, Illinois). He later partnered with Charles E. Garstang and established Garstang & Rea in Joplin in 1901. The firm later relocated to Los Angeles, California, where Garstang and Rea continued to design buildings until their retirement in the 1940s.

A.H. Rogers Building

The whereabouts of the papers and portfolio of Garstang are currently unknown, but Rea’s portfolio is comprehensive. Fortunately, because Rea labelled the majority of the photographs in his portfolio, we believe that the photos and their labels will provide the most complete list of Garstang & Rea’s work known to date. The firm, it turns out, not only designed buildings in Joplin, but designed buildings in Monett and Nevada, Missouri, and Winfield, Kansas.

We will work to place these photos online so that others can enjoy them and celebrate the work of two of Joplin’s finest architects. The images will appear on Historic Joplin and on Flickr with the permission of the owner.

Joplin Tobacco Company building

If you have photos you would like to share with Historic Joplin, let us know: HistoricJoplin@gmail.com

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.

Restoring Joplin’s Memories

In the wake of Joplin’s tornado, homes were destroyed and the possessions within them literally scattered to the wind.  While much that was lost, furniture or clothes, can be replaced in one way or another, photographs cannot.  They are our way of capturing a moment in time be it a special event or simply the image of a loved one.  If lost, there is no way to recapture with a camera that passing moment.

One such photographic horror story concerned the photographs of Murwin Mosler, who photographed Joplin and her people over a span of decades from the 1930s to the 1960s.  Mosler’s life work, organized into a collection, was lost when the tornado destroyed his daughter’s home.

Some are not willing to let these lost photographs remained lost as numerous facebook sites, such as Joplin’s Found Photos, sprung up to attempt to reunite owners with their memories.  In turn, a website, Joplin Rescued Photos, collects these links and offers to be a central location for the effort to save photographs and return them home.  Joplin is not alone, either, as  Operation Photo Rescue is on its way to the city sometime soon.  Operation Photo Rescue consists of volunteers who will scan in damaged photographs, then digitally repair them and send the restored images to the owners for free.

While the days have passed since the storm and the clean up well under way, keep an eye open to a bent piece of paper lodged beneath a branch, it might well be someone’s memory and with the help of the people above, it might even find its way home.

Riches From the Earth

A typical mining scene around Joplin.

A typical mining scene around Joplin.

From time to time, we like to point out resources for Joplin’s and Southwest Missouri’s history.  For those of you who haven’t glanced at our links page, you likely haven’t noticed the link to Missouri Digital Heritage.  At that site is located the repository of the Joplin Public Library digital postcard collection which was used to great effect by Patrick McPheron in his Joplin video that we posted a couple days ago.  However, that’s not all that you can find at Missouri Digital Heritage worth looking at with concern to Joplin.  Another fantastic resource is Riches from the Earth.

Riches from the Earth describes its purpose as, “Riches of the Earth provides a basic introduction to the geological and industrial heritage of the Tri-State Mineral District. This district encompasses southwest Missouri, southeast Kansas, and northeast Oklahoma and was one of the United States’ richest mineral districts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”  More importantly, it’s focused entirely on Jasper County, the “heart of the Tri-State Mineral District.”  What follows is 261 images of mining, from mines to miners, to even a few mules.

Interior of a Joplin Mine

Interior of a Joplin Mine

The project is a collaboration between the Powers Museum, Missouri Southern’s Spiva Library Archives and Special Collections, the Western Historical Manuscript Collection-Rolla at the Missouri University of Science and Technology (U of Missouri – Rolla), and the Joplin Museum Complex.  It should be noted that if you have hopes of taking a peek at any of the Joplin Museum Complex’s photograph collection, this will be your only bet outside of buying one of the couple books the museum has deigned to publish periodically.  At this time, the photograph collection is generally off limits to the inquiring public (and in the process – Joplinites are cut off from freely accessing the best photographic and visual depiction of the city’s past).

Photograph access aside, Riches From the Earth is a good source for historic images of Joplin’s and Jasper County’s mining past.  It does suffer some from the slightly clunky interface of Missouri Digital Heritage website, but it’s a small price to pay for a glimpse into the past.

Note: All images are from Historic Joplin’s own collection.

Museum Expert Visits Joplin

As reported in the Joplin Globe today, the Joplin Museum Complex in Schifferdecker Park was visited yesterday by Mary Frances Turner, of Synergy Design Group (a museum design firm) and a museum expert.  Ms. Turner was invited by Chad Greer, the architect hired by City Manager, Mark Rohr, to oversee the expected costs of restoring the Depot.  The purpose of her visit was to evaluate the collection of the museum and to offer her analysis on whether the Union Depot would be a suitable home for the museum.

Of note is the fact that the museum houses an extensive photographic collection of early Joplin, not to mention an amazing mineral collection.  The Globe quoted Ms. Turner as responding, “This is it,” Turner said of the photographs and other historical documents, some of them portraying life in the lead and zinc mines that underpin the founding of Joplin and much of the region. “This is a gold mine” for research, she said.”

Per the condition of the Depot, the matter of the standing water in the basement was raised as an issue toward the climate controlled nature that will be demanded of the new home for the museum. There was also the question of parking.

For those of us closely following the situation, we will have to wait another 4 to 6 weeks for Ms. Turner’s report.

Needless to say, here’s our rather passionate response!

The article also states,

“[Museum Director Brad] Belk has used the materials in some local history books he has written, but the public is largely unaware of the photographs because there is no space in the current setup for them to be accessed or viewed by visitors.

Belk and Shirley listed the mineral collection and mining machines, the local history exhibits and archives, an 8,000-item presidential collection, a collection of World War II-era uniforms, fashions and textiles, Civil War items, and dolls as among the collections that need display space. Some have never been viewed by the public.”

First, as we have repeatedly discussed in the past, Brad Belk has refused access to the photograph collection to visitors (including us). Will this really change if the museum relocates to a new building? If there is a new facility, will Belk finally allow the public to view and obtain copies of photographs, use them in books, or other publications?

To be honest, we’re skeptical. It appears as if he treats the collection as his own personal fiefdom. If Belk was smart, he would model the photograph collection like the one at the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale, Arkansas, one of the finest small museums in nation.

If you want to see what the Joplin Museum Complex should be like, then visit the Shiloh Museum. It has the largest photograph collection in the state of Arkansas that is lovingly and professionally cared for by trained, expert staff.  The museum features an art collection (artwork is frequently rotated on a regular basis), permanent exhibits about life in the Ozarks, rotating exhibits on topics of local, regional, and national interest, a superb museum collection, and outdoor exhibits. Its staff have years of museum and public history experience with actual degrees and training in the museum field. Its director is very active (committee and board member) in the American Association of Museums (AAM) the lead organization in the field. Supported by the city of Springdale, Arkansas, and private donors, it operates on a small budget every year, less than $500,000.

Can Brad Belk run a museum like that?  It is yet to be seen.

Here’s our view: Get a new building, get a new director, and dump the cookie cutter/doll collection. Museums cannot and should not collect every item that comes in the door. Cut the excess and focus on the true gems of the collection.

However, even if the Joplin Museum Complex does not move into the Union Depot, its collections of Joplin’s history must be made available to the public.  Such historic treasures should not be relegated to the private fiefdom of the museum to be made available at the whims of the museum’s leadership.  We at Historic Joplin have been to a number of research centers and a research area may only consist of a table and a couple chairs.   It is not a difficult matter to take up.  In terms of organizing the collection, it is amazing what earnest volunteers are willing to do and organize if only given the proper direction.

Second, this has not been the first time the issue of water has been raised concerning the Union Depot as a home to the museum.  We can only hope that it does not represent a barrier to the decision to move the museum.  While we are not experts in restoration or plumbing, it would seem that waterproofing a basement is not high on the list of complex restoration work.  The cost of this fix should be considered with the benefit to restoring and saving an architectural masterpiece, as well providing the collections of the Joplin Museum Complex a worthy and admirable home. We Missourians are known for our tenacity, our resourcefulness, and our resiliency.

Finally, this is an important moment for Joplin and its history.  The chance exists to save a building that has been neglected for too long and to provide the museum a home with roots nearly as deep as the city itself.  The Union Depot is more accessible to those lured to the rehabilitated downtown area than the Joplin Museum Complex’s present home and it is a beautiful building that need not be viewed from Main Street to be admired for its style and design.

We hope that Mary Frances Turner can overlook the weak complaints about water at the Union Depot and will recommend that it should serve as the new home of the Joplin Museum Complex. Make a bold leap of faith and save the Union Depot and provide the citizens of Joplin with a credible museum.

If you want to voice your support for the Union Depot, why not contact the Mayor Mike Woolston, City Manager Mark Rohr, and Museum Director Brad Belk? Tell them what you think. Let your voices be heard.

Joplin Union Depot

Save the Union Depot!

It’s a Matter of Space

Questions

As you may have noticed, we’ve been following the latest developments regarding the proposed Joplin Museum move to the Union Depot.

After reading some of the comments on the Joplin Globe’s website and in its “Letters to Editor” section over the last few months, we have questions.

As one Globe reader, posting under the name Av-I-tar, asked,  Why are visitors not allowed to take photography in the Joplin Museum Complex?

We here at Historic Joplin hate to brag, but we’ve been in a few of the world’s finest museums. We’ve also visited some pretty crappy ones. The kind filled with arrowheads, poorly preserved stuffed animals moldering away, and a bunch of junk that the “curator” decided to take lest he or she offend the donor. Oh, wait. Sound familiar?

So what’s the big deal? Afraid that professional thieves might take photographs to aid in robbing the museum of it’s “rare” mineral collection? Fearful that someone will attempt to profit from photographs of the exhibits? If you are going to enforce a nonsensical policy, you should at least provide a rational explanation to visitors.

Another issue that keeps popping up and one that we are familiar with: Brad Belk will not allow the public to access, view, or study the museum’s photo collection. We presume his salary is paid by the city. Why is a city employee allowed to deny the public, Joplin taxpayers in particular, access to the photograph collection? The answer given? “No space.”

The museum exists for the benefit of the public. The public should be accommodated, but it seems that Belk has established his own personal fiefdom and serves as the gatekeeper who perpetually denies the public an opportunity to review the city’s photographic history. It will probably remain this way until he retires which will probably be decades in the future because he is firmly entrenched.

Perhaps if we wrote a big enough check we could get access. Instead we hope the folks who sign his paycheck read our comments and those expressed on the Joplin Globe’s website and ask him to reconsider his obstructionist  behavior. We’re curious to see if, once he gets all the museum space he desires, he will continue this absurd policy.

At least we have enough time to save our nickels and dimes to write that big check.