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.

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.

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 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.

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

Review of Now and Then and Again by Leslie Simpson

Historic preservation in Joplin cannot be discussed without mentioning Leslie Simpson.  The director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, Simpson is a long established expert of Joplin’s architecture and historic past.  She is credited with initiating the push to preserve Joplin’s remaining historic buildings and homes. Simpson has played an instrumental role in the creation of the Joplin Historic Preservation Commission and Main Street Joplin.  She has produced numerous slide shows on the city’s past and published a pamphlet titled, From Lincoln Logs to Lego Blocks: How Joplin Was Built.  Such is her impact that the city proclaimed a day in her name and the Missouri General Assembly honored her achievements.

One of Ms. Simpson’s most well known works was a fascinating slide show presentation entitled, “Extreme Makeover: Joplin Edition,” that compared historic photographs of Joplin buildings and homes to present day photographs of the same locations.  In December, 2009, she published her latest book, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture Now and Then and Again is the published version of her popular lecture on Joplin’s architectural past.

Any fan of American architecture from the late 19th Century to the early 20th Century will both adore and loathe reading Ms. Simpson’s latest work.  Readers will love it for the photographs of grand old buildings and majestic finely cut stone homes that once populated Joplin.  It will, however, make the reader grimace at the lack of foresight and vision that cost Joplin some of its finest architectural masterpieces.

Now and Then and Again is written somewhat categorically, beginning with photographs of many of its former homes and buildings that represented the first several decades of the city’s prosperous growth.  This may well be the most painful part for those who mourn the loss of Joplin’s finest buildings. as it reveals the devastation of the period of Urban Renewal.  During the 1960s and 1970s, Urban Renewal oversaw the destruction of many of American’s turn of the century architecture under the belief that their replacements would spark economic growth and development. Sadly, such was not the case with Joplin. Downtown Joplin became a vast wasteland of empty parking lots and neglected store fronts.

Despite her passion for Joplin’s lost history, Ms. Simpson maintains a neutral tone, letting the devastation of Urban Renewal speak for itself. Buildings such as the Connor and Keystone hotels, the Worth Block, and other crown jewels of Joplin’s past were lost to the wrecking ball.  By the time the reader finishes with this first part of the book, he or she can begin to dry their tears with the knowledge that some buildings survived, though are now hidden behind more modern facades.   One example is the home of the Joplin Globe whose gaudy outdated facade belies the fact that it still has the bones of a century old brick building underneath.

Now and Then and Again opts for an ending on a happier note.  The last two sections of the book are devoted to those structures still standing decades after their construction, and in a somewhat smaller part, those buildings which have recently been renovated.  Now and Then and Again is not entirely made up photographs.  Each photographic subject is accompanied with a paragraph or two of information which generally consists of the history of the building or house, the architectural style, and the individuals who owned them.  Conveniently, Ms. Simpson provides two indexes, one by name and the other by address.

In the unfortunately limited pantheon of resources for those seeking to learn more about the history of Joplin, Ms. Simpson’s Now and Then and Again is a welcome addition.  It serves as a wonderful reference for both the trained and untrained to a past built by stone, brick, and beam.  Any collection is better for its inclusion, and knowledge of its contents most certainly help to bring alive the Joplin of the past, and to discover its wonder in the present.

The cover of Leslie Simpson's work, "Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture."

The cover of Leslie Simpson's work, "Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture."

For information about purchasing a copy of Ms. Simpson’s work, follow this link to the Post Memorial Art Reference Library websiteNow and Then and Again consists of 95 pages, sells for $17.95 and is published by the Winfred L. and Elizabeth C. Post Foundation, Joplin, Missouri.