Progress

From the city’s founding in 1873, a spirit of progress seemed to buoy Joplin.  This illustration from the Joplin Globe exemplifies that spirit of a city that believed that growth and industry was ever in its future.

Joplin Progress

Progress in the future!

Source: Joplin Globe

A Hotel Pool at 4th and Main

Several youngsters who rode past the place on bicycles deliberately rode down the long board incline that leads into the pit and plunged, wheel, clothes, and all, into the murky pool.

No trace of the old Joplin Hotel remained by late July, 1906.  Excavation was well underway for the new hotel when a summer torrential downpour occurred on July 20.  Over the hours as the rain fell the great pit, from which the Connor Hotel would eventually rise, filled with water.  When the sun rose the next day, to the delight of Joplin’s urchins, a veritable swimming hole at the corner of the city’s economic district reflected the morning light.  Encouraged by the July heat, boys quickly took advantage of the “hotel pool.”

A Joplin Globe article described the enthusiasm of the boys to partake in its cool, wet relief, “The youngsters did not disrobe before entering; such a move would have brought down upon them the wrath of the law.  They simply plunged in, clothes and all, a very few of them removing their outer shirts before the plunge.”  In addition to the swimming and diving, the boys soon discovered wooden boards that were quickly plied into use as rafts.  Envious youthful onlookers, who had failed to secure such craft when the opportunity allowed, willingly paid several cents, upward to a dime, to purchase either a ride on a raft or a raft itself.

Swimming pool at the old Joplin Hotel

A quick sketch of the swimming festivities at 4th and Main

The fun and games did not last forever, at least for a boy named Robert.  His aquatic fun ended upon the discovery of his mother of finding her son, fully clothed, splashing about the rain-filled pit.  The last that was seen of poor Robert was his mother leading him away with a firm grip on his ear.

Source: Joplin Globe

Clothes are like Baseball

In the bustling boom town of Joplin, businesses needed to advertise, even those located on the prime real estate of the 400 block on Main Street.  Here the Model Company attempts to lure in fans of baseball.  It’s possible, if the drawing was done locally, that one of Joplin’s local fields was the model for this baseball scene.

Model company baseball ad

Baseball is as fertile an advertising ground in the past as it is today.

Joplin’s First Florist

Pink rose

Thomas Green, a native of Manchester, England, was reportedly Joplin’s first florist.  He immigrated to the United States in 1867 with his wife, Caroline Hathaway Taylor Green.  The two were married on the Isle of Man and Mrs.  Taylor claimed William Shakespeare’s wife as a distant cousin.  In 1877, The Taylors arrived in Joplin and  Thomas Green bought property in “the western residence district of Joplin.” Within a few years he established flower gardens and later a greenhouse where he raised vegetables.

The glass greenhouses allegedly extended over the entire “half block between Second and Third Streets on Byers Avenue.” He could be seen “early every morning and late every evening working with his flowers.” Green hired Benjamin Crum, who went on to establish his own greenhouse business at the corner of Seventh and Jackson.  Green, it was remarked, supplied flowers for hundreds, if not thousands, of Joplin weddings and funerals.  He was undoubtedly a well known man who provided a service one might not expect in a rough and tumble mining town, but one certainly in demand with the dangers of the mines.

Sources: Joplin Globe, Livingston’s History of Jasper County

Matt Miller’s Treasure

In the early spring of 1897, Matt Miller of Joplin was the recipient of what may have been the first armadillo in Southwest Missouri.  Miller’s friend F.D.  Bancroft of Von Ormy, Texas, sent Miller the armadillo as a gift.

Armadillo

Image of an armadillo via the Library of Congress

The Globe reported that the armadillo was, “eighteen inches long and a foot tall.  It is covered with a shell something like a turtle, has four legs long enough to reach to the ground, at the bottom of which are four feet that look something like a cross between a hoof and a cat’s paw.”

Miller described it as a, “land bird, strictly omnivorous and carnivorous.  It eats mice, snakes, lizards, ants, and other beasts and vermin.” He added, “The ladies are invited to call at my office and see it.  Sleeps by day and runs around hunting something to eat at night.” Miller, already proud of his gift, boasted, “It will dig into the ground faster than a man can with a spade, and when he gets in he spreads his armor out against the sides of the hole s o that a team of mules can’t haul him out.  All are urged to come and see him and it won’t cost anyone a cent.”

Source: Joplin Globe, Library of Congress

Vada Corbus – Joplin Miners catcher

We recently covered Vada Corbus, a woman ballplayer who sought to play for the Joplin Miners.  By the permission of John Kovach, college archivist at St. Mary’s College, we secured a much better photograph of the near trailblazer.  The photograph comes from Mr. Kovach’s book, Women’s Baseball, (Images of Baseball).   For more on women in baseball, check and see if the traveling exhibit, “Linedrives and Lipstick: The Untold Story of Women’s Baseball,” is coming near you (or arrange to have it visit your local museum or history institution!).

Vada Corbus - Joplin Miners

Vada Corbus - Joplin Miners - personal collection of John Kovach.

Source: John Kovach’s “Women’s Baseball.”

A Snapshot of Race Relations in Joplin

African Americans played an important role in Joplin’s history.  Although segregation prevailed in the local mining industry, African Americans worked backbreaking labor intensive jobs as hod carriers, day laborers, carpenters, washerwomen, and other less desirable occupations.

Joplin newspapers often echoed the narrow minded racial beliefs of the time by perpetuating common stereotypes of African Americans as criminal, subhuman individuals.  In comparison to some local papers, such as the Stotts City Sunbeam and the Springfield Leader (which was founded by fire-breathing former Confederate Daniel Curran Kennedy), the Joplin papers were fairly tame.  While African Americans were most often portrayed in a negative light by the papers, sometimes a positive story would appear.

It’s often easy to look back over the last century, even two centuries, of American history and fall prey to dangerous generalizations.  This story illustrates that while racism certainly did exist in Joplin, it was not pervasive.

In the early fall of 1906, a crippled black man drove his blind mule along the streets of Joplin.  He was a well known figure as he drove a wagon that carried advertising signs to drum up business for local merchants.  The old man was, “old, feeble, and helpless, and few would take advantage of the poor old man’s infirmities to make him the object of a stinging jest.”

As the man and his mule approached Sixth Street and Moffet Avenue, a group of three white boys in a delivery wagon spied them.  One of the boys shouted, “Whoa there, mule.  Ha ha ha, look at the blind mule.  Look at the nigger.” The other two began laughing which a Globe reporter said, “sound as near like the braying of an ass as anything else.”

The elderly black man sat quietly but onlookers could see that “his feelings were deeply hurt.”

One of the boys called out, “Why don’t you get an automobile?” The other two began to yell when a white miner named Fred Winchel came upon the scene.  Winchel, incensed at the abuse the boys were heaping on the old man, jumped into the delivery wagon and grabbed one of the delivery boys.  He jerked the boy out of his seat and out onto the street.

Winchel growled, “Do you want to fight?” The boy, frightened by the miner, stammered, “N-n-n-no.” Winchel, still angry, snarled, “Then take that you cowardly whelp!” before he slapped the boy viciously on the ear.  The boy’s two companions tried to drive away but Winchel ordered them to stop.  The two boys complied.

Once again Winchel jumped into the wagon and drug the remaining two boys out.  He asked, “Do you want to fight?” The boys, like their companion, replied that they did not.  Winchel boxed their ears and sent them on their way.  He was overheard to say, “I ought to be kicked for not cleanin’ every one of them.”

Source: Joplin Globe

Federal Grant Money to Fund Efforts to Get More Buildings on Historic Register

Reported here in the Joplin Globe, Joplin has received $6,500 in federal grant money from the National Historic Preservation Fund.  The purpose of the grant will be to assist in getting the 800 and 900 blocks of Main Street listed as a historic commercial district.  A quick drive down Main Street will quickly bring attention to the fact that this stretch of downtown has the most complete section of historic buildings after the 400 to 700 blocks.

Such funding is essential in helping to preserve and restore Joplin’s architectual heritage.

The Heaviest Men in Joplin

In 1896, the Joplin News Herald reported a friendly competition of one town deciding to best another in the size of their men.  As obvious by the measurements below, the term “heaviest” implied something more than just the width of one’s girth.

Weight Lifter from Turn of the Century

An example of a weight lifter from turn of the century

“Mr. W.L. Richards, noticing in a paper from his old town in Nebraska a list of seven residents whose height were six feet or over, with an aggregate weight of 1,318 pounds, set about to pick out a dozen citizens of this vicinity who excel in altitude and avoirdupois. A short canvas secured the following list, which he handed to the Herald:

J.R. Vancil 187 pounds

H.J. Vancil 198 pounds

G.L. Vancil 181 pounds

E.L. Vancil 187 pounds

E.S. Vancil 181 pounds

J.M. Vancil 207 pounds

W.R. Hacker 180 pounds

J.B. James 195 pounds

John Dill 209 pounds

Tony McCarty 200 pounds

Galen Spencer 220 pounds

H.H. Sansom 214 pounds

These twelve men are all six feet tall or over. The aggregate weight is 2,359 pounds, an average of a little over 196 pounds each. The venerable H.H. Sansom leads in height with six feet three inches. J.B. James comes next with six feet two and one-half inches. Each of the others is six feet or over.

The six Vancils are brothers. It is very rare that one family contains so many fine specimens of physical manhood.”

Source: Joplin News Herald, Library of Congress

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

One of the major institutions of modern day downtown Joplin is the Joplin Public Library located in the 300 block between the Third and Fourth streets.  The prior occupant of this site was the Connor Hotel.  Plans to purchase the block, demolish the Connor, and to erect a new library building began in the 1970’s.  The Connor collapsed a day before its scheduled demolition in 1978, and all but a few minuscule pieces of the grand hotel remained on opening day of the new library building in April, 1981.  Up until that spring day twenty-nine years ago, the Joplin Public Library had been housed in a Romanesque building, a columned temple of knowledge, a few blocks to the southwest.  The origin of it and Joplin’s library system began more than a century ago.

Undoubtedly, the idea to establish a city library came into being not long after Joplin began to establish its schools and a professional class.  The dust of the lead and zinc mines was shaken off by a city that pulsed with a passionate desire for progress.  In April 1893, a gathering was held at the Young Men’s Christian Association building.  It was the first formal meeting of the Joplin Public Library Association.  Hamilton S. Wilks was elected president, along with Christopher Guengerich as treasurer, the Reverend E.E. Wilkey as secretary, and C.W. Squire as vice-president.  In addition, an executive committee was established with the following women: Mrs. W.H. Picher, Mrs. Clark Craycroft, Ms. Henry Weymen, Lola Spear and Mrs. W.C. Weatherill.

The initial funds to assist in the creation of a library came from a charity event hosted by the Century Club.  The club, established only three years previously, was a women’s literary society. Its members embarked on a campaign to create a city library through education and outreach.  While a public reading room had been the original idea for the city’s library, it became obvious that an independent library building was needed.  The Century Club, and other Joplin literary clubs, claimed victory in the city election of 1901.  The months before the vote had been spent campaigning for an annual tax of ten cents for every one hundred dollars appraised for the care and maintenance of a library building.  The measure was overwhelmingly approved.

Sedalia's Carnegie Library

The Library Committee traveled to visit Sedalia's Carnegie Library, pictured here.

This tax was connected to a requirement to form a non-partisan board to oversee the construction and operation of the library.  Ten individuals were appointed to the board: William N. Carter, H. H. Gregg, J. D. Elliff, Henry Kost, E. L. Anderson, Reverend Paul Brown, O. H. Picher, Mrs. Ada Goss Briggs, Mrs. Emma Lichliter and Mrs. Hattie Ruddy Rice.  Elliff, the superintendent of Joplin’s public schools, was elected president by the board, while the position of board secretary was given to Rice.  Shortly after, the board created a committee tasked with overseeing the building and grounds of the future library.

Around May, 1901, that committee explored the possibility of contacting the capitalist Andrew Carnegie.  For just under twenty years, the Scotsman offered funds to cities for the construction of libraries.  Generally, these donations came upon the promise that the cities guarantee a specific amount of upkeep and continue funding of the institutions.  Not long after the president of the board, J.D. Eliff sent off a letter to Carnegie, a reply was received from James Bertram, Carnegie’s personal secretary. Addressed from Skibo Castle, Ardgar, Bertram wrote:

Dear Sir – Responding to your letter of May 6th—If the city of Joplin will furnish a suitable site and pledge Itself to maintain the library at a cost of not less than $4,000 a year. Mr. Carnegie will be glad to provide $40,000 for a suitable building.

Very Respectfully.

James Bertram. Private Sec’y.

The promised sum of $40,000 delighted the board.  The question then turned to what the library should look like and where that building should be located.

The discussion of location and design carried on through the months of 1901 and into the first quarter of 1902.  It was not until October, 1901, that the board finally came to a decision on the placement of the new library.  Proposed locations included the intersection of Eighth and Pearl streets, Cox Park (advocated by the people of South Joplin), and the intersection of Joplin and Ninth streets.  The two most popular sites, however, were the intersections of Fourth and Pearl and Ninth and Wall streets.  The former were owned by a man named Renfrow and the latter by Christopher Guengerich.  According to coverage by the Globe, the board’s primary concern was a location which benefited the entire population of the city.

The board came to a decision on the location on October 21, 1901, when by a vote of 5 to 4, the Ninth and Wall location barely beat out the Fourth and Pearl site. Prior to the vote, attorney and amateur historian Joel T. Livingston offered a presentation, complete with a special map of the city that how the population of Joplin was concentrated.  Incidentally, while Livingston claimed to favor no specific site, his analysis of the city’s population placed the epicenter around Eighth and Wall streets.  If this swayed the votes toward the Ninth and Wall location, the site was further helped by the testimony of J.W. Freeman, who claimed the location would satisfy the people of South Joplin.  It was future Missouri State Senator Hugh McIndoe, as well as Freeman Foundry owner J.W. Freeman, Oscar and C.M. DeGraff, as well as Clay Gregory, who introduced the successful proposition.  Thus, the chosen site had strong and influential supporters.  As to what type of building would be built at the corner of Ninth and Wall, the discussion continued into the next year.

Cheyenne Carnegie Library

The Cheyenne Carengie Library design that William Carter favored and became the basis for Joplin's library.

The committee in charge of selecting the design of the library took their task seriously.  Initially, a question of whether the city would offer the local Joplin architects was debated.  One of the chief proponents against hiring local talent was William Carter, who when asked about the successful architect August Michaelis, sneered, “He learned his business in Joplin.”  Carter went on to point out that Joplin had no libraries or similar buildings, and as such, Michaelis had no experience in designing a library.  Another supporter of seeking a non-local architect was Ada Briggs, who read a letter written by the president of the Sedalia Library board.  Prior to this meeting, members of Joplin’s committee had visited the city to their north to view their Carnegie library.  In the letter, the president warned against allowing local architects to use Joplin’s library as an opportunity to learn how to design such a building.

Plans based on the designs of numerous libraries were pushed in an attempt to avoid hiring area architects.  One such architectural rendering was the Sedalia, Missouri, public library, which was quickly dismissed for a variety of reasons.  It was too big for the lot picked out previously; it failed to include a basement or a separate women’s assembly room; and it cost an additional $10,000 more than Joplin had budgeted.  Nevertheless, Ada Briggs described the building as, “beautiful simplicity.”

In lieu of the Sedalia design, Carter suggested the design of the Carnegie library in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Apparently, the news of Joplin’s library design search had spread, as the architect of the Cheyenne library visited Carter the week before to sell him on the design of that building.  Carter went so far as to suggest a trip to Cheyenne, similar to that which had gone to Sedalia, but the expense and length of the trip resulted in no support for such an adventure.

In the end, the committee opted to allow local architects to submit plans, based on the fact that a majority of the committee believed that they had already proven themselves with many beautiful buildings about the city.  It was even remarked that this was a difference between Joplin and Sedalia.  One city had remarkable architecture and the other did not.  The committee then reasoned that the advice of the Sedalia library board’s president to seek elsewhere for an architect could be ignored simply because Sedalia did not have any local architects of considerable skill. The plans of three firms were accepted to be voted upon.  The three were Garstang & Rea, I.A. Hunter, and August C. Michaelis.

August C. Michaelis, Joplin Architect

August C. Michaelis, one of Joplin's preeminent architects.

At 2’o clock in the afternoon on February 3, 1902, the committee selected the plan presented by Michaelis.  By specification, the design was similar to that of the Cheyenne Library, but not an identical copy.  This requirement was probably added to soothe those members, like Carter, who did not want to trust the design to local architects.  It featured three floors, a basement, first floor, and second.  Located in the basement was to be the men’s reading room, advertised as a place men could visit in or out of work clothes, as well go so far as to enjoy a smoke while perusing book or newspaper.  Filling out the basement was a coal room, toilets, and the boiler.  Upon rising to the next floor, the visitor found a main hallway of 33 square foot of marble flooring.

On one side of the floor the general reading room was placed connected by doorway to a reference room.  Opposite the general reading room was a reading room expressly for children.  In addition to a reference room, a room was set aside for librarians and contained a fire proof vault.  At the rear of the floor was located a circular stacks, which at the time was supposed to be filled with steel fire proof shelving.  The shelves were to be arranged in a circular fashion with the librarian seated in the center and thus with a 360 degree view of the room.  The stacks were expected to hold approximately 30,000 books.

August Michaelis' winning design for Joplin's Carnegie Library

August Michaelis' winning design for Joplin's Carnegie Library

Also located on the first floor was a wide double staircase that rose to the second floor.  On this uppermost floor was located a room for the women’s club with attached rooms and bathroom.  A statuary hall mirrored the hallway below and at the time was thought to be an ideal display area for mineral examples. Separate rooms were set aside for art and for trustees, as well a private reading room.  The rooftop was shingled in zinc, though a brief controversy arose when someone claimed architect Michaelis had said otherwise.  Michaelis confirmed that the library would indeed have zinc roof tiles. The library was heated indirectly with steam.  The library was filled with oak furniture and countertops.

A plan in hand, all that remained was for construction to begin.  Part Two will continue the history of the Joplin Carnegie library.

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