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!

A Glimpse of the Miners Bank in 1911

Above is a glimpse of Fourth Street looking west, and in the foreground, the Miners Bank Building. You can find a short history of the Miners Bank Building (and the bank, itself) here. It was home to the offices of one of Joplin’s finest architects, August Michaelis and his brother. Fourth Street, in turn, was one of the more attractive locales in the Joplin business district, home not only to the Connor Hotel, but also to the Club Theater and Elks Club.

The Good Ol’ Days?

Despite the trappings of a modern city, there were still some old fashion headaches in the way of Joplin's progress.

Back in 1897, much of Joplin was an open sewer. The sewer system at the time was “plagued” and the “city dads” decided to direct various sewer mains into Joplin Creek. This was when the city was “young and was comparatively unsettled north of A street.” But the city fathers did not foresee that Joplin Creek would be dammed in several spots. This caused the sewage to back up and grow even more fetid. After being exposed to the sun, the raw waste was enough “to sicken a maggot or act as an emetic on a jackal.”

According to the Globe, the stench alone had caused “an immense amount of sickness between B and D streets, and there is good reason to believe that one death resulted from it.” It was reported that at the corner of C and Main streets two families living in adjoining houses “had six people sick at the time, three in each home” with other families in the area similarly affected.

The paper declared, “It is the plain duty of the authorities to jerk those dams out of the creek and to keep them out. It is also their plain duty to see that the sand is removed that chokes the channel up to and to see that is kept clear.” If the creek were not kept clear of dams, then there “will be much loss of life…The city cannot afford to have its citizens killed off in this sort of a manner. Death comes all too soon without keeping a trap like this to stink people to death.”

The day after the Globe groused about the condition of Joplin Creek, Mayor Cunningham ordered Marshal Morgan to inspect the creek, and, if the conditions were as stated, to have the dams removed. When Morgan contacted the individuals responsible for the various dams, they complained that they owned the land that the dams were on, and that “they would like to see the color of the man’s hair who could make them take the obstructions out.”

Morgan would have none of it. He told the dam owners to remove their dams within twenty-four hours or else they would face arrest. The Globe proclaimed, “There must be no let up on the part of the authorities until the channel is as clear as a whistle, and it should be kept that way forever.”

Mayor Cunningham got his way and conditions improved. Sometimes the good old days weren’t so golden after all.

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.

The Love Pirate and the Bandit’s Son by Laura James – Review

The Love Pirate and the Bandit’s Son: Murder, Sin, and Scandal in the Shadow of Jesse James by attorney Laura James was published in 2009, but we thought we would mention it because the book contains a detailed look at one of Joplin’s lesser known scandals involving one of the most influential men in early Joplin history.

Zeo Zoe Wilkins was a charming osteopath who also a cunning opportunist. Her prediliction for marrying men, taking their money, and then divorcing them led some to call her a “vampire.”

After meeting 72 year old banker and former Joplin mayor Thomas W. Cunningham, Zeo Zoe sought to marry him and, in the process, seize his assets for herself. There was only one problem: Thomas had a common-law wife, Tabitha Carr Taylor Cunningham. Zeo, however, pushed ahead with her plans and married Cunningham. She kept him sequestered away from his friends, took over half a million dollars in cash, sold his bank to a rival, and disposed of his real estate holdings. Cunningham launched a divorce suit, claiming he was Zeo’s slave. In the end, the marriage was anulled. Zeo Zoe received a generous settlement while Cunningham returned to Joplin and to Tabitha. But Zeo Zoe’s story did not end in Joplin. She continued her scandalous ways until she met a brutal end in Kansas City. Her murder was never solved, but among those suspected of killing her was her one-time lover, Jesse James, Jr.

Despite the campy title, Laura James has produced an entertaining and well documented narrative account of Zeo Zoe Wilkin’s sinful life, and in the process has provided an in-depth look into one of Joplin’s lesser scandals that, for a brief moment in time, captured the nation’s attention.