A Photograph’s Story: Fourth and Main Street Joplin Turn of the Century

Here is a fascinating glimpse of a moment in time in Joplin’s history. Time to explore the story of the photograph of looking West on Fourth Street from Main Street:

First, let’s positioned ourselves and stand in the same place as the photographer. In front of us is the intersection of Main Street and Fourth Street. We are looking West in this photograph which tells us that out of sight, but immediately to our left is the Keystone Hotel. On the right, you can see the edge of the curb of the Worth Block, which means the House of Lords is just a quick jaunt around the corner.

Second, the Connor Hotel is across the street from us. The Connor Hotel was completed in 1908, so we now have an estimated time as to when we are standing at the intersection of Fourth and Main. If you look closely, you will recognize some of the stonework that is now outside the Joplin Public Library. When you look down the street from the Connor, you will notice a row of small buildings. These buildings were eventually demolished to make way for the Connor Annex, which was built in the 1920′s. Again, we have now created a time span for when we are looking: 1908 to 1920′s.

Third, beyond the small buildings, you will notice a tall building. Gone now, but only a few years old at the time of this photograph, the Miners Bank Building was home not only to the aforementioned bank, but also to one of Joplin’s premier architects, August Michaelis. If you squint, on the opposite side of the street framed by telephone and power lines, is a steeple. That steeple belongs to another of Joplin’s lost buildings, the Club Theater. It was home to the Joplin Commercial Club, which survives today in the form of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.

Fourth, immediately across from the Connor is a two storm frame building. Until it was destroyed to make way for the Liberty Building (and current resident of the southwest corner of Fourth and Main), this was the oldest remaining building in Joplin at the time having been built in the 1870s.

Fifth, also of note, are of course the the trolleys and if you look close at the street, you can see a textured surface. Reportedly, these were macadam streets, which Joplin boasted of having many and might still exist in some form under her currently paved streets.

A History of the Joplin Union Depot – Part IV

Catch up on the previous installments of a History of the Joplin Union Depot with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Joplin Union Depot

By mid-August a concrete mixer had been put to work at the site of the depot. The concrete it produced was immediately used to build piers sunk into the earth upon which the rest of the foundation and depot structure was to be supported. The workers, twenty teams in all, enjoyed unsually cool weather and as a result, progress delayed by earlier heat, pushed forward rapidly. Placed about the construction area were multiple piles of gravel, lumber and other construction material. Despite the mostly finished job of leveling the Kansas City Bottoms, the actual depot site was still undergoing a lowering of high places and a raising of low places.

Officials were optimistic over the progress being made throughout the month of August and “expressed every confidence of its [the depot] completion before midwinter.” Indeed, as smooth as the work had become, the depot was expected to be completed by the spring of 1911. All seemed to be in place, the material, and ever more men, Joplin men, the papers noted, were being hired. The laying of the corner stone was estimated to happen at the start of October.

At the same time, not far from the construction site, a Kansas City Southern engine and flat car were put to use in laying down tracks for the new rail yard. The track laying continued elsewhere with spurs built that extended to Broadway, as well to the electric railway that linked to the trolley systems of Joplin and Southwest Missouri. Another train put to work in the construction phase was made up of ten “dump cars” pulled by “the latest types of heavy locomotives.” A newspaper described the process, “Train, engines and all were put to work at once hauling dirt from the steam shovel, working southeast of town to the site of the yards.” At the yards, the soil was used to permanently flatten out the area of the tracks. As with the depot, itself, everything was progressing quickly.

The process continued into September. The location southeast of town, identified now as Saginaw, continued to supply dirt for the yards in trip after trip by the dump cars. The supplied dirt was then driven over by an engine leveler to flatten it further. The yards also demanded other sacrifices of the land, as a bluff just south of a North Main Street bridge was dynamited on a daily basis to make room for further yard space. By the 6th of September, the bluff was gone, as well numerous trees, shrubs, and odd pieces of trash, cleaned from the Bottom space between Main Street and the Kansas City Southern tracks. Thus, it was a surprise a few days later when at 8 AM on a Friday morning, the entirety of the carpentry crew, twenty-eight men in all, walked off the job.

The strike was in reaction to the failure of the contractors to hire union hod carriers. Hod carriers had the specific task of carrying supplies to bricklayers, plasterers, and other similar jobs around a construction site. Prior to the start of construction, an agreement, likely informal, had been made to use only union men on the building of the depot, itself. The carpenters, who had “quietly laid down their hammers and tools and quit the building,” were members of the Building Trades Council. Rumors were gossiped that the contractors intended to have an “open” shop at the depot site, the intention to hire non-union men, and therefore, avoid having to follow the regulations and rules that local unions demanded. The contractors, meanwhile, claimed that there were simply not enough union hod carriers available due to other construction efforts in Joplin.

A photograph of a hod carrier from the Library of Congress. These men played the important role of transporting required building materials to the craftsmen.

The head of the union’s local chapter, Albert H. Monteith, stated, “When the carpenters went to work on the depot it was their understanding that the whole job would be unionized…we went to work on this job a little over two weeks ago, well aware of the fact that some non-union labor was being used, but we were under the impression that our contentions would be met without delay and we would have as fellow workmen nothing but union men.” Monteith went on to add of the superintendent of the build, “[he] knew what action would take if he failed to take steps toward unionizing the whole job, and we gave him nearly three weeks in which to do his part, but when it became evident today that he would not recognize the union hod-carriers and other union building laborers, we quit.”

Monteith noted that union men were used at other construction sites of the Manhattan Construction Company, and if needed, they would undoubtedly strike in support of their Joplin brethren. The seriousness of the strike was great enough to stir rumors that the president of the company himself, President Looman, was on a train for Joplin to speak with the union men. If the president of the company visited Joplin, the papers failed to note his coming and going, but the strike did end approximately a week after it began. The resolution arrived when both parties came together and agreed that the conflict was in essence, a misunderstanding. The work reserved for union men would be reserved for union men, and the work done by non-union men would be done by non-union men. The clock was turned back pre-strike and all efforts once again pushed toward the completion of the depot.

A sense of urgency to complete the depot before the partnership of railroads laid the last of their tracks into the depot area became stronger as September came to a conclusion. An article published at the time looked ahead to its completion and touched upon its future beauty, “The architecture is of the mission style, and when completed the depot undoubtedly will be one of the handsomest, as well as one of the most unique structures of the kind in the country.” Flower beds and grass were to be noted improvements for the space between the depot and the nearest street. Its construction, reinforced concrete, the paper claimed, “is considered better building material than steel.” By the end of October it was hoped that the carpenters who had recently gone on strike would be at work on the interior.

Tower of Union Depot

The depot since it's construction has always had one apparent tower, featured here. It may be the two towers described were upon completion formed into one larger tower.

October was also a time of great focus on the innovative use of reinforced concrete. The work of building with the new material had been virtually completed in the basement, as well the exterior walls of the ground and second floors. 30 to 40 days, it was claimed, would be all it would take to finish the cement work at the depot. 40 days later, the focus was no longer on the cement, but two “massive towers” being erected above the depot. The work, described as, “exceedingly dangerous” involved the raising of huge frameworks of scaffolding to ensure success. The construction of the depot at that point in November 1910 involved the labor of over 300 men.

Work continued uninterrupted through November and December until bitter winter weather brought construction to a sudden halt in the first week of 1911. In addition to cold weather, that January brought the annual special edition from the Joplin News Herald, which took time to extoll the construction of the depot. “Erection of $90,000 Union Depot Transforms Topography of Dreary Sweep of Land in Kansas City Bottoms,” read the headline along with a copy of the architect’s rendering of the depot from the year before. In its braggadocio of the depot’s transformation, the article offers a glimpse of how Joplin saw the Kansas City Bottoms:

The architectural drawing of the Depot.

“Union Depot construction in Joplin has brought great change to the topographical appearance of a big acreage that for years was a dreary waste of abandoned mining gouges and slimy flat lands, the mire of the swamps growing rank with weeds and vines. One of the first steps in the grading of the union depot grounds, consisting of about 30 acres, was to change the course of Joplin Creek, an ill-smelling drainage channel, that twisted through the rank undergrowth, marking a zone of desolation through the very heart of the big tract which since has been filled in hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of earth and rock…”

“…Here, in the early days – and even later – twinkled the crimson lights of a mining camp’s tenderloin. For years and years this portion of the city was notorious, but with the coming of the union depot, every house, every shack – dilapidated on the exterior, but gorgeously furnished on the inside – every landmark that would remind one of the free and easy epoch of Joplin’s “North End” have been eradicated.”

The article also offered a description of the new area and what it meant to Joplin:

“Today the lower portion of the union depot grounds, where the station, the sheds, the turntable and the shops will be located, is as level as a checker board and as red as an orange, the fresh red clay, when viewed from a distance, resembling a soft velvet rug of mammoth dimensions. The ground slopes upward to Main street on the west and to Broadway on the south…”

“Joplin can hardly realize that the union depot is at last a reality. For years the city had dreamed of a union depot, but it seemed an endless period before the first spadeful of earth was turned. Since work started, however, progress has been swift and a big force of workmen has been employed steadily. The ring of the hammer has been constant.”

And finally, a full description of the depot’s beauty and attributes:

“ The station proper, which is of old Roman type, antedating the classic style, is constructed of plain and re-enforced concrete throughout, with oak finish. The floors are of concrete, with plain and Terrazo finish. The walls and roof are of concrete, the exterior being finished with white Portland cement, stippled, which produces a very pleasing effect.

The main part of the building is occupied by the general waiting room, women’s and men’s, waiting room and ticket office. The structure is two stories in height. The north wing provides express and baggage room, the south wing being occupied by dining room and lunch and kitchen. All modern equipment is to be installed, and the station is to be ready for use within a few weeks, although the completion of the train sheds, the round house, and other structures and equipment will require a much longer time.”

The future of the depot was bright in the first month of 1911 and the months ahead promised its completion. At the same time, Joplin continued its advancement as a city bursting with pride and progress.

Tune in for fifth and final installment of the history of the Joplin Union Depot in the near future!

A Ride into the Past

A street car makes its way up Main Street


It’s that time again, the Polar Express, a restored streetcar is now offering rides up in Webb City’s King Jack Park, on Saturday. Tickets are required and this is the last scheduled Saturday to catch a ride on a piece of Joplin’s past (at least until it’s warm again!). A ticket will gain you a 12 to 15 minute ride. The event, which includes a visit from Santa Claus, runs from 4:30pm to 9pm.

For a bit more history on the event, check out this Globe article.

Growth of A City – Fourth Street Looking East

At the height of Joplin’s boom days, the intersection of Fourth and Main streets was the beating heart of the city’s commercial district.  It was no coincidence that the city’s two greatest hotels, the Connor and Keystone, faced one another from opposite corners, or that Democratic party boss, Gilbert Barbee owned the House of Lords on another corner.  Along Fourth Street, particularly that west of Main, was prime real estate.  One venturing down west Fourth Street found themselves passing the Club Theater, as well the Elks Club lodge and the home of the Miners Bank.  In the next few photos, we’ll examine the change to the street over just a few years.  In addition, with a nod to Leslie Simpson’s latest book, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture, a present day view of the street.

A view of Fourth Street looking east - sometime before 1906.

A view of Fourth Street looking east - sometime before 1906.

In this first view there are several clues to time the photograph was shot.  First, visible to the right is the steeple roof of the Club Theater.  The Club Theater was completed in 1891.  The conical roof further down the street marks not only the Keystone Hotel, built in 1891 and completed a year later, marks the intersection of Fourth and Main.  On the left side of the street, a block down and hardly noticeable is the old Joplin Hotel.  What is not in this photograph is the Connor Hotel, an eight story building that was built where our squat Joplin Hotel now stands.  The Joplin Hotel was razed in 1906.  As such, we know this photograph dates from before that time.  Speculatively, sometime from 1891 to 1906.

View of Fourth Street looking east sometime after 1908.

View of Fourth Street looking east sometime after 1908.

In this view we have some familiar faces.  The Club Theater on the right, the Keystone down the block, and on the immediate right, the once Elks Lodge and offices of the Joplin Water Works.  The main difference is now the reverse of our previous photograph.  Where the old Joplin Hotel stood, now stands the Connor.  Its presence lets us know that this photograph was taken after its completion in 1908.  Note the change in design of the automobiles on the street and the lack of horse drawn wagons or carriages that were present in the previous view.

Fourth Street looking east - sometime before 1913.

Fourth Street looking east - sometime before 1913.

Our third view of Fourth Street.  The Connor and the Keystone are both present.  The steeple roof of the Club Theater is conspicuously absent, though you can see the roof line of the club’s western side.  Incidentally, by this time, the Club Theater, despite a renovation in 1905, had lost its status as the finest theater in town to the Shubert Theater which was located several blocks down to the south.  The vehicles are a little more modern and a subtle aspect is the switch from one set of trolley tracts to two.  Also different, which allows us to place this photograph as more recent, is the addition of electric signs to the facades of the buildings.  Now, we state that this photograph is dated as having been taken before 1913.  How did we come to that number?  In this case, its simply knowing your source.  This photograph came from a booklet published in 1913 to publicize the city, which allows us to place that hard date.

Fourth Street looking east - present day.

Fourth Street looking east - present day.

This photograph, taken on March 13, 2010, is not for the faint of heart for those who love the architecture of bygone days.  All that remains from the previous photographs is our friend the one time host of the Elks and Joplin Water Works building on the immediate right.  The row of buildings on the left are gone, though a few halfway down the block disappeared in the 1920′s when the Connor built an annex further down the block from its Fourth and Main location.  The Club Theater is gone, the front of a car, marks the parking lot that now remains in its place.  On the left down the block is the Joplin Public Library, situated where the Connor Hotel stood until 1978.  The Keystone, destroyed several years before the Connor, is gone.  The building visible beyond the library is the Joplin Globe office, visible only because the Worth Block was demolished (taking with it the House of Lords).  On a bright note is the tall building at the end of the block on the right side.  It was built around 1923 and managed to survive the devastation that was “Urban Renewal.”

If any comfort can be taken from this view of modern day Fourth Street it is that the City of Joplin has embarked on a mission to restore and recognize the city’s remaining historic buildings.  A drive down Main Street reinforces the belief that while a lot has been lost, that which remains will be saved.

Sources: Historic Joplin collection, Missouri Digital Heritage.