To Build A Railroad: Photos from the Katy Line’s Construction to the Union Depot.

As part of our recent discovery of a photograph of the Joplin Union Depot under construction, we also uncovered photographs of the construction of the new Missouri-Kansas-Texas (“Katy”) railroad line by the Walsh-List-Gifford Construction Company. Once again, we are happy and proud to share a few glimpses of Joplin’s history that we believed was otherwise left to the imagination to envision. To learn some about the men featured in the photographs below and the life they lived, just read our earlier entry here about life in a railroad camp.

First, we have a photograph of a steam engine with the name of the company painted along the side of the accompanying coal car. The fellow resting on the front of the engine is one of our favorite elements of the photograph.

Click on the photo to find larger versions.

Next, we have a photograph of the railroad building at work.  Here, the company appears to be building up an earthen support to the trestle bridge that the line is built upon.

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Finally, our favorite photograph shows some of the men at work (or spectating) on the side of the line while a steam engine puffs its way toward the photographer.

To view a larger version of the photograph, just click on the image.

 

 

Joplin Union Depot: Under Construction!

For historians, it is a labor of love to research and investigate topics of interest. Often times, in the course of such research, one is repeatedly faced with missing pieces and the fear that some things are forever lost to the ages. In the course of writing our five part history of the Union Depot, we exhausted countless resources trying to find as many images of the depot in its earliest stages of being built. Our most successful find was the image below:

The depot nearing completion in March, 1911.

It was the best we believed that existed of Joplin’s beautiful depot under construction. That is, until now. It is with great pride and excitement that we unveil and share with you a newly discovered photo of the depot in the process of being built.

The Joplin Union Depot under construction sometime in the early months of 1911. Click on image to view larger sizes.

By the appearance and state of completion of the depot and the background trees, we estimate that this photograph was taken sometime in early 1911, quite possibly after the one we posted previously. The photograph was taken from Main Street or just off of Main Street. Of particular note is that the exterior finishes on the building are incomplete, such as the architectural touches on the south end of the building, the lack of glass windows and the white exterior is in the process of being added. In the background, you can spot Eugene Field School (since demolished) sitting as the massive building on a hill. Regretfully, we know little about the photographer, other than he may have worked for a railroad and lived in Oklahoma.

If you still have not read our five part history of the depot, you can find it at the following links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.

Also, watch for more photographs associated with the construction of the Union Depot, which while not of the depot itself, are still quite fascinating and depict a previously discussed post on our site!

A History of the Joplin Union Depot – Part V

Catch up on the previous installments of the history of the Joplin Union Depot here: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Despite the progress made in December of 1910, work came to a sudden stop in the first week of January 1911 due to a snap of extreme cold weather.  The approximate forty men at work on the depot building had to lay down their tools and watch the skies for better weather.  The stop was short, however, and by the end of the month work was well on its way.  1/6th of the grading was left to be completed with only an estimated 25,000 yards of dirt remaining to be used to flatten the depot yards.  Already 125,000 yards of fill dirt had been brought to the depot, mainly from cuts made by the Kansas City Southern between Joplin and Saginaw.

The hills and hollows of the Kansas City Bottoms were filled in or leveled off to create the needed flat surface for the depot's many tracks.

By the end of February, it was believed that the permanent track would soon be laid.  At the start of March, the Joplin Daily Globe offered a glowing update on the Depot and at the same time, offered insight into how much the Depot meant to the people of Joplin.  The paper elaborated on how a depot represents a city to the growing number of rail travelers, that in effect, the depot was the face of the community.  The paper went on to describe the depot nearing completion:

“Few residents of Joplin fully appreciate the magnitude of the new union passenger depot, now rapidly nearing completion at the corner of First and Main Streets. Its location at the foot of a gently sloping hill, some 100 yards from the intersection of the streets, combines with the style of its architecture to make it appear smaller than it really is.

The building is 300 feet long and 80 feet wide. These dimensions are more significant when it is remembered that 300 feet is the length of a city block….Built of reinforced concrete throughout, the depot is absolutely fireproof, and its walls are thick enough to bear the weight of several additional stories if they should be desired.

The interior of the building is provided with every convenience that has yet been devised for the benefit of the traveling public. The structure is divided into three general parts, north and south wings, each 60 feet long, and the central section, 180 feet long. The wings are of one story only, while the central part, in which will be located the ticket office, general waiting rooms and other apartments, is of two stories, with a rectangular opening in the second floor. The general arrangement of the depot is very much similar to that of the union depot in St. Louis, although the interior is more beautifully decorated than its larger counterpart.”

The article also noted the presence of more waiting rooms, lavatories, check rooms, ticket offices, and even a “great dining hall, 30 by 60 feet in extreme dimensions…”  More so the paper proudly stated, “Nowhere in the country can there be found a depot site that offers greater opportunities for artistic effort.”  The Globe wrapped up its article, “It is simply this – that when seven great railroads decide to spend a million dollars improving their facilities in a city, there must be something decidedly attractive about the city’s future…And Joplin will soon have an entirely new “face” to show strangers who ride the trains past her gates.”

At the same time, high ranking officials from the Santa Fe Railroad visited the depot site.  A vice president of the company was quoted, “I have heard so much regarding the Joplin depot that I was anxious to see it…”  The article noted that the vice-president was pleased with the depot, its progress, and its location, which would serve as a stop for the railroad on its way south to Arkansas.

The depot nearing completion in March, 1911.

The end of March raised expectations that the depot would be finished early.  The filling of yards had been practically completed and work was underway for the installation of a round house approximately 100 yards northeast of the depot.  The house would have three or four stalls, a “small affair” the Joplin News Herald noted before describing the turn table to be installed with it.  The turn table, the paper described, “will bear up the largest engine that travels on any road in the United States.”  Technologically advanced, the table would be turned by machinery, not by hand.  Inside the depot building, meanwhile, carpenters were busy with wood work that was to have a “mission finish” and, “like the rest of the building, is artistic.”

“Let the eagle scream in Joplin,” announced a member of the City’s council in April, upon a motion to hold a celebration to recognize the completion of the Depot on the Fourth of July.  In connection to the decision of the City Council, Mayor Jesse F. Osborne appointed a committee to work with the city’s Commercial Club on planning the gala.  A ball, it was believed, should be held that night inside the depot with officials from every railroad invited to attend while a celebration at Cunningham Park earlier in the day to celebrate the nation’s anniversary.  Curiously, an article on the matter refers that it was not the custom of the city, but surrounding cities, to hold such celebrations on the Fourth.

April did not pass without some mishap on the depot construction site.  The first problem arose at the moment when the construction company believed the depot building virtually finished.  It was then that they realized that either their construction or the design of the depot had failed to include space for the extremely important telegraph operators.  As a result, two rooms were quickly added to either side of the ticket offices which required, “workmen…tearing out big slices from the side of the concrete structure…”  These slices were not the last.  It was not until this moment that it was discovered that the two big doors for the large baggage room had been built on the wrong side of the depot building.  As a result, new doors had to be built into the building lest “teamsters would have been forced to risk their lives in driving over the railroad tracks at the east side of the depot.”

Hastily, doors had to be relocated from the south side of the depot to the north.

With construction otherwise subsiding, thought was finally given to the preparations of the grounds of the depot.  The churned soil, “a sea of red clay, sticky as fish glue,” would soon be transformed into flower beds and grass plots.  The excavation of the hill upon which Main Street was to the west and Broadway to the south had resulted in an area described as “great amphitheater” and an article bragged, “This land…will probably be used for a depot park…” and believed that no other depot in the country compared for its potential to be developed.

The depot otherwise constructed, the News Herald took time to praise the unique application of local materials in its building, primarily “flint and limestone tailings secured from waste piles of several Joplin zinc and lead producers.”  Described as a “fitting monument to the successful efforts of the pioneers,” the concrete was deemed as hardy as a granite wall.  The paper noted that while concrete had been used to great effect for sidewalks, curbs, retaining walls, dams, and culverts, it had never in Joplin’s history been used to such an extent in a building before the depot.  Perhaps as motivation for future use, the article offered a recipe:

“Of the 22 parts in the concrete mixture used in constructing the station, 15 parts came from the Joplin mines, the exact formula being as follows: Mine tailings, 10 parts; Chitwood sand, 5 parts; River sand, 3 parts; Portland cement, 4 parts. Chitwood sand is the term used to describe the fine tailings from the sand jigs. In the mixture of the preparation for finishing the interior, the following formula is used: Portland cement, 2 parts; Chitwood sand, 2 parts; River sand, 1 part.”

The article noted that the best tailings for the project came from mines stratified with steel blue flint.  The paper also reminded the reader of how much the Kansas City Bottoms had been transformed by the depot’s construction, “The new station is built on filled in ground in a district which was a waste of sluggish waters, dotted with dense growths of willows.  For years this tract, of which 30 acres have been taken over by the Union Depot Co., was the city’s dumping ground.  A sickly stream, carrying filth of every kind, crawled through the swamp.  The Depot Co. has changed the course of this stream so that it no longer touches the station grounds.  Hundreds of carloads of boulders and dirt have been used as filler.”  Another, later article also extolled the depot which, “occupies a strip of filled in land that was an eyesore to the community for years.  The building of the station and the filling in of the old swamp has converted a weed-grown bottom land into a beautiful valley, level as the floor of a dance hall.  All the old swamps and marshes have been filled in, the course of Joplin creek changed so that it flows on the east side instead of the west side of the Kansas City Southern tracks, and when the grounds are finally finished and planted in blue grass, flowers and trees, they will be picturesque.” The landscape was forever changed and in the opinion of the people of Joplin, for the better.

By the end of construction of the Union Depot, much of the Kansas City Bottoms had been physically erased from the landscape of Jopin.

Then later in the month of May, the 19th, the first train was switched into the yards of the Depot, a string of work cars.  Despite the presence of the cars, the Depot’s yards were not yet ready to receive passenger cars, and as officials quickly pointed out, the honor of “first train” is given to the first passenger train.  The depot building was considered virtually complete, but contractors declared that the station would not be ready for a formal opening before July 1.  The main work left to complete was the laying of permanent rails, and amazingly, still more grading work.  Amongst the five railroads a growing rivalry had emerged to have the honor of the “first train” into the depot.  A week later, the depot building itself was considered completed.  By June 3, even the windows had been washed and the floors scrubbed and prepared for use.  The woodwork had been completed and “the walls have received their last coat and the brass and iron railings fitted in position.”  Depot officials bravely declared that the station would open on June 15.  Four days before the set date, an announcement was made, “Unforeseen delays have been met in the track construction work,” stated the President of the Kansas City Southern, J.A. Edson, and that, “It would be impossible to properly complete the tracks and station before July 1.” Unsurprisingly, it was also mentioned that the depot building itself still awaited its furnishings and fixtures that were on order.  Some furnishings had arrived in the form of furniture for the lunch room, such as kitchen cabinets, tables, and a “huge gas range of the regular restaurant type.”

Regardless of the delay, fifteen officials from the various railroads behind the depot met at the Connor Hotel.  The meeting was for the purpose of discussing the various contracts between the railroads and to discuss the details of the depot’s opening.  Station appointees had been made in the previous two weeks.  Shortly thereafter, it was reaffirmed that July 1st would be the opening day of the depot.  Comically, over a week later, it was realized that the Santa Fe railroad would not have a train available to enter the depot until July 15.  Accordingly, the official opening was postponed yet again to July 20.  However, the depot would accept trains before then.  In preparation for the celebration, former Missouri Governor David R. Francis was invited to be the guest speaker. And, like the continually shifting opening day, the invitation fell through when a telegram alerted the organizers of the celebration that Governor Francis had departed from St. Louis for the summer and would not return until fall.

Meanwhile, the Depot construction had spurred construction elsewhere.  Across the street from the depot on Main Street three buildings were under various states of construction.  J.C. Jackson was the owner of one and had erected a three story building at a cost of $20,000.  It was hoped the lower two floors would be home to a restaurant and the third a hotel.  On the north side of Jackson’s site, Charles W. Edwards owned a lot and planned to build a four story building.  The excitement of new buildings was quickly to be overshadowed by an even more exciting event back across the street.

One of many ads placed by the railroads in the Joplin newspapers to alert travelers of the pending opening of the depot.

On the night of July 1, 1911, and under the “fiery salute” of “skyrockets and torpedoes,” the headlight of Missouri, Kansas & Texas railroad train No. 83 “flashed around the curve at the north end of the depot” and pulled into the Union Depot at 10:30 pm (“exactly on schedule time”).  An engineer, perhaps P.J. Nagle, responded with a tug on the steam whistle which shrilled to the cheers of over 2,500 spectators.  The Katy Railroad had secured the honor of being the first train into the union depot.  Crowds of railroad officials mingled together and shared welcomes and congratulations, while Joplinites “extended cordial greetings to the crew and passengers of the epoch-making train.”  An article conveyed the sensation of all present, “Everyone seemed to feel that he was personally concerned in the event and took a part in the celebration.”

The honor of the first tickets sold went to Mrs. A. McNabb, a wife of one of the depot telegraph operators, and then immediately after to H.A. Adams, a traveling salesman from Kanas City.  The event of the first tickets, which began approximately at 11 o’clock on Friday night, was retold a day later by the News Herald, “Both were anxious to secure the first ticket, but Dave Joseph, ticket agent, with the wisdom of old King Solomon, divided the honors by passing out the two tickets at the same instant.  He shoved one over the counter with his right hand, the other with his left.”

The day before the arrival the Depot had been a scene of organized chaos as depot employees and officials had moved into offices and set to work preparing for business.  Amongst them were most likely employees of Brown Hotel & News Company, such as F.P. Leigh, the general manager, who was in charge of running the dining room and lunch counter.  Leigh was also assisted by a “corps of pretty girls.”  Meanwhile, the formal opening was currently set for July 20, still.  The highly anticipated Fourth of July celebration had also failed to coalesce.  Officials in charge of Cunningham Park had protested the planned use of the park and the City Council immediately had surrendered.  Perhaps from unreported blow back, the park officials changed their minds, but the City Council’s chief proponent of the celebration, Councilman Phil Arnold, had resigned his place on the city’s planning committee and the idea of a Fourth of July celebration was unceremoniously set aside.

An important arrival at the Depot a week later was a new clock.  The Globe described the Chicago made timepiece: “The clock is seven feet high and will be run by compressed air, which will be made by a motor power.  It is said to be one of the finest clocks in any station in the west.”  Surprisingly, the location of the clock had yet to be decided and so the “enormous timepiece” was left crated for at least a day until the question of its location was decided.  The main furniture had arrived a week before the arrival of the first train.  A visitor to the Depot would have cast their gaze on beautiful Mission furniture described as such:

“…consignments of massive oak have already arrived and more is coming. This will be the heaviest and most attractive furniture in any depot in the Southwest…The lunch room has been furnished and is now waiting for the opening to begin work. It is fitted with an elliptical counter, at which can be seated nearly 200 persons. The table is covered with a heavy granite face, and the chairs are fitted with backs, and swing on a pivot…

In the office rooms desks of the mission style in dark oak are being placed in position…The furniture in the general waiting room is the first to attract attention. It is composed principally of heavy double settees, with high backs and heavy arms. These are also of the prevailing dark oak mission style, with the designating little double keystone which is in evidence in the architecture of the depot in all appropriate places.”

While preparations continued for the formal opening, such as the Missouri & Northern Arkansas planning special excursion trains to Joplin from as far as Seligman for the opening, other events were afoot.  One such event was the visit to the Depot of the president of the Missouri Pacific Railroad.  Dutifully impressed, the president implied that his railroad may abandon their old Joplin depot in lieu of the impressive Union Depot Station.

Finally, at 2:30 pm on July 20, 1911, a parade of Joplin’s finest began under a drizzling rain from the intersection of 20th and Main Street.  The procession was led by a vanguard of twenty mounted members of the Joplin Police Department with Joplin Police Chief Joe Myers and his assistant chief, Edward Portley at the front.  Planned to follow, though not noted in an article printed afterward, were members of Joplin’s labor unions, secret societies, and civic societies.  Among the noted was a procession of the city’s “fire automobiles” and more than thirty other automobiles set to carrying officials from the railroads.  Members of the Commercial Club were present, as were four cars with members of the South Joplin Business Men’s Club and another with officers of the Villa Heights Booster Club.

At the depot, many sought shelter from the rain inside and around the depot, Mayor Jesse Osborne and Frank L. Yale, president of the Commercial Club, made speeches.  Despite the wet summer day, Osborne spoke with enthusiasm of the depot’s construction, “The people of Joplin should congratulate themselves on securing even at this late day, a beautiful structure of this type.  It is not only a monument to the progressiveness of the railroads entering this city, but it is a striking example of the uses to which a waste product may be put…”  Yale followed Osborne and declared the depot impressive and the fulfillment of a “long felt want.”

From July 1, 1911 to November 4, 1969, the Union Depot served the city of Joplin.  Over the fifty-eight year span, it was at the depot that Joplin saw her fathers, brothers and sons depart and hopefully return from two world wars.  It was in the shade of the depot’s awnings that families bid farewell to friends and fellow family members who were departing for the wider world beyond Joplin’s city limits, and it was where they stood in eager anticipation for their return.  For a city that foresaw Joplin as a great metropolis positioned at the intersection of the Great American Plains, the Southern Ozarks, and the Southwest, it was one more proud achievement to count among its others.  It was one more step down a road to a brighter future.

In the March of 1949, the Kansas City Southern showed off its latest liner, the Southern Belle at the depot.  Just over twenty years later, it was the Southern Belle which pulled away, the final train to leave the Joplin Union Depot.  The following decades of the Twentieth Century were turbulent for the former pride of Joplin.  Only three years after its closing, the Depot’s first chance to become relevant again in the daily life of Joplin was lost when the City Council refused to renovate the building as a home to the Joplin Museum Complex in honor of the city’s 100th birthday.  Not long after, the depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places, an honor, but not a safeguard against demolition.

The depot next was passed from one speculative buyer to another, each espousing plans to put the building to use which inevitably always failed to materialize.  In the mid-1980’s, an attempt was made once again to renovate it, but it dissolved into lawsuits and accusations.  Finally, in the late 1990’s, the Department of Natural Resources bought the site.  It was not until approximately 2009 that for the first time the depot became the subject of serious discussion regarding renovation and restoration.  In 2010, City Manager, Mark Rohr, proposed a plan to use the depot as part of a north Main Street development, possibly as a new home to the Joplin Museum Complex (JMC).  Despite resistance from the boards overseeing the JMC, steps were taken toward this ultimate goal.  However, at the start of 2012, such talk has been replaced by more important and pressing matters that arose in the aftermath of May, 2011.  Until the time that they resume, the depot remains enclosed behind a chain link fence, waiting for a chance to once again become the pride of Joplin.

 

This Building Matters: Louis Curtiss’ Joplin Legacy

In the past we have written posts about the construction of Joplin’s Union Depot. Now we would like to celebrate the life and work of its architect, Louis Curtiss. Sadly, his legacy is in peril. Of the over 200 buildings and projects that Curtiss designed, only 34 remained in existence by 1991. Of the 34 buildings, 21 were in Kansas City. Joplin is incredibly fortunate to have the Union Depot among its built landscape. If you care about history, if you care about cultural memory, and if you care about historic preservation you can appreciate Curtiss and Joplin’s Union Depot.

A native of Belleville, Ontario, Canada, Curtiss arrived in Kansas City, Missouri in 1887 at the age of twenty-two. Throughout his career, Curtiss was an enigma. He never discussed his life, never married, never had children, and ordered that his personal papers be burned upon his death. Curtiss was an incredibly colorful character. He loved fast automobiles: he would often roar around the city in a Winton runabout which, at the time, reportedly topped out at an amazing 30 mph. He loved women; he cut his own hair; and claimed to have studied architecture at University of Toronto and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, although historians have been unable to confirm this due to spotty recordkeeping.

Curtiss behind the wheel.

Curtiss briefly worked as a draftsman in the architectural firm of Adriance Van Brunt. He then left to form a partnership with Frederick C. Gunn. Together Curtiss and Gunn designed a large number of courthouses across the Midwest and South. The current courthouse for Henry County, Missouri, is a Curtiss and Gunn creation. Regrettably, the original tower on the courthouse was removed in 1969. The Curtiss and Gunn designed courthouse in Gage County, Nebraska, still has its original tower. The partners also designed courthouses in Tarrant County, Texas; Cabell County, West Virginia; and Rock Island County, Illinois (its roof dome was removed). Even more interesting, they designed St. Patrick’s Parish Catholic Church in Emerald, Kansas.

After ten years, Curtiss and Gunn went their separate ways. Curtiss traveled abroad and studied architecture, but eventually returned to Kansas City. He designed a private residence dubbed “Mineral Hall” which survives today on the campus of the Kansas City Art Institute. Curtiss designed other private residences and commercial buildings at this  time. Mineral Hall Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mineral_Hall Note that the doorway is Art Nouveau in style.

Curtiss’ Folly Theater (now the Standard) still stands in Kansas City after construction finished in 1900. You can read about its colorful history here.

While living in Kansas City, the young architect had the good fortune of meeting Bernard Corrigan, a fellow Canadian who was a partner in Corrigan Brothers Realty Company, and for fifteen years the two worked together on a variety of projects.

Curtiss’ first large project, the Baltimore Hotel, was commissioned by the Corrigan Brothers. The hotel was located in downtown Kansas City at the corner of 11th and Baltimore. It was later demolished in 1939. Curtiss’ next major commission was the Willis Wood Theater. Located next to the Baltimore Hotel, the two were connected by a tunnel that was nicknamed “highball alley.” The theater was destroyed by fire in 1917. One of Curtiss’ residential masterpieces, the Bernard Corrigan House, still stands today. The house is a mesmerizing blend of Prairie, Arts and Craft, and Art Nouveau features. You can view pictures here and also here, too.

Curtiss established another fruitful partnership, although it was not with an individual, but with a company: The Santa Fe Railroad. Curtiss designed depots and office buildings for the railroad company all over the United States. He subsequently began designing buildings for the Fred Harvey restaurant system. During this time, he designed the Clay County State Bank, which is now the Excelsior Springs City Museum.

As years passed, he continued to design railroad depots, hotels, and private residences. In 1910, work began on Joplin’s Union Depot, a Curtiss creation. He also designed Union Station in Wichita, Kansas, which had survived the years since its completion in 1913. Interestingly, he designed the “Studio Building” to serve as his studio. Curtiss lived in an apartment in the building which coincidentally adjoined a burlesque theater. According to one individual who was interviewed years later about Curtiss, there was a balcony entry into the theater accessible only through Curtiss’ apartment, through which he could attend performances.

Beginning in 1914, Curtiss fell upon hard times. Many of his major clients began to pass away and the demands of World War One upon American society made new construction grind to a halt. Curtiss’ architectural style fell out of favor as new and reinvigorated styles became popular. He did achieve success with his work in the Westheight Manor subdivision of Kansas City, but he never regained his pre-war popularity. One of the residences he built in Westheight Manor is the stunning Jesse Hoel home:  Historical Survey of the Westheight Manor Subdivision and  Flickr Photo of the Hoel residence.

Another Westheight Manor home Curtiss designed was that of Norman Tromanhauser.

By 1921, Curtiss ceased to produce new architectural designs. Within a few years, on June 24, 1924, he died in his studio at his drawing board at the age of fifty-four. He was buried alone in Mount Washington Cemetery

Louis Curtiss, creator of the Joplin Union Depot

 

The Joplin Union Depot matters.

This Place Matters.

 

Sources: Stalking Louis Curtiss by Wilda Sandy and Larry K. Hancks, Kansas City Public Library, Others.

Globe Overview of the Union Depot

Joplin Union Depot

East Facade of Joplin Union Depot

This last weekend, the Joplin Globe offered up a summary of the present situation with the Union Depot.  In addition, the Globe put together a short timeline of events for the Depot from its opening over 99 years ago.

The summary covers in brief the past attempts at restoring the Union Depot, including an offer in 1973 by the Kansas City Southern to deed the Depot to the city.  That proposal was nixed by the then head of the Joplin Museum Complex, Everett Richie.  The excuse given then was the danger that the active train tracks posed to the museum and its collection should it be moved to the location.

The Globe managed to speak briefly with Nancy Allman, who was the lead in the effort to restore the Union Depot in the 1980′s.  Allman did confirm that she still had in her possession some items from the Union Depot.  This is good news for the restoration of the Union Depot.  Even if Ms. Allman may not want to donate or sell the items, perhaps she would at least allow the restorers to photograph and measure the items for reproduction purposes.

Joplin Union Depot

West Facade of Joplin Union Depot

The article also brings us via Allen Shirley the 3 Key Issues for the JMC about a move to the Union Depot.  Let’s look at them one by one:

1) The Union Depot’s structural integrity.

Reports indicate that the work done in the prior restoration attempt went along way toward reinforcing and repairing structural integrity issues.  In the walk through by the Joplin Globe with David Glenn, who was part of the restoration team from the 1980′s, Glenn comments on the strength of the building.

2) There’s less than 400 sq foot than the current museum.

As we’ve pointed out in previous coverage of the Union Depot question, there are two measurements being offered of the Union Depot’s space; one from the JMC and company, and one from Mark Rohr.  It really boils down to the basement.  One side counts it and the other side doesn’t.  The basement also brings about another issue, as we’ll address below.  There’s no reason more space cannot be constructed to supplement the Union Depot and done so in a simple, elegant and complimentary manner to the Union Depot.  Here’s an off the cuff idea: enclose the concourse extending from the depot with glass, creating a beautiful glass hallway, and have the end of the concourse connect to a secondary building.  There’s plenty of space available for such an addition.  None the less, an addition may not even be necessary.

3) Environmental Control

Appropriately, the JMC Board is concerned about the presence of environmental control in the Union Depot.  It seems that it would be a matter a fact element of any renovation of the Depot, particularly a restoration performed with a archival purpose in mind.  In many ways, as photographs will often attest, the Depot is a blank canvas and now is the time where such improvements can be made and without the cost of tearing out existing material to replace it.  (That former material has already been torn out!)   Again the basement and the standing water.  Here’s a simple answer: pump any water out, replace any water damage and effectively seal the basement walls.  We’re not contractors here at Historic Joplin, but this solution does not seem to be one of great complication.

Mr. Shirley claims that the JMC board has not taken a position about the proposed move.  We would disagree.  No member of the board, or JMC Director Brad Belk, have not once said anything positive about the idea.  In the summary, Mr. Shirley does note they support the preservation of the Depot, as we would hope of those who are charged with protecting the city’s history.  However, supporting the saving of the Depot does by no means equate to supporting the idea of moving the museum.  Fearfully, three members of the City Council appear ready to allow the Board to do as it wishes, which means doing absolutely nothing.  The Board wanted Memorial Hall for a new home, turned down the offer by the Gryphon Building, and will have to be dragged into the Union Depot.

This is not the time for inaction.  Joplin has embarked on a push of re-establishing itself as a city of beautiful buildings and one engaged not only with its past, but with an active present focused on its increasingly vibrant downtown.  The relocation of the museum to the Union Depot would not only give more people a reason to visit downtown, but its better accessibility than the remote location by Schifferdecker Park would mean more would take the time to learn about the city’s glorious past.

The leadership of the city has proven itself innovative and bold by the successful and ongoing restoration downtown, we hope that the leadership does not back down at this important juncture.  The City holds the purse strings of the JMC and if the Board of the JMC is not willing to play a part in the revitalization and the new beginning of Joplin in the 21st century, the City should tighten those strings.  The Board of the JMC needs to accept that they will not always get what they want and assume a much more forward thinking position, lest they end up as dust covered exhibits they profess to preserve.

HJ Joplin Union Depot

Be Bold, Joplin!

Tepidness Reigns Supreme at Museum Board Meeting

Joplin newspaper cartoon

Don't Let the Obstructionist Win!

This last week’s meeting of the Joplin Museum board was a showcase in tepid response to bold planning for the future.  The topic of the meeting, covered by the local news station KODE, was the possible relocation of the museum to the Union Depot.  The news segment featured interviews with board member Allen Shirley and City Councilman Benjamin Rosenberg.

Shirley continued what is now becoming a two month long hem haw of expressing a cautious disapproval for the idea of moving to the Union Depot.  The main point expressed by Shirley in his interview was the lack of exhibit space, a point raised by Museum Director Brad Belk previously.  The matter of sufficient space appears to be growing into the banner to be waved by the Joplin Museum Board, we expect to hear it raised again and again as their argument against the move.

From even before City Manager Mark Rohr’s presentation, the Joplin Museum Board has not wanted to move to the Union Depot, and since the presentation, have protested as much as possible without appearing reactionary.  It is clear that if the Joplin Museum Complex is to be moved to the Union Depot, the board will have to be dragged kicking and screaming.  The angry child who did not get its prized relocation and taxes to take over Memorial Hall now just want to take their ball and go home, rather than settle for something less than they desired.

Disconcertingly, the meeting was attended by three city council members, which as the news report explained were there in support of the museum board.  Of the three, only Benjamin Rosenberg opted to speak with a reporter and offered a fascinating rebuttal against Mark Rohr’s well grounded plans for Joplin’s growth over the next five years.  Rosenberg, when asked about the plan declared, “I had no part in the city manager’s vision.  I had no pre-warning. I had no consultation with the city manager.”  By all appearances, it seems Mr. Rosenberg does not like or agree with Rohr’s plan that was presented earlier this summer.

Rosenberger also told the reporter that he strongly believed the fate of the museum should be left in the hands of the museum board and not forced by the hand of the city.  This would be a rational position to take were the museum lead by forward thinking, competent and experienced individuals, but that is not the case.  The only imaginative thinking the museum has displayed in recent years has been to spring an idea that was overwhelmingly disapproved of by 75% of the city’s voting residents.  Meanwhile, the popularly supported plan of moving the museum to the Union Depot languishes because neither the museum board nor apparently some of the city council are willing to take bold steps for Joplin’s future.

Is Joplin anymore the city of Thomas Connor, Charles Schifferdecker, or Thomas Cunningham?

We say nay!

Where is the vision?  Why the desire for mediocrity?  Where is the leadership that has helped to restore downtown?  Joplin became the city that is resplendent with beautiful buildings and good people because its leaders in the past were unwilling to quietly abide.  It would do the museum board well to remember this, a lesson they should learn if they are at all familiar with the history they have sworn to safe keep.

HJ Union Depot image

It Is Time To Be Bold!

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!

Joplin Union Depot Today

While Historic Joplin is currently at work on a post about the Union Depot’s history, we took the opportunity to visit the beautiful building last week.  Below are some photographs (but not all) of the building designed by Louis Curtiss, an architect of Kansas City.  There would be no folly greater than to allow this treasure to be loss for lack of a will to take action to restore it.

Joplin Union Depot

Joplin Union Depot East Facade

Joplin Union Depot East Facade

Joplin Union Depot

East Awning

Joplin Union Depot

Joplin Union Depot

Grass, Stucco, and Metal

Joplin Union Depot

Fence, Sky, Green, and East Facade Detail

Joplin Union Depot

Joplin Union Depot West Facade

Joplin Union Depot West Facade

Joplin Union Depot Interior

Joplin Union Depot Interior

Joplin Union Depot South Facade

Joplin Union Depot South Facade

For more photographs, see this Flickr set.

Got Any Photos of the Union Depot?

Earlier this week, the Joplin Globe ran a story concerning a request for photographs of the Union Depot.  As part of the growing movement to renovate the Union Depot, architect Chad Greer has requested of the public any and all photos of the Union Depot’s interior.  A visit to the Depot will reveal that there is very little left in the old train station at the moment, much of it stripped during the previous attempt at renovation.  For links to some interior photographs and a video walk through of the interior, see this previous post.

In the realm of restoration, the goal is to achieve the closest resemblance to the past as possible.  Achieving that aim can also be expensive, hence the need to know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish.  For those who might have interior shots of the Union Depot, see the first link for contact information with Mr. Greer.  Importantly, you don’t have to relinquish those family photographs, either, Greer and his associates can make a copy of your photograph and let you keep the original.  An additional aspect of this request is to build up a photographic archive as a historic collection, something we naturally applaud.

HJ Union Depot image

Got a Photo of the Union Depot's Interior? Help 'em out!

More Coverage on the Union Depot Proposal

Support the renovation of the Joplin Union Depot as a new home for the Joplin Museum Complex!

Support the renovation of the Joplin Union Depot as a new home for the Joplin Museum Complex!


On Sunday, July 11, 2010, the Joplin Globe featured two articles on the Union Depot.  The first article includes a brief history of the depot, when it was built, as well efforts twenty some years ago to renovate it (which only succeeded in putting on a new roof and new stucco on the walls).  Also in the article are some quotations from Clair Goodwin, president of the museum board, who appears reticent about the proposal.  A quote is also offered from Allen Shirley, president of the Joplin Historical Society, again along the lines of hesitance, this time due to space issues.  Historic Joplin yesterday posted a response to the current management of the Joplin Museum Complex with regard to these quotations.

The second article featured a walk through with David Glenn, a contractor and owner of Glenn Commercial Group, who participated in the attempt to renovate the depot twenty some years ago.  In it, Glenn points out how the building is in a good position structurally and has a relatively new roof.   Included with the article is an interesting video of the walk through with Glenn and a Globe reporter.