Our Man in Havana

Joplin’s dapper James H. “Jimmy” Worth, owner of Joplin’s famed Worth Block, traveled to Havana, Cuba, and wrote the following letter to his friend E.R. McCullum that was published in a Joplin newspaper:

“Friend Mack: I am well at the time and hope this will find you the same, although I am tired of seeing the prettiest country in the world. I have been most favorably impressed with the cleanliness of the city and the salubrity of its climate. Having visited nearly all the cities in the United States and Canada, I believe I am conversant with municipal conditions in all of them, but I have never see any place that would compare with Havana. I have been in every direction and found the sanitary conditions excellent. It has surprised because of its novelty.

The courteous conduct of the people is another eye-opener. I do not speak Spanish very well and expected to be embarrassed most of the time while I was here, but the innate helpfulness of the native population put me at my ease whenever a difficulty arose. I was dining at a Spanish restaurant the other night and would have had difficulty in ordering my meal had not a Cuban sitting at another table noticed my predicament and voluntarily came to my assistance.

The modern equipment of the financial institutions here are a revelation to all visitors from the states. They have a bright future. I went out and saw the old Spanish forts and visited the negro schools and attended the courts, and was greatly amazed at the thoroughness with which everything is being done here. I haven’t time to write more now, but will follow this with another. My regards to the boys.

JH Worth.”

Jimmy Worth

The Missing History of Fourth and Main Street

The four buildings of Fourth and Main Street

More than a century ago, a visitor to the bustling growing city of Joplin could have stood on any of the four corners of the intersection of Fourth and Main and viewed the history of the former mining camp writ large in the buildings about him or her. The ability to taken in the “epochs” of Joplin’s history with a glance was not missed by Joplinites of the era, and one reporter of a city papers wrote,

“The noonday shadow of the old frame landmark of the early seventies almost brushes the base of the half million dollar edifice that represents the highest achievements in building construction of the twentieth century. The monument to the days of Joplin’s earliest settlement seems to crouch lower and more insignificant than ever, now that a colossal hotel has been erected within less than a stone’s throw of it.”

The “old frame landmark” was the Club Saloon owned by John Ferguson until his death on the Lusitania (learn more about that here) and the “half million dollar edifice” was none other than the Connor Hotel, completed in 1908 and considered by many the finest hotel of the Southwest. Unmentioned above were the Worth Block and the Keystone Hotel. A visit to the intersection today, however, would find none of these buildings remaining.

A step back in time, when these four buildings still stood, would let the visitor see Joplin’s history as built by man. For reference by today’s geography, imagine that you are standing on the northwest corner of Fourth and Main Street with the Joplin Public Library at your back. Behind you in the past would be the towering eight story Connor, across the street to your right was the two story, wood-framed Club Saloon, where the current Liberty Building stands, to your left was the three story Worth Block, now home to Spiva Park, and directly diagonal from you would be the six story red-bricked Keystone Hotel, gone for the one story brick building today. The same reporter from above offered descriptions of how each of these four buildings revealed the chapters of Joplin’s past. The history that the Club Saloon represented was one of a camp fighting to become a city.

“When the frame structure at the southwest corner was the leading structure of the city, the site of the present Connor Hotel was a frog pond and the deep booming of the inhabitants of the swampy places echoed over the sweeping stretch of open prairie land.”

The Club Saloon shortly before it was razed.

At the same time, the land where the Keystone Hotel eventually grew, was a mining operation owned by Louis Peters. The reporter is quick to allay fears of sink holes and noted that the drifts and shaft of the mining were filled before the property was sold. The Club Saloon’s home was bought from its owners in Baxter Springs, Kansas, by Oliver Moffett (E.R. Moffett’s son), Galen Spencer, and L.P. Cunningham, among others, and brought to the young mining camp to become the town’s early center. It was first used as a grocery store and flanked on either side of it were “shacks of disreputable apperance.” In the frame building, reportedly, one of Joplin’s early grocers and councilmen, E.J. Guthrie was killed. It was not the only frame building to be brought to Joplin, but those failed to survive for long. The Club Saloon was immuned perhaps because of the temperament of its owner, the ill-fated John Ferguson. Often, he turned down offers to buy it and once Ferguson allegedly declared, “If you would cover the entire lot with twenty dollar gold pieces, it would not be enough. I think I shall keep it.”

Across the street, so to speak, the old frog pond was shortly developed into a three story brick building, the original Joplin Hotel. Described as a “palace” amongst the other contemporary buildings of Joplin, it was given credit for shifting the center of the new city from East Joplin to the area formerly known as Murphysburg. The presence of the brick building spurred the construction of others, particularly on the east side of Main Street. Among those building was Louis Peters, who continued his mining, but also built a two-story building at a cost of approximately $4,600 on the northeast corner. The new building replaced one that had burned to the ground and was built in less than two months, completed in the December of 1877. Later, a third story was added to what was then called the Peters Building, but became better known as the Worth Block when James “Jimmy” Worth became the owner (precipitated by Worth marrying a co-owner of the property).

Worth Block - Joplin, Missouri

The Worth Block circa 1902

As slowly a recognizable Fourth and Main Street began to emerge, Joplin was still a young city that had more in common with a mining camp than a growing metropolis. Saloons proliferated, gambling was common, and other vices not spoken of in good company. This period of Joplin’s past was described as so:

A crimson light hung high over Joplin, shedding its rays over a great portion of the town, would have been an appropriate emblem of the nature of the community. Pastimes were entered into with a wantoness that brought to the town a class of citizenship not welcome in the higher circles of society. But if, in those days there was a higher circle, its membership was limited. Society existed but it was in true mining town style. There was in evidence the dance hall, the wine room and the poker table. The merry laugh of carefree women mingled with the clatter of the ivory chips on the tables “upstairs” and the incessant music of the festival places sounded late into the night, every night of the week, and every week of the year. No city ordinance prevented citizens from expectorating tobacco saliva upon the sidewalks; in fact, the sidewalks were almost as limited as was the membership of the exclusive upper circles.

In 1875, a flood swept through Joplin, and washed away homes, flooded mines, and even killed some Joplinites. The damage, in 1875 dollars, was almost $200,000. For all that was lost, the city continued to gain in wealth, growth and citizens. Ordinances and laws were put in place and a more determined citizenship to see their enforcement. The lawlessness that had persisted in the open air withdrew, the “secrets of the underworld of the Joplin…” were not “broadcast as they were…” The surge of mineral wealth saw more bricked buildings rise and the new owner of the southeast corner of Fourth and Main, E.Z. Wallower, saw more to gain in building than in mining. In 1892, construction of the turreted Keystone Hotel began. Not long after, the intersection was just short of the Connor Hotel in its appearance. This was remedied, as noted above, in 1908, just sixteen years later. In that span of time, “many fine edifices were erected.”

Until the demolition of the Club Saloon, at a glance, one could have seen the history of the city. From the very first days when a wood frame building was a sign of progress, up from shanties and tents; and then the brick constructions of the Peters Building that became the Worth Block, as the first inclinations of wealth from mining began to show progress; and finally, the raising of the Keystone and the Connor, when millionaires brushed elbows as they walked the sidewalks from the House of Lords, and Joplin was in the thick of its first renaissance. A visit to the intersection today leaves nothing of this history to be learned at a glance. The Liberty Building, which now stands where the Club Saloon once stood, is a bridge back however, witness to all of the former inhabitants of Fourth and Main Street but the Club that it eventually replaced. As are all the historic buildings of downtown Joplin, so while some of old Joplin is gone, much thankfully, can still be enjoyed and that history known with a glance.

Worth Block … What if?

One can look at the northeast corner of Fourth and Main and wonder, what if?

What if?

The Estimable Mr. Worth

Jimmy Worth

Joplin’s flamboyant James “Jimmy” H. Worth, who was known to periodically advertise for a wife, announced to the Joplin News-Herald that he was returning to his farm in Franklin County, Indiana, to solve a mystery. Worth, in addition to his property in Indiana, was the eccentric owner of the Worth Block which is now the site of Spiva Park at the northeast corner of Fourth and Main streets.

Worth’s one hundred and fifty acre farm was planted in cherry, apple, peach, and pear trees. Perhaps more notable was the large cave located on the farm which, according to Worth, “ticks, ticks, ticks, just like a monster clock, day after day, year after year.” Previous attempts to explore the cave beyond three hundred yards ended prematurely due to bad air which Worth said made “one’s breath come in painful gasps.” But the bad air was not enough to stop at least one brave creature from calling the cave home.

Worth claimed “a big bear that escaped from a wrecked train ten miles from my farm once took refuge in the cavern and for weeks the natives of Franklin County enjoyed daily bear hunts that netted them nothing, for the big brute was successfully concealed in the far corners of the cave, the ominous clock-like ticking, apparently, holding no horrors for his bearship.” It was later discovered and removed from the cave.

Jimmy asserted his belief that the ticking noise was not the result of dripping water as the cave was reportedly dry. Instead, he claimed that the cave was the artificial construction of “cave-dwellers centuries ago” based on broken flint projectiles, bones of animals, and what Jimmy thought was a “deformed human skull.” He declared he would find out what types of bones were in the cave and discover the source of constant ticking.

If Jimmy did find out what caused the ticking noise, the News-Herald must have found his explanation dull, as it failed to report Worth’s findings.


Source: Joplin News Herald

Jimmy Worth Wants a Wife (Number Two)

The ever colorful Colonel James “Jimmy” H. Worth left Joplin to look for a bride. His first wife, the late Gertrude Berz, had passed away in 1901. She was the widow of a wealthy German immigrant who made a small fortune before he passed away in the 1870s. After Gertrude died, Jimmy was left to a life of leisure, relying upon his late wife’s properties to provide a steady stream of income.

Worth Block - Joplin, Missouri

The Worth Block, inherited from his first wife, provided Jimmy a comfortable lifestyle.

So where did Jimmy go to look for a wife? The summer resorts of the Adirondacks? The mountains of Colorado? No. He simply hopped a train to El Dorado Springs, Missouri, where he put on a surprisingly entertaining show. The Eldorado Springs Sun remarked of Jimmy’s antics:

“As a place for beautiful women, Eldorado holds undisputed sway over a vast amount of territory, and it seems remarkable that a man seeking a wife could come here and stay four long weeks and go away without accomplishing his purpose, but such is the case.” Jimmy, the “Joplin millionaire,” had announced his intent to find a wife in Eldorado Springs upon his arrival. He was certainly attractive, having just arrived from a vacation in Mexico, and was reportedly decked out in diamonds. It was remarked, “He had money to throw at the birds and he threw it.” As a result, he was “not slow to form the acquaintance of the many visiting ladies, and no small amount of attention was paid to the local candidates for a place next to the millionaire’s heart.”

Although a millionaire announcing his intent to find a bride was enough to get a large amount of attention, Jimmy was ever the showman. He “disguised himself as a farmer, and as he walked about the streets of the city, he threw nickels to the large crowd  of boys who followed him. He hired horses for the ladies to ride, paid for their turns at bowling, bought ice cream sodas, and took them for drives.” Sadly, Jimmy was unable to procure a bride, but had announced he had not given up hope. He declared he would return to Eldorado in a few weeks to continue his search for a new wife.

Jimmy, for what it’s worth, never remarried. He was a heck of a tease and had far too much fun to allow himself to be tied down once again. In the future, we’ll try to cover more of Jimmy’s exploits, including the story of the flashing light blubs in his shoes.

Source: Joplin Daily Globe

The Worth Block – Before and After

Named for the flamboyant James H. “Jimmy” Worth, the Worth Block was originally the property of the widow, Gertrude Bertz. Ms. Bertz’s ownership extended back to the earlier days of Joplin. We’ll go more into the fascinating background of how Jimmy and Gertrude at a later date. For now, we’ll leave you with this depressing example of the effect of Joplin’s urban renewal. The economic heart of Joplin’s downtown, 4th and Main, which hosted the Connor Hotel, the Keystone, and the Worth Block, will never be the same again. One more reason why it’s so important to preserve what still remains from Joplin’s glorious past for its future.

Worth Block - Joplin, Missouri

The Worth Block circa 1902

And now the present appearance of the northeast corner at 4th and Main.

The park at 4th and Main Street

Little remains that offers evidence of the once busy intersection.

On the right side of the above photograph is the home of the Joplin Globe, which has been at this location since it took over the city’s original YMCA building (the YMCA moved to its present downtown building at that point).  The original building should still be under the modern facade and perhaps someday, it will see the light of day again.