The Architectural Legacy of Garstang & Rea: Arthur E. Spencer House of Joplin

The Arthur Spencer House as photographed by Rea a hundred years ago.

The next item in the portfolio of Garstang & Rea is the Arthur Spencer House in Joplin, located today at 217 N. Pearl Ave. The Centennial History of Missouri by Walter Barlow Stevens, has this short biography of Mr. Spencer:

Among the list of distinguished lawyers who have graced the bar of Missouri in general and of Joplin, Jasper county, in particular, the name of A. E. Spencer deserves a prominent place, not alone because of his legal ability but for his probity of character and his worth as a citizen. Mr. Spencer was born in Newburg, Indiana, October 3, 1868, a son of Galen and Mary M. (Bates) Spencer, the former a native of Illinois and the latter of Indiana. They were married in Boonville, Indiana, and continued to reside there up to 1873 when they moved to Joplin, Missouri. Galen Spencer, while yet a young man, applied himself to the study of the law, and some time later was admitted to the Indiana state bar, continuing to practice in that state up to the time of his removal to Joplin.

Here he resumed his legal practice and in due course came to be recognized as one of Joplin’s foremost attorneys, at the same time earning a reputation throughout Missouri as one of the state’s ablest barristers and most forceful advocates. His death, which occurred December 30, 1904, was the occasion for deep felt sorrow among his legal brethren and the citizens at large, to whom he had endeared himself by his upright character and conduct during the many years of his residence in this city. His widow is still living in the old home in Joplin, where she is spending the evening of her life among a large circle of friends who regard her with affection.

A. E. Spencer, the subject of this sketch, was educated in the St. Louis Law School, a department of the Washington University, from which institution he received his degree of LL. B., graduating with the class of 1888. Following his graduation he associated himself with his father in the practice of his profession at Joplin, and this mutually agreeable partnership continued up to the time of the death of his father in December, 1904. Since then his brother, C. C. Spencer, has been associated with him in his legal practice, the firm enjoying an extensive and influential clientele, Mr. Spencer’s standing in legal circles making his services much in demand. Mr. Spencer is a director of the Joplin National Bank, to the duties of which office he brings sound and thoughtful judgment.

On November 13, 1898, Mr. Spencer was united in marriage to Miss Lou Ann Howard, of Webb City, Missouri, and to this union two children have been born, one son, Arthur E., Jr.. surviving. Mr. and Mrs. Spencer are members of the Congregational church and interested in its good works, as they are in all social and cultural activities, and in all movements having for their object the wellbeing of the community. During the participation of this country in the great World war Mr. Spencer was called upon to serve as a member of the legal advisory board, carrying out the duties imposed on him with zeal and fidelity. In fraternal circles he is a life member of Joplin Lodge, No. 501, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

Additionally, Spencer was the legal counsel for the Joplin National Bank, Empire District Electric Company, Eagle-Picher Lead Co., Empire Zinc Co., and the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company. When not dazzling his peers in the courtroom, Spencer was one of a group of Joplinites who decided to bicycle across a number of states in 1896, which we wrote about earlier (click here for a photograph of Mr. Spencer with his comrades in cycling).

In last good news, Spencer’s home as it remains since the last Google Maps car passed through:

The Spencer House in present day Joplin.

The Lawyers

The scene of undoubtedly many a colorful exchange between Joplin's lawyers. It later burned to the ground.

We have covered desperados, sinful sirens, and other ne’er do wells in the past. We have yet, however, to discuss the lawyers who were called upon to defend their clients over the years. There are biographical sketches of many judges and lawyers in the various Jasper County histories, but nothing quite brings the local bar to life like the address the Honorable John H. Flanigan delivered before the Jasper County Bar Association on March 1, 1941, the one hundredth anniversary of the Jasper County Circuit Court. Although we cannot reprint the entire speech in its entirety, we can share some of the more colorful stories he related to his audience.

One of the most vivid tales Flanigan shared was one that he had heard from the venerable Samuel McReynolds:

“One of the old time lawyers in Carthage was Bill Green. He died in the State Hospital [Insane Asylum] at Nevada. For years before his confinement there his mind had been failing, but the failure was so gradual that many were unaware of his condition. Samuel McReynolds told me that on one occasion his firm had been requested by a law book concern to make collection of an account against Bill Green. The firm was unable to make the collection and thus the matter stood until one day a salesman from the law book concern called at the office of McReynolds & Halliburton on a sales trip. Learning that the Green account had not been paid, he asked Judge McReynolds if there was any objection to his undertaking to collect. McReynolds agreed that the salesman might try it.

In a few minutes, the salesman came back white as a sheet and quivering like an aspen leaf. He said:

‘Mr. McReynolds, I have had a perfectly horrible experience. I went up the stairs, found Mr. Green’s door, walked in, and found a very large man lying full-length on the floor. The floor was covered with papers and documents. The man had a large past pot on the floor and a paste brush in his hand. Without preliminary, the man said, “This is my filing system. For years I have been unable to find lost papers. Now I take a paper, put paste on it with this brush, slap it on the wall and there it is until the end of time. I am going to patent this invention.”

He then rose to his full height and asked me to state my business. I told him I had come to collect the account. Green had a peculiar glitter in his eye. He said, “Sir, I am possessed of supa’ powers. You see this long knife with its keen blade. With this knife I am able, sir, to separate your head from your body, remove your head, place it on the floor, and replace it on your shoulders without injury to you, and sir, I am going to perform that miracle on you right now.” I don’t care if we never collect that account.’

According to Flanigan, “Tom Connor [of Connor Hotel fame] disliked Judge Malcolm G. McGregor, but said he was willing to trust McGregor to decide any case because, ‘Even though he is a damned Scotchman, he is absolutely honest.’”  He added that when McGregor arrived in Jasper County, he had walked from Ft. Scott, Kansas, to Lamar. After taking a brief rest, he walked the rest of the way from Lamar to Carthage.

Judge John C. Price, it was recalled, had a fondness for alcohol and tobacco. Flanigan said of Price, “When he was riding the circuit he would retire at night in the primitive hotels of the period, a giant ‘chaw’ of tobacco clamped in his jaw. When seized with the desire to expectorate he would spit a steam of tobacco juice straight in the air above his head and would then quickly draw the covers over his head so that they might catch the fall, thus ‘saving his face.’”

Once Al Thomas was participating in a trial at Carthage and, as usual, “shouted his argument in penetrating tones that carried far beyond the court house square.” His opponent in the courtroom that day, Lon Cunningham, stood up and replied:

“Gentlemen of the jury, I read an article in the encyclopedia which interested me very much. It stated that some scientists had gone to the upper reaches of the Amazon far into the jungles of South America to find out what sort of animal was capable of making a tremendous noise described to them by the natives who reported that when this noise was heard the cockatoos and the wild bird would fly from their perch and flit from tree to tree, hyenas would take to the deep undergrowth, and panthers would retreat to their dens. After weeks of search[ing], the source of this noise was found. It was a harmless beetle which made the noise by the tremendous beating of its wings. This noise was the beetle’s only defense against attack. Al Thomas reminds me of that beetle. He is all noise and noise is his only defense.”

Cunningham was also known for winning a court case over water pressure. One of the parties in the case was required to provide enough water pressure that a stream of water would reach the fourth floor of the Keystone Hotel. Cunningham argued that the contract was invalid because of the required water pressure was not provided. In closing arguments, Cunningham recalled that growing up on the family farm, he remembered boys would “usually gather around a large apple tree behind the barn and each in turn would attempt with Nature’s own water pressure to throw a stream to reach the big limb of the apple tree.” According to Cunningham, he knew from experience “there were boys in the family who could furnish more pressure than the defendant had furnished under its contract.”

Perhaps in 2041, we’ll be greeted with just as colorful recollections of today’s lawyers.