Tag Archives: Joplin

Joplin: The Origins

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Joplin, just like the many other cities and towns in the area, has a rich history that is remembered by the many generations that have lived here. One of these residents, Mrs. Irma Gerd, shares the memories and stories of historic Joplin with us.

Born in 1936, Mrs. Irma Gerd grew up in a family of four. Her father, Robert Johnson, used to work in the mines. She recalls him telling her of the beginning of Joplin and how at first, this city used to be only a few mining camps. Soon, those small camps joined together and decided to establish a town in the area. They decided to name the town after Reverend Harris G. Joplin. Consequently, our great city was born.

Not long after this, the extensive mining in the area attracted railroads. Following these railway systems, all sorts of different people started showing up in Joplin. Mrs. Gerd remembers her father telling her of how Joplin started growing rapidly, with new stores and inns being built and more and more settlers moving in. Not long after, funds were raised to build Joplin’s first library, known today as the Carnegie Library. Then, just six years before Mrs. Gerd was born, the grand commercial Electrical Theater was built.

“But after the golden age of Joplin came some troubling times,” Mrs. Gerd told me. The Great Depression took its toll on Joplin, and along with it came the infamous Bonnie and Clyde. “I remember my father’s friend, Mr. Hammond, as we knew him, was robbed by those two. They stayed in our town for a few weeks, well, at least that’s what we heard. No one really saw Bonnie and Clyde until right before they left.” They didn’t leave peacefully, either. The law was on their tail, but they made a narrow escape, killing a Newton County constable and a Joplin Police detective.

Soon after that, Joplin seemed to settle down a bit more. After World War II the mines started to close, and there weren’t a lot of people coming or going from the city. The main road through Joplin was designated as part of Route 66, which Mrs. Gerd remembers as a good time for Joplin.

Mrs. Irma Gerd met her husband, Richard Gerd, in 1972. They had two children, who now have families of their own. They live in Illinois and Michigan. Mr. and Mrs. Gerd plan to move soon in order to be with their children’s families. They will no doubt miss the great town that they are proud to call home.

“Through the years, I’d say Joplin has seen a fair share of interesting things,” Mrs. Irma Gerd told me. Joplin has had a rich history. It has been the home of numerous people, and most likely will be the home of many more in the future.

Joplin, Missouri: Then and Now

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Joplin has changed tremendously in the past 90 years. There are obvious differences in the style of clothes, the type of food,
and the norms of society.

Ninety-one year old Bettye Foust, who now lives at Spring River Christian Village Nursing Home, was born and raised in Joplin, Missouri. When she was a kid she lived in a small home with three brothers and sisters. Helping out around the house and with the preparation of food wasn’t mandatory for them, but they did pitch in every once in awhile.

“Back then, kids didn’t really help out too much; we definitely didn’t help out as much as we should have. When we did, though, it was always fun,” said Foust.

Foust attended high school at the old Memorial High School where Joplin High School’s ninth and tenth center is now located. School was very different back then, as everything was done on paper or a black board. Now, Joplin High School students use  laptops and Smart Boards.

"Historic Joplin." Historic Joplin RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.

“Historic Joplin.” Historic Joplin RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.

As was common in the 1920s, Foust’s clothes were made by her mother most of the time. She wore cotton dresses that went down to about mid-calf. Pants were not allowed for women at the time.  Although her family did not have a farm, they did have one dairy cow that provided milk for their family, and sometimes for the neighbors. Foust’s daily diet was mainly starches; she had tomatoes and potatoes that her family grew in their garden. Meat, when they had it, was a luxury. Only the richer families could afford to have meat for dinner.

“We only had meat a couple of times, from what I can remember, but when we did, I savored every last bite of it,” said Foust.

Downtown Joplin in the late 20s was the place to be on the weekends. Not only was every business located there, but there were frequent festivals and parades.

“There was always something going on, on a Friday or Saturday. It would be packed with so many people. Sometimes it felt like all

MorgueFile Free Photo.” IMG_9727-lt.jpg. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.

of Joplin was there. It was definitely the place to hangout,” recalled Foust.

Every summer around May, Joplin would have a huge festival that just about everyone would attend. There were tons of food to eat and numerous activities to participate in. The activities brought people from anywhere around Joplin who would come to join in the fun. Foust recalls that one year there was even a ferris wheel that, at the time, was the biggest one in the US.

Joplin sure seemed the place to be in the late 1920s. It has grown in many ways and one can assume it will continue to grow.

Southwest Missouri Mines

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Joplin, Missouri and the surrounding towns were founded on mining. Don Hunter grew up on the outskirts of Joplin, where he still resides today. Mr. Hunter visited the mines often as a child because both his father and uncle were miners.

The mines were very dangerous places shared Hunter. “My uncle died in the mines. He was drunk when he got off of his shift one night. When he got off of the shaft elevator, he tripped and fell back down the shaft. Somebody caught him by his boots, but he fell out of them.”

Not only was mining dangerous, the process was also very extensive and labor intensive. Holes for dynamite were drilled with spud bars. One miner would hold the spud bar while the other forced it deeper into the wall. Then dynamite would be stuck in the hole, and ignited. The dynamite blew the rocks and minerals into pieces. The rocks and dirt were separated by sludge tables. Sludge tables consisted of a wooden table with pegs that progressively became closer and closer. Flowing water would carry the dirt and mineral mixture through the pegs, which would separate the minerals from the dirt. There were usually fifteen or more sludge tables working at a time in one mine. Mr. Hunter’s father was the ground boss at one of the mines. His job was to run the cables that moved the dirt and minerals out of the shafts.The machine consisted of a pulley with cups attached to it. The cups would scoop up the dirt or minerals and then take it to the exterior of the shaft, where it would be dumped on the ground through a funnel. This is how all the tailing piles around here were made.

Once the minerals such as zinc, lead, and ore were mined, they would be taken to factories in ore trucks. Mr. Hunter recalls wanting to be an ore truck driver when he was younger. According to him, there was a man at Wilder’s restaurant in downtown Joplin who actually bought ore. Ore dust would slip through the cracks in the office floorboards. After awhile he would lift the floorboards up and gather all the loose ore dust. The mines in the area were so extensive that miners were able to drive from Webb City, Missouri all the way to Quapaw, Oklahoma underground. There are roads in Joplin that are built over the old mines. Special mine cars were used to get from shaft to shaft underground. The cars were miniature size with special water filters to extract the exhaust.

Mr. Hunter provided great insight into our past mining world. The mines played a large role in the history of Joplin and its surrounding areas. Our ancestors worked hard  to create the place we live in now, and we can still see the effects of their hard work today.

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