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I love to travel, for so many reasons. As travel restrictions ease, I have several upcoming trips planned that I’m excited to experience and share about later.
For today, I decided to share about my own hometown, Joplin, Missouri. I’m working with Missouri Tourism on their summer campaign, “Visit MO”. My assignment was to feature a Joplin location. Partnering with them, I’ve deepened my appreciation for my city.
For this fun post, discover 12 things you may not know about Joplin Missouri. I enjoyed working on this one and shooting a few new photos. And, I discovered something I didn’t know about my hometown!
Joplin Began as a Mining Town
First settled by the Reverend Harris G Joplin in 1839, lead was discovered in the area before the Civil War. Mining operations were interrupted during the war. However, in 1870 a large lead strike occurred, bringing scores of miners to the area. Mining camps rapidly sprang up. By 1873 the City of Joplin incorporated.
The riches of the mines drew investors and speculators, businesses and dance halls, gambling establishments and brothels.
While lead helped establish the town, it was the discovery of zinc that grew it. Railroads crossed the town, bringing more and more people and businesses. By the turn of the century, Joplin was the hub of Southwest Missouri and the lead and zinc capital of the world.
Most of the mines closed after World War II.
The Story Behind Joplin’s Maiden Lane
Do you enjoy knowing the origins of city street names? Many streets are named after prominent people associated with the city…founders, business men and women, celebrities. Most towns have a Main Street, numbered streets or directional avenues.
Joplin contains a couple of streets named for the mining operations that founded it: Mineral and Galena. Furnace is named after the first smelting company in town. And others reflect the names of business men or mining companies, such as Rex, Picher, Sergeant and Moffet. We even have a series of streets named after US presidents.
The most colorful story belongs to Maiden Lane, a demure sounding name for a street. However, in Joplin’s wild mining days, this street on the west side of town was so named for being the red light district of Joplin. Brothels supposedly lined the street.
Another possible explanation is that “maiden” refers to horses that have not won a race. Near Maiden Lane was Barbee Park, a horse racing track that operated from 1872 until 1909.
Which story do you prefer?
It Feels Like a Bigger City
With its population of 51,567 as of 2020, Joplin is the 12th most populous city in the state. However, it’s the 5th largest hub in Missouri, with the metro Joplin area coming in at 220,000. People in surrounding towns and nearby states come into Joplin to work, shop and play.
Many visitors are surprised to discover that Joplin feels like a bigger city with two large nationally recognized hospitals and many thriving businesses and restaurants, locally owned and big name franchises. We have a regional airport, a historic downtown district, industries, universities, theaters and a variety of parks and green spaces.
Famous Saloon with a Tunnel
Joplin’s House of Lords, a three story building near the corner of 4th and Main Streets, was the most famous saloon. A bar and restaurant occupied the first floor. Gambling rooms filled the second floor. And the third floor housed a brothel. The House of Lords provided patrons with every kind of vice imaginable.
The owner of the House of Lords constructed a tunnel that connected the saloon to his office at the Joplin Globe, where he was part owner as well. The tunnel allowed him and other gentlemen to enter the building discreetly.
In 1897, the House of Lords introduced visitors to ragtime piano, played by the great black musician, Scott Joplin. And the establishment helped to launch the artistic career of Thomas Hart Benton.
The House of Lords closed in 1920, with the coming of the prohibition, and the building was later torn down.
Reign of Terror
During Joplin’s early days, it experienced a reign of terror in 1871 – 1872. As more and more miners arrived in town, lawlessness prevailed. Many of the miners left their families in other towns or states, as they began working in the mines.
They spent their hard earned cash on drinking and entertainment and generally, made merry. The nearest sheriff resided in Carthage, Missouri, about 15 miles away. The lack of law enforcement and the wild excitement of the prospectors resulted in street fights, rowdiness, disorderly conduct and occasionally a shooting.
The reign of terror ended when a miner named JW Lupton disarmed a stranger in town who was causing trouble. Lupton was appointed Joplin’s first constable.
Bonnie and Clyde Lived in Joplin
For a short time, this infamous couple, along with three members of their Barrow Gang, lived in a rental in Joplin.
On April 1, 1933, the gang rented an over the garage apartment in a quiet, affluent neighborhood. The upstairs apartment’s many windows provided vantage points to watch for the approach of law enforcement.
For 13 days the group hid in the apartment while committing a series of robberies in Missouri and neighboring states. Their unusual activities drew suspicion from the neighbors.
On April 13, 1933, police arrived, expecting to find bootleggers. Instead, a furious shootout occurred. Joplin police detective Harry McGinnis and Newton County Constable John Wesley Harryman lost their lives.
Bonnie and Clyde, Buck and Blanche and WD escaped, however they left all of their belongings behind. Police discovered a camera and undeveloped rolls of film. The circulated photos from those film canisters allowed law enforcement officers across the lower US to see what the outlaws looked like and resulted in the eventual capture or death of all of the gang.
I enjoyed an overnight stay at the Bonnie and Clyde Apartment in Joplin last year. Read about it HERE.
Four State Area
Joplin is in Southwest Missouri, in what’s called the “four state area”. The Kansas and Oklahoma state lines are minutes from Joplin. And Arkansas is a 30 minute drive south.
People drive to Joplin for shopping, doctors’ appointments and dining from the small towns in those other states. Additionally, Joplin is a hub for the smaller towns surrounding it. The nearest large city is Springfield, Missouri, an hour’s drive to the east.
Route 66 Crosses Through Town
Also known as the Main Street of American or the Mother Road, Route 66 is one of America’s original highways. It was established on November 11, 1926. It originally ran from Chicago, Illinois through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before terminating in Santa Monica, California…2,448 miles of highway.
Route 66 was officially removed from the US Highway System in 1985. However, the segments that remain are designated a National Scenic Byway and currently called “Historic Route 66”.
Route 66 runs east to west through Joplin, along our 7th Street. There’s a mural located near the corner of 7th and Main Streets that provides a fun photo opp.
Like most cities and towns, Joplin has nicknames. Two common ones are J-Town and JoMo. MO, of course, is the abbreviation for Missouri.
Hit by an EF5 Tornado
May 22, 2011 is a date Joplin residents will never forget. At 5:41 on a Sunday afternoon, a massive EF5 tornado struck. Thirty percent of the city was destroyed, including thousands of homes and businesses, and 161 people lost their lives. It was the deadliest tornado in the US since 1947 and the most costly in history with 2.8 billion in damages.
I experienced that tornado, as did several family members. Looking at photos this evening, my body still reacts to what happened that day and I still feel sorrow.
I’m grateful to say that today, ten years later, Joplin is mostly recovered. There are still vacant lots in neighborhoods and businesses that never rebuilt. However, I saw my community come together and become stronger than before. And I witnessed the amazing compassion of others as thousands of volunteers arrived to help clean up the devastation.
There are memorials and reminders of that day throughout Joplin. We are strong. And we will never forget those we lost.
I just learned Joplin’s motto today, and I’ve lived here for almost 41 years.
“The city that Jack built.”
Jack is a slang term for the mineral sphalerite (ZnS). It is the main mineral found in zinc, the element that put Joplin on the map. It’s a fitting motto!
Largest Continually Flowing Waterfall in Missouri
Just south of Joplin is Grand Falls, the largest continually flowing waterfall in the state. These gorgeous falls cascade over a 163 foot wide ledge of chert rock, plunging 12 feet into Shoal Creek. A must see for anyone in the area, the craggy outcropping of chert next to the falls creates pools of water and miniature waterfalls that invite all visitors to splash, play and explore.
Chert is a type of rock unique to Missouri. Joplin has the largest existing chert glades in the world.
The chert and falls create a beautiful nature area that is perfect for picnics, hiking, swimming, meditating or simply watching the sun rise or set.
This is the Joplin location featured in Missouri’s “Visit MO” campaign. Take their fun quiz to discover your perfect “M-O” destination.
Exploring in My Own City
Putting together this post about my city inspires me to get out and explore Joplin more this summer. After more than a year of mostly staying close to home, literally, it feels good to get out and learn new things about interesting places, starting with Joplin.
I especially enjoyed snapping photos and seeing familiar locations with fresh eyes.
I hope you learned something new about Joplin, Missouri. And that you feel inspired to explore your own community.
Tell me where you live, in the comments below!
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