It’s like HGTV meets the History channel. Home for the Holidays, a tour of historic homes in Joplin, is inspirational and educational – and a tad voyeuristic, allowing our curious eyes to peek inside the walls of these well-crafted, one-of-a kind structures.
Held every other year, Home for the Holidays is organized by Historic Murphysburg Preservation, an organization that holds various events throughout the year at historic locations, opening them up to the public so that people can experience the richness of Joplin’s history in an immersive way.
This year’s Home for the Holidays tour was held on December 14 and included nine residences plus the tour headquarters, which was housed at Unity of Joplin – another historic structure. Tickets were available online or at Unity of Joplin, and participants received an informational brochure and map.
The tour included three different Joplin neighborhoods: Murphysburg, North Heights, and downtown Joplin.
The tour ran from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., a reasonable amount of time to walk through the houses, listen to the history of each location, and travel between stops. I started the tour about 2 p.m., and I was pushing it to finish by closing time. There’s just so much to soak in.
Here’s a breakdown of the 2019 Home for the Holidays Tour:
Unity of Joplin, 204 North Jackson Avenue
Serving as the headquarters and ticket location for the tour, this building represents the Spanish Mission architectural style, and was built in 1911 as Calvary Baptist Church.
The Woman’s Club of Joplin moved into the building in 1930, and Unity of Joplin purchased it in 2012 and continues to occupy it today.
What struck me most about the interior are the timber ceiling beams and the breathtaking stained-glass windows, which fill the worship area with natural light.
The following four homes are located in Murphysburg, the first residential neighborhood established by the founders of Joplin. Many architectural styles are represented in this picturesque, 53-acre neighborhood, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (If you would like to explore this area in depth, here is a walking tour to use as a guide.)
Henderson House,518 South Sergeant Avenue
Charles G. Henderson, President of S.C. Henderson Wholesale Grocery Co., built this home in 1917. With its dentil molding on the roofline, and gabled dormers, this home is an example of the Colonial Revival style.
These decorative windows added an eye-catching element to the main stairwell.
Frye/BaSom House,318 South Sergeant Avenue
I have to admit that this has always been one of my favorite homes in Joplin. It just seems to exude pride in its alluring beauty.
Can you believe that it was built for just $5,000 back in 1891? That would be about $141,000 in 2019, and considering the craftsmanship I observed inside, that’s quite a steal, even by today’s standards!
The architectural style of this house is Second Empire, also known as Modern French, which was popular from 1865 to 1900. The home was built by Charles C. Frye, who moved to Joplin from New York to invest in the mining industry. In 1898, it was purchased by attorney Fred BaSom, who later organized Joplin Telephone Co., the first phone company in the city.
While there are many aspects of this home that I love, the coolest feature is the staircase hidden behind this mirror in the main hall.
Fischer House, 315 South Sergeant Avenue
Built by Julius Fischer in the 1880s, this is the oldest home in Murphysburg.
The original structure is a simple farmhouse style, and Tudor elements were added later. These photos show the different exteriors over time.
Here’s a notable (yet not-so-grand) fact about Julius Fischer: In 1890, he lost the Jasper County Clerk election to Mrs. Annie Baxter, making her the first female county clerk in the United States – and an important Joplinite. (Interesting coincidence: I’m typing this at the Joplin Public Library right now, and I just looked up to see a bust of Mrs. Annie Baxter in the Post Memorial Library section.)
Geddes House,301 South Sergeant Avenue
This ornate beauty is an example of Queen Anne architecture.
It was built in the late 1890s by James I. Geddes, a newspaper owner and publisher, as well as an attorney, and an investment broker. Geesh! That’s one busy man. I hope he had time to enjoy the intricately detailed woodwork in the many rooms of his grand home.
I sure did.
The next three homes are located in the North Heights neighborhood, located north of the Murphysburg district. Development in this residential area began after 1891, when this land was sold to the City of Joplin by the Granby Mining Co. (Every year in October, this charming neighborhood holds the popular North Heights Porchfest, a laid-back musical festival, which you can read more about here.)
Rogers House,536 North Wall Avenue
Designed by esteemed local architect Austin Allen, this home was built in 1905 by Frederick H. Rogers, who worked in the lumber business, then moved to Joplin to become involved in the mining industry.
The interior of the home contains spectacular examples of hand carved woodwork throughout, including the stunning staircase,
and the mahogany ceiling beams and paneling in the dining room.
Beckham-Richardson House,603 North Pearl Avenue
While the original owner and date of construction of this home are unknown, the current owner has embraced the unique interior elements of this home with a sense of whimsy.
It was fun exploring the nooks and crannies of this home and discovering surprises.
Cotton House,602 N. Wall Avenue
Built by John A. Cotton in 1918, this house offers a fine example of a craftsman interior.
I liked how the current owners’ clean, modern decor paired well with the simple, yet exquisite, woodwork throughout the home.
The next two residences on the tour were apartments located in downtown Joplin.
R&S Chevrolet Building,214 East 4th Street
This building, constructed in 1909, is an example of Late-19th/Early-20th-Century Revival architecture.
It was built by Century Auto Co., which became R&S Motors in 1926 (owned by Bill Robertson and Winston Spurgeon).
When you see the apartments inside the building today, it’s hard to imagine that a motor company once operated here. Apartment #1A on the ground level was opened up for the tour, wowing visitors with its chic, urban interior design.
It truly looked like something from the pages of Architectural Digest.
Empire Block Building,524 South Main Street
The next residence was a palatial two-story apartment which occupies the second and third levels of the Empire Block Building, located in the Joplin’s Downtown Sunshine Lamp Historic District.
Designed by architect Thomas R. Bellas, it was built in 1900 by brothers Charles and Oscar DeGraff, operators of Empire Mine.
The highlight of this apartment was the glass inserted into the floor of the upper-level walkway, allowing the light from above to filter through to the lower level, creating a bright space throughout.
It’s such a neat design concept, although I admit I felt a bit disoriented walking on a see-through floor.
I thoroughly enjoyed getting the opportunity to explore these homes, each of them brimming with history, and I’m already looking forward to the next Home for the Holidays tour.
Learn more about future events in Joplin’s historical districts on Historic Murphysburg Preservation’s website by clicking here, or on its Facebook page by clicking here.
My dad’s the type of guy who devours books about history for fun. I think he’s read every David McCullough book out there, and he retains all that information. At age 86, he’s a walking encyclopedia (or is database a more relevant term?) of historical facts.
When I was a kid, our summer vacations included stops at museums and important historical sites like Gettysburg and Vicksburg, where my siblings and I would pout because there we were, standing on empty battlefields instead of splashing in a hotel pool like our peers.
But, decades later, I find myself seeking stories of local places, and the people connected to them, and writing about these subjects for a living.
How’s that for karma?
With age comes wisdom, and while I might not read history books for pleasure like my dad does, I have acquired a healthy respect for it.
To demonstrate that (and to atone for my lousy adolescent attitude), I often take my dad to historical places in the Joplin area when he and my mom come to visit from Chicago (now via a direct flight from O’Hare to the Joplin Regional Airport – woohoo!).
Here’s what we did on their most recent trip to Joplin.
After a lazy morning, I rounded up the troops and we headed to the Joplin Museum Complex (JMC), a collection of museums which comprehensively covers the different aspects and eras of Joplin’s history.
Our first stop at the JMC was the Everett J. Ritchie Tri-State Mineral Museum, which details the extensive mining industry that put Joplin on the map. The entrance to the museum resembles a mine shaft, with numerous slabs of rocks and minerals on display. “Everything here is so sparkly!” said my youngest daughter, her eyes wide with amazement.
“Look at this,” my mom said, waving my daughter over to an exhibit. “Can you believe there once was a giant cave made of crystals right here in Joplin? They even held concerts inside!”
My daughter’s mind was blown.
My mom was referring to Crystal Cave, which was discovered in 1893. Comprised of calcite crystals, the cave was considered one of the world’s largest geodes, and was a popular tourist attraction in the early 20th century. But when the area mines closed, the water pumps that kept the cave dry were turned off, allowing groundwater to flood it. Today, an asphalt parking lot lies over the sealed off cave, with a small sign offering the only indication of the magnificent geological formation underfoot.
After learning about the industry that built our city, we walked to the south side of the museum complex to the Dorothea B. Hoover Historical Museum to see how mining impacted Joplin’s civic and cultural development. Here, artifacts are displayed from the most significant periods in Joplin’s history.
“Well, I’ll be,” I heard my dad say as he examined something in the collection. “That’s Bonnie Parker,” he said, pointing to a black-and-white photo of the woman who comprised one half of the infamous duo of Bonnie and Clyde.
“And that’s some of the jewelry that she wore,” I said, pointing to several colorful pieces of costume jewelry in the display case. “She left it behind when the apartment they were hiding in right here in Joplin was ambushed.”
“Is the building still here?” my dad asked.
“Actually, it’s the next stop on our list.”
We drove about four miles to 3347 ½ Oak Ridge Drive to the garage apartment that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, along with Buck and Blanche Barrow (Clyde’s brother and sister-in-law), and W.D. Jones (another member of the gang) stayed at in April 1933. They were there for nearly two weeks when, on April 13, several lawmen approached the building, having been tipped off that there might be some bootleggers holing up there. The gang immediately began firing on the lawmen, killing two of them, then fled in Clyde’s Ford-V8.
In the chaos of the ambush, they left behind guns, jewelry, and a roll of film that contained photos of the gang members, including the iconic photo of Bonnie posing with a cigar in her mouth and a gun at her side.
After my dad snapped photos of the gang’s hideout, he said, “I wonder what it looks like on the inside.”
“Well, if you want to spend the night in it, you can,” I told him. “It’s listed on AirBnB.”
He looked puzzled. “On what?”
“I’ll explain it over lunch,” I said, heading back to the car. We loaded up our gang – a much less scandalous one than Barrow’s – and headed a mile south to The Eagle Drive-In.
This small drive-in may feel like a typical burger joint, but one glance at the menu and you know that it is anything but. For example, the signature beef burger here is topped with a quail egg, and from there, the burger meat choices become more exotic: elk, bison, and lamb.
My oldest daughter ordered The #6 Burger, which was comprised of an elk patty with Malbec and clover honey, caramelized onions, and Swiss cheese. I went the meatless route and ordered the Falafel Burger, topped with onion, tomatoes, feta, and tzatziki sauce.
Portions are generous at The Eagle Drive-In, and after our meal, we were ready to head back to our house, change into some forgiving pants, and rest up for the next day of exploring.
“Rise and shine!” I summoned my inner Mary Poppins as I went from room to room, waking my children, who were reluctant to rise so early on a Saturday morning. When I knocked on my parents’ door, my dad answered, already dressed for the day. He was eager to start exploring.
I wanted to get to The Bruncheonette for breakfast early, as this tiny, yet popular, farm-to-table diner often fills up within minutes of opening. We lucked out and secured a position toward the front of the line. As my parents examined the menu at the counter, I explained that the “Benny” options were variations of traditional Eggs Benedict, which I knew was one of my mom’s favorite breakfast dishes.
“Oh, this is a hard decision,” she said. “But I think I’ll go with the Benny Harper.” This version is made with bacon and avocado in addition to the traditional elements. I ordered the Garden Benny, made with asparagus, tomatoes, truffled arugula, and beet Hollandaise.
Other dishes that our group ordered ranged from the savory Darth Vato Tacos, filled with scrambled eggs and chorizo, to the sweet Crepes with Bananas and Nutella.
After breakfast, we drove just a few blocks to the historic Murphysburg district, the very first residential area of Joplin where the founding fathers of the city built stately homes over a century ago. “This reminds me of the Garden District in New Orleans,” said my mom, taking in the sight of full, mature trees, and the variety of intricate and graceful architectural styles.
“That’s what I’ve always thought,” I agreed.
In 1871, Patrick Murphy purchased 41 acres of land near what is now downtown Joplin and named this area Murphysburg. In 1873, it merged with Joplin City to become Joplin.
Historic Murphysburg Preservation, the organization that promotes that preservation of this residential district, has created a tour of Murphysburg that can be found online. While this tour can be done by car, my family was itching to explore it on foot.
We strolled along the shaded sidewalks, careful to sidestep the areas where the strong tree roots had pushed the concrete out their way in a show of dominance. I’d picked up a history guide and a brochure of the different architectural styles of Murphysburg from the Joplin Convention & Visitors Bureau to provide some additional historical details to my family during our tour.
“Ooh, that one is my favorite!” my youngest daughter said, pointing to a graceful Queen Anne home painted the color of sunshine. “Yellow is my favorite color,” she explained to my parents.
“That’s the Dr. Albert Winchester House,” I said. “Dr. Winchester reportedly delivered over 2,500 babies in Joplin.”
We saw a few more homes on that block and then headed north, pausing at the intersection of 4th and Sergeant. “That house reminds me of a castle,” my middle daughter said, referring to the imposing Romanesque style of the Charles Schifferdecker House.
“That’s because it was built to look like a castle from Germany, which is where Charles Schifferdecker was from.” One of the most important figures in Joplin’s history, Schifferdecker had come to the area at age 18 and opened a brewery, and later work in the mining industry. A successful businessman, he became one of the greatest philanthropists of our city.
At the end of the tour, the group was ready to rest and refuel before seeing more downtown sights, so we drove to Main Street to have lunch at M&M Bistro. Owned by Mehrdad Alvandi (the host with the kind smile) and his wife Minoo (the talented chef), this restaurant brings Mediterranean fare such as spanakopita, moussaka, and gyro sandwiches to the Joplin area.
The portions here are generous, but that didn’t stop us from ordering a piece of the sweet and flaky baklava for dessert. I think it might be encoded in my family’s DNA that we physically cannot resist an opportunity to eat dessert.
As we left the restaurant, I asked “Who’s ready to learn about Route 66 and how this important highway impacted Joplin?” My Baby Boomer parents enthusiastically said, “We are!” while my children tried unsuccessfully to stifle their yawns.
Their bored expressions reminded me of how I must have looked to my parents on those road trips decades ago. But despite my desire to be swimming instead of reading placards at a historical battlefield and other such places, I actually did learn things, and I did form memories that have spanned the years. Someday my kids will say the same about our travel experiences, too.
“You all know that we are standing on Main Street right now,” I began, “but did you know that this was part of the original Route 66, too? And across the street is a park dedicated to just that.”
Route 66 Mural Park is an urban space that features an oversized 45-record imprint of the iconic song (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66, plus two murals: Cruisin’ into Joplin, and below that, The American Ribbon, which traces Route 66 from beginning to end, and has a curious object in front of it – a bifurcated red 1964 Corvette (which happens to make a great backdrop for photos).
After seeing the car, my dad turned to me and said, “Remember my ‘51 Chevy?”
How could I not? He had bought that car when I was a teen, and I remember him puffing on a fat Macanudo cigar in the front seat, blissfully unaware of my discomfort in the back, the itchy wool seats and lack of air conditioning making me long for the modern comforts of our ‘80s station wagon.
But seeing the wistful look in his eyes, I didn’t dare crush his spirit by telling him how exactly I remembered his Chevy, so I simply said, “Yes.”
“Now, that was a great cruising car.” There was something about the way he said that that shifted something inside of me. Instead of using my teenager eyes and viewing that old car as an annoyance, I finally saw it through my dad’s eyes: as a virtual time machine, transporting him back to the carefree times of his youth.
I got it now.
“Want to see what Joplin looked like in the heyday of the Route 66 era?” I asked. We walked across the street to Joplin City Hall, which is located in the historic Newman Building, a building which housed a thriving department store during most of the last century.
Inside, I led them to the mural called Route 66, Joplin, Missouri, painted by Anthony Benton Gude. It’s filled with classic ‘50s images of soda fountains and classic cars cruising down Main Street. My dad’s ‘51 Chevy would have fit right in.
“The next mural depicts Joplin right after the mines started booming,” I said, leading them to Joplin at the Turn of the Century, 1896-1906, which was painted by Gude’s famous uncle Thomas Hart Benton. In it, symbols of possibility and success are juxtaposed with those of the corruption and debauchery common in old mining towns.
I pointed to the bottom of the painting. “See those men gambling? They’re doing so in the House of Lords. That’s the famous saloon that was once here.”
“I remember seeing the roulette wheel from House of Lords at the museum,” said my dad.
“That’s right. And, if you want to learn more about the different objects that Benton chose for this mural there’s an exhibit upstairs called Evolution of a Mural where you can read about it.”
I could tell that my kids were in need of a break by that point, so I sent my husband Travis (who is, ironically, also a history buff) with my dad to learn more about the mural, and I led my mom and my daughters back out to Main Street to do some shopping, popping in at their favorite local stores: Sophie, Blush Boutique, and Blue Moon Boutique.
We met back at the car a little after 5 p.m. because I wanted to make one last stop before dinner. No trip to Joplin is complete without a visit to Candy House Gourmet – definitely not for my family members!
This confectionery has been making original recipe treats for decades, including toffee, turtles, brittle, fudge, and caramels. I let each family member pick out a treat with the promise that there would be no eating – not even one nibble – until after dinner.
After shopping for candy, we went to the nearby Red Onion Cafe, a casual, urban restaurant that has been serving quality American food for over twenty years. There’s something on the menu here to make everyone happy, making it the perfect place to bring the whole family.
We ordered Red Onion’s famous creamy and spicy Smoked Chicken Dip as an appetizer, which is served with tortilla chips for dipping. The entrees ordered by our group ranged from the refreshing ROC Chicken Salad Sandwich, to the popular Dave’s Fried Chicken Salad Sandwich (made with coconut-breaded chicken), to the elegant Chicken Tuscany.
And, believe it or not, my kids convinced me to let them order dessert, despite the fact that we had a carload of treats from Candy House Gourmet: “The candy will keep for a few days, Mom, but we don’t get to have the Caramel Fudge Pecan Cake very often.”
How could I argue with that logic?
Since we’d been running hard with a packed schedule all weekend, I thought I’d make Sunday all about relaxation: a slow-paced breakfast, an easy stroll through the woods, and a leisurely Sunday drive south of Joplin.
Our first destination was Undercliff Grill & Bar, in an area close to Shoal Creek known as Tipton Ford. You might think this an odd choice for a Sunday morning, but this establishment transforms from a typical bar-and-grill to a breakfast spot from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. And, did I say it was typical? I misspoke. The Undercliff has a rich history spanning over a century, plus it’s built right into the side of a cliff.
“There used to be a general store here,” I explained to my parents. “People used to travel between Joplin and Neosho by rail,” I said, pointing to the train tracks built just in front of the building, “and they would often stop here.”
“Unfortunately, this was also the site of one of the deadliest train accidents in American history,” I said. I went on to tell them that on the night of August 5, 1914, two trains collided and a number of people lost their lives, many of whom were on their way back to Neosho after participating in Joplin’s Emancipation Park Day event.
“Well, you sure know how to be a Debbie Downer,” my oldest daughter said, rolling her eyes.
“Okay, okay,” I laughed. “Enough of that. Let’s order some food!”
From sweet, fluffy pancakes, to savory omelets, to the popular Round Barn Breakfast (consisting of two eggs, your choice of meat, toast, and a pancake), there was something on the menu that appealed to everyone.
We wrapped up breakfast, then drove less than ten miles to George Washington Carver National Monument, the first site in the National Park Service dedicated to an African American. It consists of an education center, plus an outdoor loop trail for exploring the nature of Carver’s world.
Nature was, in fact, the driving force behind Carver’s education, laboratory experiments, and lasting contributions to society. All of this is detailed in a short biographical film that we watched at the Carver education center.
“I didn’t realize he faced so many health challenges,” my mom commented when the film ended. Carver had been born into slavery to a couple owned by Moses Carver, but was such a sickly child that he wasn’t able to do chores like the other slaves. Instead, he spent his time walking around the forest and prairie surrounding the Carver homestead. In doing so, he observed and learned the properties of many plants, and demonstrated an innate ability to care for them, earning him the nickname “The Plant Doctor.”
“This sign says that he’s also known as the Peanut Man,” said my middle daughter. “I guess I should thank him for inventing the peanut butter in my Reese’s cups,” she laughed.
“Actually, he didn’t invent peanut butter,” I said. “But he did discover over 300 uses for peanuts, plus uses for other things, like sweet potatoes.”
“I’m amazed that he chose not to patent any of his inventions,” my dad added. “Apparently he wasn’t interested in money or fame; he just wanted his contributions to help others.”
My daughters ruminated on that concept as we walked outside on the paved hiking trail that led us through the woods, over a crystal-clear creek, past the old Carver homestead, and out to the prairie, which was speckled with purple and yellow wildflowers. I watched them study different plants with interest, perhaps imagining how they could experiment with them to create something impactful for the community.
I hope they’d been inspired.
On the drive back to Joplin, I asked each person to tell me one interesting thing they’d learned during our history weekend. I was pleasantly surprised to hear my daughters each come up with something different. They had been paying attention!
Then I looked over at my dad and asked, “What did you learn?”
His warm chocolate eyes filled with pride. “I learned that my daughter likes history after all.”
“I’ve been wanting to go inside this house since I was a little kid.”
The man in line in front of me articulated a general sentiment among many of the people huddled underneath the tent that protected us from the steady drizzle on that appropriately eerie Halloween Eve.
We were waiting to enter the magnificent historic home of Charles Schifferdecker, one of the founding fathers of Joplin. With its three-story battlement-topped tower and raised foundation made from rough-faced stone, the home resembles a castle. I’d driven by countless times and was always curious to see what the interior looked like, and after listening to the people in line with me that night, I realized that I wasn’t the only one.
Thanks to Historic Murphysburg Preservation, we were getting the chance to glimpse inside this stately home as part of a special two-day celebration which commemorated the 100-year anniversary of Charles Schifferdecker’s death and which celebrated the many contributions that he made to the city of Joplin during his life.
Named after the first residential neighborhood in Joplin, Historic Murphysburg Preservation is a non-profit group dedicated to historic preservation through education and community involvement. The group organizes events which invite people inside some of Joplin’s oldest structures so that they can better understand – and appreciate – the roots of our modern city.
Held on the last weekend of October 2015, the “Mr. Charles Schifferdecker…Remembered and Revisited” event spanned two days and three locations, kicking off with a Friday night tour of the Schifferdecker home on 422 Sergeant, which was built in 1890.
Halloween decorations filled the grounds, and the rainy night created patches of fog that swirled mysteriously around the entrance to the home, creating a spooky vibe. I thought for sure I would be greeted by the ghost of Charles Schifferdecker himself when I stepped inside the home, but instead I found the interior to be warm and welcoming – and not the least bit haunted.
A man and woman dressed as Charles Schifferdecker and his wife Wilhelmina greeted those of us on the tour and told us about the history of the home and its architectural details. The arched windows, elegant stained glass, and rich wood trim work were carefully crafted by workers that Schifferdecker brought over from his native Germany, and represent the success that Schifferdecker enjoyed during his life in Joplin.
After touring the first floor of the home, we stopped at the refreshment table to get some goodies to snack on, then sat down under a tent on the outside patio to watch a performance from the American Opera Studio, performed in period costumes, of course.
The entire experience of that evening provided us with a living history lesson, and gave us a greater appreciation for one of Joplin’s founding fathers.
Activities planned for the following day – Halloween – included a tour of the elaborate Schifferdecker Family Mausoleum (with two sphinxes standing guard at the entrance), and then a tour of the Schifferdecker Beer and Picnic Gardens, which was established around 1876, and is now a private residence. Although I didn’t make it to the mausoleum tour, I did visit the beer gardens.
Charles Schifferdecker arrived in Joplin with the goal of opening up a brewery which would serve the hardworking miners in the area. He established “Turkey Creek Brewery” on the banks of – you guessed it – Turkey Creek, located in what is now the north part of Joplin on a dead-end road. Because of its hidden location, I never knew that this oasis existed just moments from the bustling commercial Range Line Road until Historic Murphysburg Preservation invited the public to come explore the house and grounds.
In addition to serving beer at this brewery, Schifferdecker also provided entertainment in the gardens. There was a raised platform for dancing, plus an expansive grassy area with lawn bowling lanes. Historic Murphysburg Preservation recreated the essence of what it was like back in the brewery days.
There was a performance by the American Opera Studio (in period attire).
There was lawn bowling for visitors to enjoy. My daughter really got into it!
And there was a beer tent where people could sample and purchase beer and other beverages.
We were also able to tour Schifferdecker’s historic home, which was built against a bluff and had a beer cave next to it that always stays below 50 degrees – a perfect place to chill beer and to seek some sweet relief on sweltering Ozark summer days.
After touring the home, we took a leisurely stroll along picturesque Turkey Creek, which borders the gardens. The image that we saw of the trees’ changing leaves reflecting on the clear water was probably identical to the image that Charles Schifferdecker saw on Halloween in 1876.
Over a century has passed, but not much has changed in the gardens, and it kind of boggles the mind to think about that.
Historic Murphysburg Preservation holds various events throughout the year, opening up historic locations for the public to view and to experience firsthand. These events offer an immersive experience, allowing visitors to connect to Joplin’s history and community in a uniquely captivating way.
For more information on Historic Murphysburg Preservation’s events, click here.
The soulful sound of gospel music emanates from the tent, the smoky scent of barbecue hangs in the muggy summer air, and children giggle as they play tag on the lush green lawn.
These familiar sights and sounds represent a homecoming of sorts.
Each year, people mark their calendars for this one weekend in August when the expansive lawn of Joplin’s Ewert Park is covered with tents, food trucks, booths, and people – people who come to reunite with old friends, celebrate their heritage, and welcome newcomers (like me) to share in some old-fashioned summertime fun.
This three-day August event is called Emancipation Park Days, and it falls on the weekend closest to August 4, which is the day designated to honor the emancipation of the American slave in Joplin, as well as in neighboring towns.
Since the 1920s, this gathering has been held annually at Ewert Park. This year, the event’s schedule was jam-packed, from Friday evening through Sunday evening, with family-friendly events, including gospel and funk music, a basketball tournament, a fun run/walk, a variety of kids’ activities (including free swimming at Ewert Pool), a car show, a Sunday church service, and – like any great festival – plenty of food and drinks (even a beer tent).
There was no room for boredom at this cultural affair.
Which is exactly why my friend Julie and I brought our youngest kids here. With a couple weeks left until the beginning of school, we wanted to make some unique and fun memories with them before summer ended.
We came to Emancipation Park Days on Saturday, the second day of the event. While the August sky was heavy with clouds, the rain stayed away while we were there, allowing us to linger in the comfortably shaded park.
The first thing our kids did was the children’s drum craft; they wrapped masking tape around empty plastic coffee containers, then then personalized their drums with their own drawings.
Then they scored some cute balloon dogs from Crazy Dave’s Balloon Animals.
Our kids were having a blast with their loot, but I have to admit, we mamas were running out of arms to carry said loot – and we’d only visited two booths by that point.
We lingered awhile at the Bikers Against Child Abuse (B.A.C.A) booth, where our kids got their faces painted (and got to sit on a bike), and Julie and I stood, mouths agape, as we learned about this amazing organization. Its mission is to empower abused children to feel safe, and its members – the bikers – do this by going to a child’s house to provide reassurance, or by accompanying a child to court and parole hearings.
It melted our hearts to hear tough-looking motorcycle bikers talking tenderly about protecting and empowering children who, without the bikers, might continue to feel powerless and voiceless. I was so impressed by B.A.C.A.’s work that I could go on and on about them, but instead I’ll just include a link about them here if you’re interested in learning more.
Now back to Emancipation Park Days.
We were all starting to get hungry at this point, so the kids snacked on hot dogs while Julie and I treated ourselves to some tender pulled pork sandwiches from A.C.’s BBQ. Naturally, the kids begged for ice cream afterward, so we got them treats from the wildly popular Pineapple Bliss. We didn’t tell them that they weren’t eating actual ice cream but a dairy-free, healthful substitute instead. They didn’t notice.
We then made our way back to the children’s pavilion so the kids could participate in the drum circle and dance that was led by members of the African Student Association from Pittsburg State University.
The kids enthusiastically tested out their coffee-tub drums that they made earlier, trying earnestly to keep up with the drum leader’s rhythm. At one point, the drum leader asked the kids to stand up and follow him in a circle while he drummed, and the kids let their bodies move to the beat as they danced.
Sweaty after all of that activity, the kids were eager to join in the water balloon toss.
After a few good tosses, their balloon burst on the ground in front of them, spraying them with a teeny bit of water – but not enough to cool them down.
Instead, a couple of slices of sweet, refreshing watermelon did the trick, quenching their thirst and providing relief from the heat.
While they snacked on the watermelon, Julie and I had the chance to read the display walls featuring a timeline of black history in the area.
Among many other things, we learned about Carver Nursery School, which was named after George Washington Carver, an area inventor, educator and humanitarian – and one of my idols (you can read more about Carver and the national park dedicated to him here).
Carver Nursery School was founded in 1951 as a preschool and elementary school for African American children in Joplin. Area African American teenagers attended Lincoln High School until the late 1950s when they joined the other students at Joplin Senior High School.
As someone who moved to Joplin in the ‘90s, I had no idea about this part of Joplin’s history. The African American culture is so integrated now in this town that it’s hard to imagine life otherwise. But it’s important to learn about how things were in the not-so-distant past, and I’m glad that this education is a part of the Emancipation Park Days event.
We were lingering by the history boards when we saw a crowd begin to form around the tennis courts. “The Cobras must be here,” Julie said.
And they were. We could hear the shrill sound of a whistle and the feel the beats coming from the percussion as The Kansas City Marching Cobras made a spectacular entrance at Ewert Park.
This well-known drill team, which has performed for multiple U.S. presidents, combines dance moves from African dance, jazz, and hip hop into its choreography.
The tennis courts at Ewert Park provided a stage for the Cobras, allowing people to watch the team from multiple sides. I watched as our kids leaned on the tennis court fence, transfixed by the energy and movement of the drill team.
No video games had been played today. No iPads had been turned on. The kids had been thoroughly entertained at a decades-old cultural festival.
And our summer ended with the creation of new memories.
For more information on Emancipation Park Days, click here.
The museum complex is located just west of the aquatic center. Outside of the entrance, visitors are greeted by a dinosaur sculpture which stands about six feet tall and is made from scrap metal and other items such as license plates. Kids will get a kick out of it.
The complexhouses a variety of collections. The exhibit displays are informative and offer some unique items to view. In the Everett J. Ritchie Tri-State Mineral Museum, huge slabs of rocks and minerals are displayed in an area that resembles the inside of a mine shaft.
On the way up to the second floor, there’s a case containing fossil remains of a woolly mammoth and some Native American arrowheads – all discovered in the four-state area.
The exhibit continues upstairs, where it traces the lead and zinc mining history of the area. There are maps of the mining areas and I was curious to see if my house was built over a mine shaft. It wasn’t.
I was fascinated by the exhibit showing which minerals are found in everyday household products.
“Galena: Lead ore used in batteries and detergents. The production of lead leaves bismuth which is used in Pepto-Bismol.”
Meanwhile, my kids were fixated on the display of fluorescent minerals. Here’s what they look light with a standard light on them.
Here’s what happens after they are exposed to a long-wave light.
No wonder my kids kept pressing the long-wave light button; it was so mesmerizing to see those seemingly ordinary rocks transform into glowing, otherworldly formations.
On the other side of the museum complex, the Dorothea B. Hoover Historical Museum houses a variety of collections that focus on the history and culture of the Joplin area. Highlights of this section include artifacts from the House of Lords, a famous saloon from Joplin’s mining days.
This roulette wheel from the 1890s was in the second floor of the House of Lords.
And jewelry that was recovered from Bonnie and Clyde’s Joplin hideout in 1933.
Other exhibits at the complex include the Joplin Sports Authority Sports Hall of Fame, the National Historical Cookie Cutter Museum, and the Merle Evans Circus Tent #27 Miniature Circus (my daughter spent about twenty minutes staring wide-eyed at this miniature circus that fills an entire room).
The Joplin Museum Complexis the perfect place for both visitors and residents to gain an understanding of Joplin’s rich history.
Did you know that the first full-scale land battle of the Civil War was fought near Carthage, Missouri?
Sure, I’m not a Civil War expert, but I’m familiar with what I’d previously thought was the first major land battle of that war: Bull Run.
Yet, the Battle of Carthage (also called the Battle of Dry Fork) was fought on July 5, 1861.
That was 16 days prior to Bull Run.
I learned about this important Missouri battle when I visited the Civil War Museum, located just off the downtown square in Carthage.
Located in an old fire station, the museum faces another historic building: the handsome limestone Carthage post office, which was built in 1896.
The moment I walked inside the Civil War Museum, I was wowed by this stunning mural by local artist Andy Thomas, which depicts the burning of the Carthage square during the war.
The museum itself is small, yet informative. By reading through the exhibits, watching the short video, and studying the diorama of the battle itself, I learned quite a bit.
The battle itself involved 1,100 German-American Union soldiers from St. Louis, led by Colonel Franz Sigel. Confederate Governor Claiborne F. Jackson led the Missouri State Guard, commanding about 6,000 men. This was the only time in history that a sitting governor has led troops in the field.
The battle was a victory for the Confederacy.
Here are some other things I discovered at the museum:
Here’s the story behind this painting by Andy Thomas: Union supporter Norris C. Hood lived on the Carthage square with his family. Secretly, his daughters had made a U.S. flag and placed it among daughter Lucy’s petticoats in order to keep it hidden from the many local Confederate supporters.
But on July 4, 1861, when Colonel Sigel’s troops entered Carthage before the battle, Lucy removed the flag and proudly waved it overhead as a welcome to the Union soldiers.
Weapons and Ammunition
It’s always fascinating to see artifacts from the fields.
Called the “Bandit Queen,” Belle Starr led quite a colorful life. She was described as an attractive teenager with a bold personality.
Yep, that’s bold.
Born as Myra Maebelle Shirley in 1848 just north of Carthage, Starr was the daughter of a hotel-tavern owner who supported the Confederacy. Take a walk on the north side of the Carthage square and look for this building.
In front of the building, you’ll find this marker.
Starr would often entertain the hotel guests here with her skills on the piano.
But then the Civil War came to Carthage; in 1864, her brother Bud was killed by a Union soldier in nearby Sarcoxie. Enraged by the loss of her brother, Starr began living her life brazenly, going on to marry a series of outlaws, and ultimately suffering fatal gunshot wounds in 1889.
She did give birth to one daughter, Pearl, and one of the museum’s exhibits shows a portion of a letter that Starr wrote to her daughter while in prison.
The Burning of Carthage
The Civil War brought fires to the town in 1863 and 1864, destroying most of its buildings, including the courthouse. The current courthouse, which was built in 1894-95 on the same site, is one of the most photographed buildings in Missouri.
One structure that did survive the war was the Kendrick House. The oldest home in Jasper County, the Kendrick House was used as a command center for both sides during the war. It’s a short drive from the square and is located at 131 North Garrison Street.
It wasn’t long after my initial visit to the Civil War Museum that I returned, this time bringing my parents who were visiting from Chicago. My dad loves Civil War anything. He majored in history in college, so our summer family vacations always included stops at historical locations like Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
Because of that, you’d think I’d have a strong knowledge of the major Civil War battles, but I don’t. I simply have memories of staring at battlefields through glassy eyes and offering pained teenaged sighs to anyone within earshot.
But I’m happy to say that my war museum etiquette has improved dramatically as I’ve matured, and I welcomed the opportunity to prove this to my parents by bringing them to the Civil War Museum in Carthage.
I’m glad I did, because my second visit to the museum was enriched by the added information that my history-loving father provided as we walked through the displays.
And this time, I listened without sighing.
The Carthage Civil War Museum is located at 205 South Grant Street in Carthage, Missouri. Click here for more information.
First of all, the museum itself is something to behold. For a town of 4,000, I was expecting a fairly small building whose exhibits I could walk through in less than an hour. From outward appearances, that seemed to be the case.
But what I didn’t see from the parking lot is that the building extends quite a bit toward the back, plus there is a basement area, with the entire museum offering 23,000 square feet of historical information on Baxter Springs and the surrounding area. I had grossly underestimated how much time I would need there; this place requires a few hours to get through.
That’s because there are so many decades of history packed into the 3 square miles of Baxter Springs and it requires a large facility to tell the tale of this town. Luckily for me, a friendly volunteer greeted me when I walked into the museum, handing me detailed brochures about area historical sites and attractions, then guiding me where to start exploring the museum.
For the most part, the exhibits are laid out chronologically, beginning with the Civil War era, a time when Baxter Springs was put on the map, but not for the most peaceful reason. I’ll give you a brief pre-Civil War summary first.
In the Beginning…
The land in and around Baxter Springs was originally inhabited by the Osage Indians. The first white settler was John Baxter, after whom the town was named. Baxter settled here in 1849.
The Battle of Baxter Springs
Things started getting volatile in the area in the decade that followed. Baxter Springs was sandwiched between the anti-slavery forces of the North and the pro-slavery forces in the South; Kansas was a Union state. On October 6, 1863, Baxter Springs was the site of a massacre, when William Quantrill and 400 guerillas attacked Fort Blair as they were making their way southward (read more about the massacre here).
I think it would have been fascinating to have a psychologist analyze Quantrill. According to the museum exhibit, Quantrill was a former school teacher from Ohio who came to the area in 1857 and “quickly honed his violent nature by living with thieves and murderers, committing several brutal murders during this time.”
That gives me the heebie-jeebies! How could he be a schoolteacher and then a repeat murderer?
Photo of Quantrill courtesy of Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum
The following mural of “Quantrill’s Raid on Baxter Springs” by artist Edmund Victor Ness is also displayed in the museum. Ness’ style is similar to another area artist Thomas Hart Benton, whose murals are displayed in Joplin’s City Hall building just 20 minutes away.
One artifact from the Civil War period that really stood out to me was this bookmark that a mother made for her soldier son, which she created by braiding strands of her hair and gluing them to a paper heart.
She placed the bookmark inside a bible and included this inscription: Your mother’s love and blessing go with you. May the Lord protect you on the day of battle.
If you’d like to visit the actual sites of the Battle of Baxter Springs, the museum has put together a self-guided auto tour with twelve stops on it. You can pick up a copy in the lobby of the museum.
The Wild West
From 1867 to 1872, Baxter Springs boasted the title of first cattle town in the Midwest, as the route through here was the shortest distance from the Texas ranches to the markets in the North and the East.
This counter is from another bank that was robbed.
The cow town days were wild, with gambling, crime, and prostitution running rampant (over 30 “ladies of the night” were walking the streets in the 1870s). In 1876, Jesse James and an accomplice robbed Crowell Bank and ran off with $2900.
In the basement of the museum, there’s a representation of what the town’s boardwalk looked like in the 1870s, complete with a jail. Both kids and adults will get a kick out of walking on the wooden boards and peering inside the various shop windows to get a glimpse of what life was like back then. On the right, there’s a replica of a 1910 farm house.
From Lawless to Luxury
When the lawless days of the cow town era ended in the 1880s, the town did a complete 180-degree turn when it began promoting itself as a health resort destination. A park was built on Military Avenue between 7th and 8th Streets, and people came from all over the country to drink the local spring water, which many claimed cured their ailments.
The luxurious Springs Hotel was built at 9th and Military Avenue to accommodate visitors, but it burned to the ground in 1914. Whatever happened to those springs? I’d always wondered why the town was called Baxter Springs since I’d never heard anyone mention actual springs, and I finally learned the answer to this puzzle during my visit to the museum.
In the early part of the 20th century, the flow of the springs gradually decreased, then disappeared entirely in the late 1920s. It’s generally believed that it was due to area mining activities – which I’ll get to in a minute.
Baxter Springs hosted annual Civil War soldiers’ reunions, with the first one being held in 1883, 20 years after the massacre at Fort Blair.
The reunions were great celebrations, and one of the rides featured there was a precursor to today’s coasters; “Shoot the Chute” plunged from the top of a hill into the Spring River.
Peak attendance for the reunions reached 50,000 in 1911, but the annual events ended in 1914.
The Mining Era
With the discovery of minerals in the surrounding area, the mining boom hit Baxter Springs from 1916 through the 1920s.
One man exiting the four-man can
To me, one of the most fascinating artifacts at the museum is the portable aluminum therapy machine, which is the only known one in existence.
Donated by the Picher Mining Museum, this machine was used to treat silicosis, a lung disease that was prevalent among miners.
Two miners at a time were given treatments of aluminum powder dust, gradually increasing treatment time and frequency until 200 treatments were completed. After all of that, there’s still no evidence that the treatments stopped the further development of silicosis in the patients.
The Mother Road and Beyond
In 1926, Baxter’s Military Avenue was designated as Route 66, and another new era began. The highway brought many visitors to Baxter Springs – as well as more outlaws. On two consecutive Saturdays in 1933, the infamous duo Bonnie and Clyde robbed the Kirkendoll grocery store in Baxter Springs.
On the main floor of the museum, there’s an exhibit dedicated to Route 66, highlighting area attractions on the Mother Road, including the Marsh Arch Bridge (also called the Rainbow Bridge), located just north of Baxter Springs, which you can still walk and drive on.
Baxter Springs Today
When I left the museum, I wandered through the town of Baxter Springs and witnessed a town coming to life – yet again. With such exciting things happening, I wonder what exhibits will be added to the museum over the next decade.
Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum is located at 740 East Avenue in Baxter Springs, Kansas. Click here to visit its website.
There are several distinct districts in Joplin and, like pieces of fabric sewn together to make a quilt, these districts mesh together to form our unique city.
Just off of I-44, Joplin’s Range Line Road District whirs with activity as vehicles travel from hotels, gas stations, and a myriad of retailers. Cutting through the center of town, the post-tornado district glistens, as sunlight reflects off of the shiny, new construction that’s modernizing our city.
The Downtown District bustles with pedestrians walking to offices, shopping at boutiques, and eating at restaurants. And just a few blocks away, Joplin’s original district stands proud and elegant, its structures having been rooted in the soil for over a century.
This is the area where Joplin’s founding fathers built their residences, proclaiming to the world that this small city in southwest Missouri is overflowing with rich natural resources – and worthy of being the place they called home.
Fountain at the Austin Allen House, 112 South Sergeant
This is the Murphysburg Historic District, and it was named after Patrick Murphy who, in 1871, purchased 41 acres of land near what is now downtown Joplin. In 1873, the Murphysburg area merged with nearby Joplin City to form Joplin.
Today, the buildings in the Murphysburg Historic District wear the history of the city on their facades, from Charles Schifferdecker’s dense German “castle” to Albert Winchester’s sunny Queen Anne home. Whether you are a lifelong resident of Joplin (like me), or a first-time visitor, walking through Murphysburg is a gratifying experience, providing insight into the lives of the people who molded the character of this city.
Thanks to Historic Murphysburg Preservation, Inc., there is an actual walking tour brochure that you can follow to learn more about the architecture of the homes in this district. The tour includes 37 structures and takes about an hour to complete if you walk it, but you can also tour the district by car.
The tour includes structures in the area between Jackson Avenue and Byers Avenue, and between 1st Street and 7th Street (the portion of 7th Street that borders Murphysburg is on historic Route 66, so this walking tour makes for a nice activity for cruisers on the Route).
Put on some comfy walking shoes and come along with me as I share some of my favorite bits of history that I learned in Murphysburg.
Note: The numbers next to each building correspond to the numbers on the walking tour brochure. Information about the construction date and architectural style of each building is listed next to its respective address.
2. Olivia Apartments – 320 South Moffet (c. 1906): Built to house 34 luxury apartments, this building cost $150,000 to construct and was designed by local architect Austin Allen, who named it after his mother Olivia. The fifth floor of the building once housed a grill room where residents could eat. Click here to see historic photos of the building.
Fletcher Snapp House
5. Fletcher Snapp House – 501 South Sergeant (c. 1905, Colonial Revival): Designed by architect T.R. Bellas, this brick home features a unique rounded bay window on the upper right side, plus a welcoming porch.
The home was built for Fletcher Snapp, who was a member of Joplin High School’s first graduating class of 1887. Snapp went on to found Citizen’s National Bank in 1901, and also served as Joplin’s mayor. During the Depression, Snapp lost his money, so he then divided his home into apartments for income. In 1950, he and a handyman were repairing an oil furnace in the basement when it exploded and killed them both.
Albert Winchester House
6. Albert Winchester House – 507 South Sergeant (c. 1905, Free Classic Queen Anne): This home was built for Dr. Albert Winchester, a graduate of Vanderbilt University who delivered over 2,500 babies in the area.
Gustave A. Kleinkauf House
7. Gustave A. Kleinkauf House – 523 South Sergeant (c. 1905, Arts and Crafts): Do you want to experience what it’s like to be a resident of Murphysburg? This bungalow offers you the chance to do just that. You can spend the night in the Creative Cottage, a quaint bed-and-breakfast located on the second floor of this home.
8. Elisha Mathews/George N. Spiva House – 611 S. Sergeant (c. 1902, Colonial Revival): The home was built for Elisha Mathews, the president of the Foust Automatic Concentrating Company. In 1917, George N. Spiva moved into the home. His son, George A. Spiva, became an avid supporter of the arts in Joplin, and today there is an arts center named after him.
Charles Schifferdecker House
13. Charles Schifferdecker House – 422 South Sergeant (c. 1890, Romanesque): This man’s home was certainly his castle. Built by Charles Schifferdecker to resemble a castle from the Rhine region of Germany, the home features a tower and several terra cotta friezes (featuring hops vines), which were crafted by workers brought to Joplin from Germany.
At age 18, Schifferdecker came to Joplin from Germany to open a brewery with his partner Edward Zelleken, who built the house next door (#14). The two men eventually gave up the brewery and entered the more lucrative mining industry, where they were very successful.
Schifferdecker was a generous philanthropist; many Joplin attractions bear his name, including Schifferdecker Park.
Edward Zelleken House
14. Edward Zelleken House – 406 South Sergeant (c. 1893, Queen Anne): Built by Schifferdecker’s business partner, Edward Zelleken, this 4,000 square-foot home has several parapets and decorative details.
While Zelleken was successful professionally, he endured much personal tragedy. Three of his children died; his 19-year-old daughter Tillie passed away right before her wedding and was buried in her wedding dress.
The Zelleken home housed the Spiva Art Center from 1958 to 1967, and is currently a private residence.
Charles Frye House
15. Charles Frye House – 318 South Sergeant (c. 1891, Second Empire): This home was built for Charles Frye, who came to Joplin from New York to invest in mining. It cost $5000 to build, and originally had a square tower with a pyramid-like roof on the third floor, which has since been removed.
James Geddes House
19. James Geddes House – 301 South Sergeant (c. Late 1890s, Queen Anne): This home was built for attorney and newspaper publisher James Geddes. In 1900, Howard Hughes, Sr., came to Joplin to capitalize on the mining boom. Thirty-one-year-old Hughes tried to elope with Geddes’ 16-year-old daughter Francis, but Geddes intervened and prevented the union.
Charles McNeal House
20. Charles McNeal House – 220 South Moffet (c. 1908, Prairie Box/American Foursquare): An avid horseman, Charles McNeal was involved in the mining industry. He owned a stone riding stable at 1st and Adams Streets which is currently the home of Joplin Little Theatre.
Frank Sharp House
21. Frank Sharp House – 212 South Moffet (c. 1909, Spanish Mission): Built by Frank Sharp (McNeal’s business partner) this home was originally constructed in the American Foursquare style like McNeal’s house next door. But when Sharp’s wife Nellie wanted to remodel the house years later, she strived to make it look like Spanish Mission architecture, which was popular at that time, so a pair of towers was added to the third story and the exterior brick was covered with gray stucco.
In the 1960s, the gray stucco was covered with a pink marble material which was outlined to appear like bricks.
Austin Allen House
33. Austin Allen House – 112 South Sergeant (c. 1906, Arts and Crafts): This home was built by Austin Allen, the architect who designed many elegant structures around Joplin, including the Olivia Apartments, St. Peter’s Church, the Newman Building (which now houses City Hall), and several homes in the Murphysburg district.
A departure from the classical architecture that Allen was commissioned to build, Allen’s home was built in the simple Arts and Crafts style, and was a wedding gift for his bride.
Oliver S. Picher House
35. Oliver S. Picher House – 210 South Sergeant (c. 1904, Colonial Revival): Allen also built this elegant home for Oliver S. Picher, the son of the founder of the Picher Lead and Zinc Company (known as Eagle-Picher today). Picher’s luxurious home, (which cost $25,000 to build) included crystal chandeliers, stained glass windows, stunning woodwork (the exterior of the home is made from cypress), and three double-sided fireplaces.
William Houk House
36. William Houk House – 218 South Sergeant (c. 1903, American Foursquare: Classical Elements): This home, which is still surrounded by its original iron gate, was built by William Houk, an attorney, mine operator, and banker. Houk’s wife Edna was a prohibitionist and feminist, and she wrote a book called Women Wealth Winners: How Women Can Earn Money.
Thank you for taking a virtual walk with me through Joplin’s Murphysburg Historic District and learning the history of the homes in this neighborhood. I’m sure the city’s founding fathers would be proud that their stories are being told more than a century later.
A mother’s prescription for restless kids involves Joplin’s beautiful parks
by Christine Smith
When cabin fever runs rampant in my house here in Joplin, I become Doctor Mom and order one of the following prescriptions for my three restless daughters, who range in age from 5 to 13:
Comb through exposed rocks from the creek bottom and find a treasured fossil or arrowhead.
Wind your way up Bluff Trail and enjoy and a bird’s-eye view of sparkling Shoal Creek below.
Count the number of turtles you see sunbathing on tree limbs that have fallen into Williams Pond.
The first two prescriptions can be filled at Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center, and the final one at George Washington Carver National Monument. As Doctor Mom, I’ve chosen these two centers for restlessness rehab because they are close to home, they offer a variety of remedies for my not-so-patient patients, and they are stunningly beautiful.
Thanks to these resources, I’m proud to say Doctor Mom’s cure rate is 100%. What’s even more exciting is that it works on anyone, even people just visiting Joplin. In fact, visitors may enjoy their dose of nature therapy so much that they’ll feel compelled to return multiple times for follow-up appointments.
Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center
When the kids need to step away from the television and get some fresh air, I turn off the TV and say, “Let’s go to Shoal Creek and Wildcat Park!”
The girls cheerfully chat during the car ride over to Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center, located just south of Joplin. The center, which utilizes green technology, offers environmental education classes, children’s nature programming, and a discovery center.
Once inside, each girl becomes engrossed in her own thing: one follows the fluid movements of the native turtles and fish inside the impressive 1,300-gallon tank; another watches in fascination as a native rat snake uncoils its shiny body and begins exploring the perimeter of its terrarium; and the youngest stands in front of an interactive learning exhibit, gleefully pressing buttons as she learns more about the local environment.
Moments later, we prepare to hit the trails located around the center, in the area known as Wildcat Park. There are seven to choose from, and they cover more than three miles of diverse landscape—some of it rather unusual.
Once we exit the rear doors of the center, we immediately feel like we’ve been transported to Arizona. We see cacti growing along the trail and lizards scurrying across the arid ground. This desert-like ecosystem, filled with an unusual combination of plants and animals, represents some of the last remaining exposed chert glades in the world.
As we continue along the path, the scenery changes from the dry, sunny glades to the cool, wooded forest by Shoal Creek. My husband and I often hike the mile-long Bluff Trail, which offers stunning views of the creek, but today my daughters unanimously vote for taking St. John’s Creek Trail. Why? Because this half-mile path goes past a cave, and for three young girls, looking in to a cave is practically magical. Though the cave entrance is closed to the public, I still love watching their imaginations run wild together.
Imaginations have been sparked among my patients. Doctor Mom smiles, satisfied that the treatment plan is working.
George Washington Carver National Monument
For Doctor Mom, visiting the birthplace of the “Plant Doctor,” is like a pilgrimage; in addition to superior nature therapy, it offers rich historical, educational, and spiritual lessons, as well.
During the short drive south of Joplin to Diamond, my girls ask me questions like, “Who was George Washington Carver?” and, “How come he has a park named after him?”
George Washington Carver was born into slavery toward the end of the Civil War, most likely in 1864, one of many siblings. Soon after his birth, he, one of his sisters and his mother were kidnapped, and Moses Carver, who owned George and his mother, paid an agent to track them down. Of the three only the infant George was located and returned. Moses and Susan Carver then raised George and his brother, James, as their own. Being a sickly boy, he was excused from chores and allowed to wander the woods and prairie instead, during which time he learned about native plants and developed a talent for taking care of them, earning the name of the “Plant Doctor.”
Carver’s thirst for knowledge was unquenchable, and he spent his life exploring and educating, blazing the trail for other African Americans to follow.
To honor the important agricultural and educational contributions that Carver made to this country, the George Washington Carver National Monument was established in 1943. This 240-acre park is part of the National Park Service, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016. It’s also the first national park to be named after a non-president, as well as the first one to be dedicated to an African American.
When we arrive at the park’s visitors center, my husband and I enjoy reading about Carver’s life in the museum exhibit, the kids look at slides of native plant and insect specimens under microscopes in the discovery area, and play teacher in the old-fashioned school room, instructing their students to write their names on the individual slate boards at their desks.
Then we go outside to walk the 3/4-mile nature trail. Near the beginning, we see a replica of the base of the 12′ x 12′ cabin where Carver was born. Doctor Mom gathers her patients inside of it and asks, “Can you imagine if we all lived together in such a small space? Talk about cabin fever!” Their eyes grow wide, and in them I see a new appreciation for their individual bedrooms in our modern house.
The trail, which is nicely paved, leads into the thick woods. As we pause to look at a bronze statue of Carver as a boy, a blue butterfly lands on it. Even the likeness of Carver seems to commune with nature.
We cross the pristine Carver Spring, then loop around Williams Pond, our voices startling turtles on the banks, causing them to dive in the water with loud plunks.
After walking through the 1881 Carver homestead, we finally emerge in the prairie restoration area.
I slow my pace, allowing my family to move ahead of me on the path. I watch as butterflies dance around their contented faces. I understand why Carver saw divine goodness in the natural world around him, rising early each day to take a devotional walk in the woods in order “to talk with God.”
The natural beauty of this area possesses great power; it can raise doleful spirits, entertain the minds of children, and bring smiles to faces.
Destination marketing can be challenging, especially for a locations such as Joplin that lacks a signature event, or is known for a highly traveled to themed attraction. While unique, smaller towns are becoming a rising vacation trend, advertising to the traveler, in both print and digital formats, takes creativity to stand out among similar advertisements for like destinations.
Through a partnership developed a little more than a year ago, the Joplin CVB has been working with local photographer Mark Neuenschwander (9Art Photography) and writer Lance Schaubert on a new concept that the trio hopes will spark interest to bring visitors to Joplin.
Using a genre for the digital age, Neuenschwander and Schaubert introduced Joplin to the concept of a digital photonovel through their first joint venture, Cold Brewed, in 2012. A photonovel is a story told through dramatic images and text, but the reader’s experience unfolds like the adventure of reading a novel, combined with the visual excitement of a graphic novel. The techie will appreciate reading a captivating story with just the roll of a mouse.
On January 19th the JCVB will be unveiling the photonovel tourism marketing project, entitled The Joplin Undercurrent, with a storyline which combines historical accuracies as well as fiction, otherwise known as faction. Composed in the same vein as films we love such as The Da Vinci Code and National Treasure, The Joplin Undercurrent photonovel will depict some of what Joplin is best known for, while intertwining both real-life citizens and fictionalized characters.
Unlike traditional tourism marketing this project will not directly say, “Visit Joplin.” We hope this more understated approach, geared to people entrenched in the digital age, will spark an interest in visiting Joplin because of a desire to immerse themselves in the story’s location, similar to the way that novels or movies bring destinations into pop-culture and become tourist attractions. Communities such as Forks, Washington created special tours for visitors who flock there to put themselves into the fictional settings of the Twilight Saga, and why after 27 years, baseball enthusiasts still travel to Dubuque County (Dyersville) Iowa to step upon (or play a game on) the field created for the 1989 movie Field of Dreams.
The Joplin Undercurrent is a story of a young man and former Joplinite named Lee, who returns home to visit his ailing; perhaps even dying, mother. But when Lee asks his uncle for a visiting time, his uncle refuses to let him see her Frustrated, Lee wanders downtown and meets two other out-of-towners – a historian of sorts and a geologist with a strange specialization. They come to protect Joplin from a coming disaster but to do so they’ll have to solve a mystery hidden in Joplin’s past. A mystery involving Lee’s mother.