The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 20, 2013

Jo Ellis: Different day, different topography in Carthage

By Jo Ellis
Globe Columnist

CARTHAGE, Mo. —  It may seem implausible to us now, but the topography of our familiar downtown Carthage was quite different 138 years ago.

That was pointed out to me when I recently ran across an article relating a story from an early settler, Mrs. E.O. Brown, published in a 1935 edition of the Carthage Press.

Mrs. Brown (the article never provided her the dignity of a given name), was remembering how the area just southwest of the square was covered by a lake when she arrived here with her family in 1874.

“The Carthage square was on a bluff,” she said, “rising to its highest point at the southwest corner, and there was a sharp drop to the lake level. Most of the area between Main, Fourth, Lyon and Fifth streets was covered by the lake, which was quite deep.

“It was fed by several springs. The water was clear and was deep enough to swim in. It was full of growing cress and was a popular resort for boys of the neighborhood. Ed Gerkey, then a 4-year-old tot, delighted to wade in its edges and drew frequent reprimands for his temerity.”

The Gerkey home stood on the corner of Fourth and Lyon streets, the current site of the Springer Building. Just south was the Spangler residence, and next to that was the Dr. Brooks home at the corner of Lyon and Fifth streets. Lombardy poplars bordered Lyon Street and enhanced the attractiveness of the lake, which was considered a real beauty spot.

(The tall, columnar, aggressively growing Lombardy poplar tree had just been introduced to the United States in 1874 and was in high demand.)

“The only building in the lake area was the structure occupied by the Carthage Daily Banner, facing Main Street,” Mrs. Brown recalled. “It stood on piles 10 feet high to put it above the water and to the street level.

“At the southwest corner of the square where the College pharmacy now stands, the drop to the lake was probably 20 feet. In later years when R. Roessler and his sons, Julius and Ed, built the brick building now occupied by (Uptown Downtown), the workmen excavated deep and laid drain tile to carry off the water from the principal spring that fed the lake. The water was carried to an open ditch that is now a walled-in storm sewer on West Fourth Street. As other buildings were erected, the lake was drained and the hollow filled in to bring it to the street level.”

Our much-acclaimed Jasper County Courthouse, electric trolley lines and automobiles were still a good 20 to 30 years in the future. Think when you drive through this area today what a quiet, beautiful and idyllic spot it used to be.

Address correspondence to Jo Ellis, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email news@joplinglobe.com.