By Roger McKinney
Mining led to the formation of most area towns and for about 100 years remained a basis of the area economy.
In Pittsburg, Weir, West Mineral and Scammon in Kansas, the miners dug for coal. In Joplin and Webb City, Mo., Galena, Kan., and Picher, Okla., lead and zinc were the products.
“Mining in both of those fields really led to the industrialization of the whole region,” said Randy Roberts, Pittsburg State University archivist and curator of special collections. “The mines led to the railroads, smelting plants, the presence of unions and ethnic diversity.”
That sentiment was echoed by Brad Belk, director of the Joplin Museum Complex.
“As much as we try to disassociate ourselves from mining, we look back at the businesses we have, and they all have ties to mining,” he said.
For example, he said, St. John’s Regional Medical Center began because of the need to quickly treat seriously injured miners. Empire District Electric Co. thrived because of a contract to power the mines.
The Joplin Museum Complex, in Schifferdecker Park, is one of several area locations one can visit to get an idea of the area’s mining history. Some others are:
Big Brutus, at West Mineral, Kan.
Miners Memorial, at Pittsburg.
Galena Mining and Historical Museum.
Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum.
Roberts said area mining began shortly after the end of the Civil War, in the early 1870s, and continued at a diminishing rate into the 1970s. He said the peak production and employment in the mines was around World War I.
The area still suffers from the environmental effects of the lead and zinc mining, because of the mine waste the companies left behind. The Tri-State Mining District is an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site. Residents of Picher are being relocated under a federal buyout, leaving a ghost town in what was once a lively mining community.
<img src="http://www.joplinglobeonline.com/images/zope/extra.gif" border="0">Mining history preserved throughout area<font color="#ff0000"> w/ slide show</font>
By Roger McKinney
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