While John C. Cox and Patrick Murphy are credited with settling and founding the city of Joplin, one man over 30 years had a hand in creating the buildings that made Joplin's landscape distinctive. Christopher August Dieter, known as "Captain" or C.A., was a general contractor and some of his iconic buildings still stand as city landmarks.
Dieter was born in Langen, Hesse, in Germany in 1859, the fifth of six sons. When his father died in 1865 and his mother remarried, two of his brothers immigrated to the U.S. After a short stay with relatives in Baltimore, Maryland, they moved to Wichita, Kansas.
Christopher had apprenticed to a bricklayer before moving to the United States in 1879, where he went to work as a stonemason in Kansas. His fiancee, Lenchen Baerenz, still lived in Germany. When her father died in 1882, he went back to Hesse, and the couple were married.
Later that year, they returned to Wichita, where he worked as a stone contractor. Two of his brothers had moved to El Paso, Texas. In 1885, C.A. visited the area looking for business opportunities in Mexico, which did not materialize. He did learn Mexican methods of making lime that he incorporated in a quarry and lime business when he returned to El Dorado, Kansas, in 1886.
Moving to Missouri
Dieter moved his family to Sarcoxie in 1886, and around 1900, they moved to Joplin.
His job in Joplin was to supervise stone masonry work on the first office building in town, the Busch building, 410 Main St., later remodeled and renamed the Bartlett building. He partnered with his former apprentice, John Wenzel, to form a company, Dieter & Wenzel.
One of the first Dieter & Wenzel projects was the Carnegie Library at Ninth Street and Wall Avenue in 1902. Joplin architect August Michaelis and Dieter worked on that project, the first of many on which the two men would collaborate over the next 20 years. The work took a year, and the library was accepted by the board and praised in the Globe as "a milestone in the progress of Joplin."
The Elks building at Fourth Street and Pearl Avenue was his next project. The brick-and-stone building was constructed from 1904-05. It boasted "brick fireplaces with smooth dressed limestone ornament, embellished with egg-and-dart patterned limestone molding," which reflected Dieter's skill as a stonemason.
Other projects the company took on were the African Baptist Church on East Seventh Street, toward which Thomas Connor donated $5,000; the Carthage Carnegie Library, for $25,000; and a federal building in Arkansas. All were undertaken in 1904.
Patrick Murphy's Miners bank had been located in the Joplin hotel building at Fourth and Main streets. However, when Connor announced plans to construct a new hotel on the site, the bank commissioned its own building a block west at Fourth Street and Joplin Avenue. Michaelis was the architect, and Dieter & Wenzel were contractors for the $125,000 bank. The stone-and-brick structure was four stories tall and completed in 1905. It was lauded as the largest office building in town at the time. He also built the luxurious Olivia Apartments in 1906 at a cost of $150,000. Next came St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church, which was completed in 1907.
Most famous of his projects was the Connor Hotel. Dieter & Wenzel were awarded the contract to demolish the old Joplin hotel and construct the new one in its place in 1906. They beat out firms from Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City. The contract price was $350,000. It stipulated the new structure was to be completed in a year. It opened on April 12, 1908, as the Connor, named for Thomas Connor.
While he was busy building Joplin's downtown, Dieter's family was active on the social scene. The family was prominent in the Germania Club or Joplin Turnverein Germania. He and his sons sang in the Turner Liederkranz. His daughter Hattie portrayed Columbia on the society's float in the Rex Plumbum and King Jack parade in 1904. Emblematic of the society's esteem for the Dieters, the couple were serenaded by the Liederkranz and given a silver tea service for their 25th wedding anniversary in 1904. Later, he was chair of the regional finance committee for the American-German National Alliance.
He gained more contracts over the next decade. In 1911, he moved what was said to be the oldest building in town, the home of the late Judge Josiah C. Gaston at Third Street and Wall Avenue, to Villa Heights so he could construct a two-story office building in its place. His own offices were in the Independence building while the Independent Powder Co. occupied the rest of it. He built the United Hebrew Temple in 1916. The Dieter & Wenzel partnership dissolved in 1917, and the C.A. Dieter Construction Co. was formed. The company obtained the contract for the new high school at Eighth Street and Joplin Avenue. Construction began in 1916, and the school opened in January 1918.
Other projects he finished were the Scottish Rite Cathedral, the Joplin National Bank (Liberty building), Joplin Supply Co. Ford building, West Central School, St. Peter's Catholic school, and St. John's hospital and annex.
His last project returned to his most famous work. He landed the contract for the Connor annex in 1928. The nine-story annex cost $800,000 and opened to the public in February 1929, when he was 69.
He was 70 years old when he died at his home on March 17, 1930. The Globe memorialized him as the "dean of Joplin builders ... Captain Dieter probably built more buildings, large and small, in Joplin than any other contractor, and his name has been synonymous with Joplin's growth."
Bill Caldwell is the retired librarian at The Joplin Globe. If you have a question you’d like him to research, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message at 417-627-7261.