At the turn of the last century, when people wanted to relax and escape the heat and drudgery of the work week, creeks, rivers and lakes were the preferred destinations. One of the most distinctive spots in the county was Castle Rock.

Castle Rock is a rock formation located on Turkey Creek just east of the current St. Louis Avenue bridge. The name is an old one, having been identified as such as far back as the 1840s when John Cox’s children attended the Franklin school, located on the hilltop near Castle Rock not far from the old Schifferdecker Garden.

On March 7, 1876, Charles Schifferdecker opened up his Schifferdecker Garden located along Turkey Creek about a quarter-mile east of Castle Rock. Joel Livingston described it as a “popular picnic ground and pleasure resort.” What Livingston does not record in his 1912 history is that Schifferdecker operated his Turkey Creek Brewery on the site. Earlier he had partnered with Edward Zelleken in Baxter Springs, where Zelleken operated a brewery. Schifferdecker moved to Joplin to establish his own operation. The beer garden was a natural addition to the brewery. At that time, the temperance movement had not yet made significant inroads into the area’s social scene.

The city’s Fourth of July celebration in 1876 was held at Castle Rock. The trees along the banks of Turkey Creek provided just the right amount of shade for picnics. The creek was perfect for swimmers. And Schifferdecker Garden was close by with refreshments.

The Turkey Creek valley was prospected by miners all through the latter decades of the 1800s, though there were not the extensive diggings as were later conducted along Joplin Creek. It was home to many migrant miners who camped out in tents. Families residing in tents were common. As late as 1910, Castle Rock was a camping site for a family traveling by covered wagon for reasons of the wife’s health. Unfortunately, one of their twin boys, aged 2, knocked over a boiling kettle on a campfire and died a few hours later from burns he suffered.

The next year, an elderly couple who lived in a tent at Castle Rock appeared before the county physician, A.K. Baker, to ask for help. The husband had “acute rheumatism” and had not been able to work. His wife had lost her employment and could not support him. Between heat and some inclement damp weather, his suffering led him to ask to be enrolled in the county farm for a short time in hopes of returning to his “home.”

Introducing the streetcar

When A.H. Rogers extended his streetcar line into Joplin from Webb City, the route he chose went from the car barn in Webb City, south on Range Line Road to Oakland just north of Zora, where it angled southwest to Castle Rock, along the line of what is now Euclid Avenue. It bridged Turkey Creek and proceeded to the trolley barn constructed on the hilltop on the south side of the creek. It was the main line for points north and east out of Joplin.

Then, as now, entrepreneurs recognized opportunities delivered on streetcars. Rogers first purchased 10 acres at Castle Rock and built a small park in 1890. The streetcar line provided easy access, and the park became a destination in itself. It was named Midway Park, as it was midway on the streetcar line between Carthage and Galena. While successful, there were limits to how much it could expand. In 1895, Rogers established the much larger Lakeside Park east of Carterville along Center Creek, which could accommodate larger crowds and offer more recreational opportunities than Midway. Lakeside grew to become the preferred park while Midway declined, though it still attracted people. Some of those frequenting the Castle Rock area were noisier than others, as reported in a Globe account from 1905.

Leslie Simpson’s caption on the Castle Rock postcard reads: “On Aug. 26, 1905, Joplin police arrested seven young men and women after complaints from neighbors to the east of Midway Park. The Joplin Globe lamented the ‘growing disposition on the part of the East Joplin gay set to make Midway Park a place of rendezvous for daring spirits whose boisterous revelries disturb the peace and quiet of the neighborhood.’ Evidently some things never change — teenagers will always aggravate the older folks.”

Recreation wasn’t the only opportunity around Castle Rock. In 1907, the village of Royal Heights was incorporated north of Turkey Creek. Real estate companies such as the Moore Realty Co. sold home building lots in the valley. Ads in the Globe, News Herald and Morning Tribune in 1910 touted the Castle Rock Addition. Approximately 800 50-foot lots with graded and graveled streets were available. With 75 cents down and 75 cents a week, and no interest with no payments required when sick, the lots were a great deal.

In addition, the Southwest Missouri Railroad ran six cars each way every hour for a 5-cent car fare; the trolley made it only seven minutes to Fourth and Main. The trolley made suburban living a reality for people with steady employment. As houses sprang up, the papers added society columns for Castle-Royal Heights with news of basket lunches, youth group socials and picnics along the banks of Turkey Creek. Castle Rock continued to be the destination for those wanting a few hours of rest and relaxation.

Bill Caldwell is the librarian at The Joplin Globe. If you have a question you’d like him to research, send an email to wcaldwell@joplinglobe.com or leave a message at 417-627-7261.