One of the myths that dogged Joplin boosters in the first two decades of the last century was that the city was nothing more than an overgrown mining camp — a transient, flash-in-the-pan town, sure to be abandoned if the lead and zinc mines played out.
Boosters looked for all kinds of counters to this myth. The wealth of its residents, its railroad connections, new commercial buildings and factories, and the number of churches and social clubs active in the city all were touted as signs of its permanence. Another signal that people came to put down roots in Joplin was the growth of suburbs.
The city had developed from two distinct towns on either side of Joplin Creek: Murphysburg and Joplin City. They were small and little more than glorified mining camps in 1873 when the two merged to become Joplin. Little camps around the various diggings along Joplin Creek and scattered around the town were often little more than tent cities with perhaps a farmstead building as the most substantial structure.
For example, the mining camp of Cox's Diggings grew up in what is now southwest Joplin along West 26th Street in 1876. It was little more than diggings and miners' tents, though Thomas Cunningham's 40-acre farm became the nucleus of a settlement.
Cunningham subdivided his farm and sold the lots to miners. In 1880, the community that sprang up around the farm became known as Blendville, named for "blende," the name for zinc sulfide ore. Its main street was Stump Avenue, which later became Joplin's 26th Street.
As the streetcar line was extended down Main Street and southwest to Blendville, the city and village were tied together. In 1892, Joplin annexed Blendville, the first of many subsequent annexations. Cunningham donated 7 acres of "Cunningham's Grove" for the first city park in 1898.
The next residential development took place on the north side of the city. The Granby Mining and Smelting Co. sold land north of B Street to F Street and west of Main to Gray Avenue to the city in 1891. Known as North Heights, it was home to numerous prominent families. Its booster club was influential in those early decades. The streetcar line went through North Heights on its way west, which provided excellent connections.
The Granby company sold 40 acres west of North Heights to the Roanoke Realty Co. in 1907. The company catered to the newly wealthy with larger homes on winding streets. It gained the nickname "Snob Hill."
The Southwest Missouri Railway's mainline from Webb City to Joplin provided the first streetcar subdivision. The line south from Webb City left Range Line Road to head southwest, crossing Turkey Creek into East Joplin.
The Moore Realty Co. was first to promote Castle Rock lots, named for the streetcar park at the Turkey Creek bridge next to Castle Rock. Lots ranging from $50 to $350 were sold for 75 cents down and 75 cents a month (about $21.45 in 2020 dollars) with no taxes for two years. It could be paid off in nine years.
The company extolled the convenience of 10 minutes to either town with a 5-cent streetcar fare and cars running every 10 minutes. A reminder that times could be tough was an ad in 1910 promising old customers who quit paying during and after the Panic of 1907 that they would be given full credit for all they had paid — if they resumed payments. No back payments were required.
Castle Rock became part of Royal Heights as it incorporated as a village. It established its own water supply, graded its streets and sent children to the Oakland School. The Conqueror Trust Co. promoted lot sales in the mid-1910s. It, too, had a booster club, though it was not part of Joplin until 1929.
On the west side of town was Chitwood in what is now the vicinity of A and Schifferdecker. Named after Stephen Chitwood, who settled "on a tract of wild land which now constitutes the eighth ward of Joplin," it became a mining camp and then a village. The Southwest Missouri Railway's northwest line ended in Chitwood. Joplin annexed the village in 1908. The Electric Park, later Schifferdecker Park, on the south side of the village was a major attraction for new residents.
On the east side of Joplin, east of Moonshine Hill (Seventh and Highland), was Villa Heights. It boasted two rail lines, Missouri Pacific and Frisco, going through the village as well as the Southwest Missouri Belt Line heading east. Range Line Road was its eastern border. It had been incorporated into Joplin prior to 1905. Property sales emphasized the healthful location, good air and water. The Villa Heights Booster Club may not have been the largest of the clubs, but it made its voice heard in city council and community forums.
Further east along the Southwest Missouri Belt Line was Duquesne. Owner A.H. Rogers let Realtor A.B. McConnell name the trolley station constructed around 1912. He called it Duquesne (ads included a pronunciation guide). Duquesne was the garden spot of the county in McConnell's ads. He advertised "artistic suburban homes" and building restrictions. Truck gardening was an easy occupation as the land was so fertile. An oak forest gave bucolic sylvan settings for new houses. The new Belt Line, which connected Joplin to Duenweg, completed the trolley's eastern loop. It gave easy access to Joplin, Duenweg, Prosperity, Carterville, Webb City and Carthage.
Access to the extensive streetcar system tied the suburbs to Joplin in those first two decades of the last century while giving individuals opportunities for home ownership. While the city expanded to annex most of them, those same suburbs tended to mark the limits of the city's borders until after the post-World War II recovery.
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.