Though damaged by fire twice, Joplin’s first library building still has plenty to offer, including its architectural and historical story, preservationists say.

The building has been listed for sale by the Glenn Group LLC, a commercial real estate firm. The asking price is $489,000.

“It’s a beautiful building,” said commercial real estate broker Luke Gibson of the Glenn company. “The unfortunate fires of 2020 and last June have done quite a bit of damage, but it’s still a gem.”

The more recent fire started in the basement about 5 a.m. June 30, 2022, and climbed through hidden passages it found to damage the north sides of the first and second floors. Combustible materials in the basement fed the intensity of the blaze, started via unknown origin, but possibly by trespassers.

It was the third suspicious fire to damage vacant historic buildings in the downtown area in less than two years.

Though some paneling on those north walls are charred, “when you walk through the building, you can feel like you’re going back in time,” Gibson said, with a central stairway lighted by an atrium or skylight above head.

Limestone or marble mined at Carthage provides the exterior finish over a brick and concrete structure with a zinc roof manufactured in Joplin. It was designed by A.C. Michaelis, a self-trained architect who become regionally famous and designed many of Joplin’s early important buildings and homes.

He and his brother, Alfred, designed and oversaw construction of Joplin’s nearby Memorial Hall.

The library was funded by a $40,000 grant from industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who earned the title “The Father of Modern Philanthropy.” He rose from the child of Scottish immigrants to become the wealthiest man in the world during his time. The corporation that he created in 1911 continues to this day to make philanthropic grants.

Historic preservation authorities say it was one of the earliest libraries in Missouri to be donated by Carnegie. He gave $40 million of his fortune from steelmaking to cities around the nation to pay for more than 1,600 libraries between 1886 and 1919, according to the National Park Service, which maintains the National Register of Historic Places.

The building is listed on the national register as well as the Missouri Places in Peril list. Places in Peril is an annual list of endangered historic places in Missouri compiled by Missouri Preservation, a grassroots organization of preservationists that advocate to save old structures in danger of being lost.

Places on the list are nominated by concerned individuals and decided upon by a committee of preservation advocates, according to information provided by the organization. Local preservationists nominated the building to that list as a way of calling attention to its availability for redevelopment. It was joined by Joplin’s Union Depot, which also is listed for sale by the Glenn Group.

The library was eventually closed after an addition to the building created problems. In the 1960s, a structural analysis determined that the second floor was not capable of supporting the weight of the books on the upper floors. That closed off the use of those floors for book storage and eventually led to the construction of a library at 302 S. Main St. in 1981.

But without the weight of those books, the building is structurally sound, according to a later assessment.

After the Main Street library opened, the contents of the Carnegie building were auctioned, and the building was sold to a private owner who used parts of it for rental apartments.

Jill Halbach, director of the Post Art Library and chairwoman of the Historic Preservation Commission, submitted the building’s nomination to Places in Peril. She said said there are several reasons the building should be saved.

“I think it’s important architecturally speaking, and it is important because it is a Carnegie Library and not every city has a Carnegie library,” said Halbach.

Libraries are important institutions because, “in general, that’s the place where anyone can go to educate or entertain themselves,” she said.

The Downtown Joplin Alliance also would like to save the Carnegie Library. Director Lori Haun said last year that the Carnegie went on the Places in Peril list just a few months before it was damaged by a fire in December 2020.

“We think it’s important,” Haun said recently of the Carnegie Library. “It’s a Carnegie, which is quite unique,” and like the Olivia Building, was a public building that played a role in many people’s lives.

Asked how the building could best be repurposed, Haun said it was probably more suitable as a public destination such as for an educational purpose.

“It has quite a bit of square footage, and apartments are probably not suitable because you don’t want to divide it with too many walls,” Haun said recently. “You would lose part of the building’s structural integrity.”

The alliance can assist in helping to move a project forward,” Haun said Friday. “The DJA can help prospective buyers understand how historic tax credits work and explain other tools for redevelopment.

Information about services and businesses needed in Joplin and in the downtown also is available from the downtown group.

“We will share any information and studies that we have,” she said.

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I am the City Hall reporter but I cover many other stories in our community as well including historic preservation and feature stories about people and places of interest. You can email me at or call me at 417-627-7262.