MISSOURI LEGENDS: Joplin – A Lead Mining Maven (Legends of America – August 2015)

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When traveling Route 66, the path from Webb City to Joplin is seamless, as Webb City has virtually become a suburb of its larger sister city.

Joplin, Missouri, the self-touted lead mining capital of the world, was first settled by the Reverend Harris G. Joplin in 1839. The minister held church services in his home for other area pioneers long before the city of Joplin was ever formed. Before the Civil War, lead was discovered in the Joplin Creek Valley; but, mining operations were interrupted by the war.

In 1870, a large lead strike occurred which brought many miners to the area and numerous mining camps sprang up. Soon, a man named John C. Cox filed a town site plan on the east side of the valley which was quickly populated by a number of new businesses. The town was named for Joplin Creek, which was called such, after the Reverend Harris G. Joplin.

Soon afterwards, a Carthage resident named Patrick Murphy filed another town plan on the west side of the valley, calling it Murphysburg. Before long, a fierce rivalry sprang up between the two towns, but before it could get out of hand, the Missouri State General Assembly combined the municipalities in 1873. That same year, the city of Joplin incorporated. Today, Murphysburg is a residential historic district of Joplin. It encompasses Sergeant Avenue from First Street to Seventh Street and Moffet Avenue from First Street to Fourth Street.

With the large influx of miners, Joplin became a wild town, filled with saloons, dance halls, gambling establishments, and brothels — so much so, that press referred to the city as being in the midst of a “Reign of Terror.” However, the riches of the mining fields also drew investors and speculators and a need for a banking institution was obvious.

Though Patrick Murphy had lost his bid for the new city of Murphysburg, he saw opportunity and stepped up to the plate, forming the Banking House of Patrick Murphy in 1875. Situated in a 2-story brick building on Main Street between Second and Third Streets, his enterprise was a huge success. By 1880, the city had grown to more than 7,000 people.

While Joplin was first put on the map by lead, it was zinc, often referred to as “jack,” that built the town. With the railroads passing through the area, Joplin was on the verge of dramatic growth. What began as a simple mining town was soon filled with smelters, mines, large homes, businesses, and the ever present saloons, the most popular of which, was the House of Lords, which featured a bar and restaurant on its first floor, gambling on the second, and a brothel on the third floor. The building still stands today.

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