Joplin… a community of progress

Joplin is a community in southern Jasper County and northern Newton County in the southwestern corner of Missouri. It is the largest city in Jasper County, though it is not the county seat. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 50,150. In 2010, the surrounding Metropolitan Statistical Area had an estimated population of 175,518.

Name comes from Rev. Joplin

Although often believed to have been named for the ragtime composer Scott Joplin, who lived in Sedalia, Mo., Joplin is named for the Rev. Harris Joplin, an early settler and the founder of the area’s first Methodist congregation. Joplin was established in 1873 and expanded significantly from the wealth created by the mining of zinc; its growth faltered after World War II when the price of the mineral collapsed. The city gained travelers as Route 66 passed through it; with “Joplin, Missouri” among the lyrics to Bobby Troup’s legendary song, immortalizing the city among others on the famous highway.

Mining camps play big role

Lead was discovered in the Joplin Creek Valley before the Civil War but it was only after the war that significant development took place. By 1871, numerous mining camps sprang up in the valley and resident John C. Cox filed a plan for a city on the east side of the valley.  Cox named his village Joplin City after the spring and creek nearby, which had been named for the Rev. Joplin, who settled upon its banks about 1840. Carthage resident Patrick Murphy filed a plan for a city on the opposite side of the valley and named it Murphysburg. While the nearest sheriff was in Carthage, frontier lawlessness abounded in Joplin. The historic period was referred to as the “Reign of Terror.” The cities eventually merged into Union City, but when the merger was found illegal, the two cities split. Murphy suggested that a combined city be named Joplin. The cities merged again on March 23, 1873, this time permanently, as the City of Joplin.

Zinc most important resource

While Joplin was first settled for lead mining, zinc, often referred to as “jack,” was the most important mineral resource. As railroads were built to connect Joplin to major markets in other cities, it was on the verge of dramatic growth. By the start of the 20th Century, the city was becoming a regional metropolis. Construction centered around Main Street, with many bars, hotels, and fine homes nearby. Joplin’s three-story “House of Lords” was its most famous saloon, with a bar and restaurant on the first floor, gambling on the second and a brothel on the third. Trolley and rail lines made Joplin the hub of southwest Missouri. As the center of the “Tri-state district”, it soon became the lead and zinc mining capital of the world. As a result of extensive surface and deep mining, Joplin is dotted with open pitt mines and mine shafts. Mining left many tailings piles (small hills of ground rock), which are considered unsightly locally. The open pit mines pose both hazards, but some find them to have a kind of beauty as well. The main part of Joplin is nearly 75 percent undermined, with some mine shafts well over 100 feet (30m) deep. These mine shafts have occasionally caved in, creating sinkholes. The mining history and geology are well documented in the mineral museum in town. Joplin began to add cultural amenities; in 1902 residents passed a tax to create a public library, and gained matching funds that enabled them to build the Carnegie Library. It was seen as the symbol of a thriving city. In 1930 the grand commercial Electric Theater was built, one of the many movie palaces of the time. It was later purchased and renamed the Fox by Fox Theatre Corporation.