The May 22, 2011 Tornado: Chapters Erased from Joplin’s Architectural History
Since I have written much about Joplin’s historic architecture throughout the
years, I feel compelled to say something about it now, in the aftermath of May
22, 2011. It is difficult to comprehend, much less articulate, what has
happened to our beloved Joplin. Also, I hesitate to focus on destruction of
structures, when human life, hopes, and dreams have been shattered.
I will attempt some general (and unofficial) impressions of Joplin’s historic
identity and how this incomprehensible tragedy has affected it. Also, rather
than catalog specific buildings that have been lost, I will focus on three
historic residential areas.
I begin with the historic town of Blendville in southwest Joplin, which was
established in 1876 as “Cox Diggings.” The prosperous little community
incorporated as Blendville, so-named because of the huge amounts of zinc blende
in the ground. Thomas Cunningham owned the residential area, which he divided
into lots and sold at low rates so that miners could afford their own homes.
The city of Joplin extended its streetcar line to Blendville, with lines going
south on Main to 19th Street, west to Byers, south to 21st Street, west to
Murphy, then south to 26th. In 1892, Joplin annexed the village. Thomas
Cunningham donated “Cunningham Grove” as Joplin’s first city park. The tornado
took out most of the original Blendville area, including Cunningham Park and the
historic water plant with some of the original equipment preserved inside.
The next area of historic significance is “Schifferdecker’s First Addition”, a
residential area developed in south Joplin beginning in 1900. The Joplin Globe
referred to the area lying south of 20th Street and fronting on Wall, Joplin,
and Main Street as “a beautiful new addition affording the most desirable
building property” to be found anywhere in the city. A second addition
continued development south of 20th on Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania
Avenues as well as along 21st, 22nd, and 23rd Streets to the east and west. The
residential district continued to expand to the south throughout the teens,
twenties, thirties. The homes in the region ranged from high Victorian styles
to bungalows and eclectic Tudors, Colonial Revivals, Spanish mission, etc.
Tragically, this charming old neighborhood has been wiped out.
After World War II ended, Joplin families faced a housing shortage. Some Camp
Crowder buildings were moved to Joplin, while others were dismantled to provide
construction materials. Hundreds of small efficiency houses were mass-produced
for veterans and financed through FHA. Many of these were built in the
Eastmoreland area. As people prospered in the 1960s and 1970s, they built more
substantial brick homes east and south of the new high school at 20th and
Indiana. Although most people do not think of these homes as historic, they do
have their own place in Joplin’s architectural history, and their loss is
devastating as well.
Entire chapters of Joplin’s history have been forever erased; I grieve deeply
over those missing chapters. I have not even touched on the loss of churches,
schools, medical buildings, and businesses. Again, I am not relating the loss
of our buildings to the loss of our people. I am so proud of Joplin’s new-found
spirit of pride and patriotism, volunteerism and generosity. Those are the
building blocks we need for constructing the new, improved Joplin.