Southern graduates create Joplin history Web site

Using the knowledge he gained as a history major, a Missouri Southern graduate is bringing Joplin’s history into focus.

Ross Brown, a 2003 graduate, and his fiancé have teamed up to create www.historicjoplin.org, a Web site detailing the history of Joplin that many are unaware of.

“It’s cataloguing a history of Joplin that otherwise would be ignored,” Brown said. “That’s one of the goals of our Web site, to give a presence to people who would have been skipped over.”

Since starting in February, Brown has posted 16 entries to the site, detailing everything from fights at the former House of Lords, a notorious watering hole and brothel that once stood at Fourth and Main Streets, to Chinese immigrants who settled in the area. After moving to Missouri in 2000 from California, Brown became interested in the old buildings, and learned about well-known landmarks no longer standing, like the Connor Hotel. The hotel collapsed in 1978, but a piece of the façade is displayed outside the Spiva Art Gallery on campus.

“There are little hints to Joplin’s history all around town,” Brown said.

Brown and his fiancé have collected old post cards and researched newspapers on microfilm to provide content and images for the site. They also frequent other historical websites and have read books on the area’s past.

“I’m ashamed to admit I’ve paid more than $50, but less than $100 for a post card to get a picture of old Joplin,” Brown said.

The appointment of Ellen Ayers in 1906 as police matron is one of Brown’s favorite posts on the site.

“In the immediate years following 1900, Joplin continued to aggressively expand with more mines, more buildings, more wealth, and more vice,” the Web site reads. “Back alley crap shoots, billiard halls, saloons, bars and brothels were common sights. Just like mining towns in the American West, Joplin had its shared of soiled doves.”

Ayers, who was 64 at the time, was charged with looking after female prisoners, Brown said.

“They go interview her a week after the job and she’s shocked by the women she’s encountered who have been arrested,” he said. “Most of them are prostitutes and she found out they are addicted to cocaine and morphine. That’s what I like about it, this is a person who’s history would otherwise be lost.”

It is stories such as that which illustrate Joplin’s rich history, Brown said. According to him, Joplin’s early days were much like towns in the West, with violence and rowdy behavior. The combination of “common people” like miners and prostitutes and those who accumulated great wealth from the mines, Brown said, show what a dynamic town Joplin was.

“You had these people who were trying to make Joplin this classy place,” he said. “They’re trying to bring luxury and then you have the rough and tough people living there too, and they made this really great combination of history.”

Brown hopes to reach 20 posts for the site by the end of the month, and wants to build a larger following for the Web site.

“They’ll be able to go to the Web site and walk down Main Street and see it in a different light,” he said.

Brown invites anyone with a photo, a story other other piece of Joplin history to contact him at [email protected]