Joplin’s Jasper County Courthouse once stood on the southeast corner of 7th and Virginia. The following information is taken directly from the Post Art Library’s album Joplin’s Historic Buildings and Houses, which was compiled by former Director Leslie Simpson. If you’d like to see the album proper, then visit the Post Art Library! In the meantime, enjoy…
JASPER COUNTY COURTHOUSE – Joplin, Missouri – Southeast corner of 7th & Virginia
In 1883, the Jasper County presiding judge determined that it was time to build a courthouse–in the center of the Carthage square. Joplin opposed building on in Carthage unless it had one. Several hot meetings ended in violence. One incident involved Joplin founding father Patrick Murphy, who had been “free with his abuse of Carthage men.” Prosecuting Attorney T.B. Haughawout punched Murphy in the face several times, leaving him bashed and bloody.
After the 1883 election failed, the ruckus continued with no resolution in sight. Things heated up again in 1891 with a proposal for two courthouses–one in Joplin and one in Carthage. This time, Webb City caused trouble, arguing that it should have a courthouse, too. Newspapers published scathing editorials suggesting that “such simple-minded business men ought to go to the insane asylum.”
In spite of all the mud-slinging and fist-slinging, the issue finally resolved itself at the polls on May 9, 1893, with the decision to build courthouses in Carthage and Joplin. Two grand halls of justice were erected in 1894. The limestone courthouse in Carthage cost $100,000, while Joplin’s brick/stone one cost a comparatively paltry $20,000.
A crowd of 15,000 turned out for the cornerstone-laying ceremony on May 8, 1894. Fifty-one organizations participated in a festive parade, followed by a round of patriotic speeches. Architect T.R. Bellas designed the impressive structure with its four corner towers, the tallest one standing 92 feet high and crowned with a cupola. The raised basement, contructed of Carthage limestone, house the janitor’s room, four prisoner cells, and the furnace and coal storage area. The first floor held the sheriff’s room, two petit jury rooms, a grand jury room, a large waiting room, and “water closets.” The main stairway led up through the large corner tower. On the second floor, a 16 x 40 feet balcony rose about the 40 x 53 feet courtroom, which seated 400 spectators. Also located on the second floor were the consultation room, circuit clerk’s office, 8 x 8 feet steel vault, jury rooms, and closets.
On June 13, 1911, a can of disinfectant in the basement exploded and engulfed the building in flames. The three people inside at the time jumped to safety from a second floor window. The fire spread so rapidly that firefighters, who could not get sufficient water pressure, could do nothing to stop it. The cupola fell to the street with a crash and the topless tower acted as a funnel to feed the blaze. The entire community turned out to watch the exciting event. Firefighters dynamited the remaining tower to keep it from collapsing and injuring any of the foolhardy spectators. Fortunately, all the important county records, locked in a fireproof safe, survived the blaze.
County offices then moved to7th & Main; in 1917, they moved to the McKinley Building (southeast corner of 5th & Joplin), then to 6th & Pearl in 1954. Once again plagued by fire, this building burned in 1972. The present courthouse on the same site was built in 1975.