2014 May

Greetings! from Joplin, Missouri

Recall days bygone when travelers documented their journeys and friends shared status updates via postcard. Imagine, if you will, that hundreds–perhaps thousands–of such cards were published to promote Joplin and its development. Imagine no more: the Joplin Public Library’s digitized collection features a touch over 500 such historical postcards. An array of subjects range from buildings to churches to eateries to lodging to mining to parks to recreation to schools and so on. Along with the postcards are their descriptions. Leslie Simpson, Director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, wrote the details that accompany each postcard included in the digitized collection. I recently met with Leslie to ask a few questions…

Jill’s questions/comments are in bold,
whereas Leslie’s are not.

How did you become involved in this project?
Carolyn Trout, who was the director of the Joplin Public Library at the time, wanted to do a digitization project. The postcard collection is a part of that project. It was a collaboration among the public library and the Post Library.

Who provided the postcards? Did you put out a call for postcards or seek collections that you knew existed?
We put out a newspaper notice inviting people to share their postcards. Brad Belk [of the Joplin Museum Complex] allowed us to go through the museum’s collection. Some were bought on Ebay. We also sought out people who had collections and asked to borrow them.

How many postcards did you all have to choose from?
We started with 1,000 and narrowed it down to a little over 500.

Your primary role was to write the postcards’ descriptions. How long did you conduct research and how so?
At least a year. I worked hard to specify the date of each image. Each postcard has a publisher’s code. I researched these codes to determine when they were in use and to date the cards. And I was able to date cards by the cost of postage at the time or by each card’s style and type.

When you were going through the postcards, which were the most interesting?
My favorites were the postcards with inscriptions, anything personal. One of the mining ones that I can remember had an arrow drawn to the mine with “This is how we make our money” written nearby.

What do you think it says about Joplin that such a plethora of postcards documents its development?
Well, Joplin WAS the most happening place in Missouri at the turn of the century! There was so much excitement about the fortunes to be made, not just in mining but in all the services to go along with that–dynamite companies, machinery works, hardware stores, grocery stores, etc. People came from all over the US to get in on the action. Postcards were also marketing tools–Joplin civic leaders could show off what Joplin had to offer. Theaters, churches, libraries, public buildings, etc.

Why do you think it’s important to preserve this collection for posterity?
There’s so much history there that’s not really in the history books. The parks, for instance. They were resort areas and amusement parks unlike anything we’ve ever seen. We get a glimpse into how people lived. The downtown scenes are fascinating snapshots into everyday life. We get to travel back in time!

Indeed we do: http://www.joplinpubliclibrary.org/digitized/postcards.php






Inside Joplin’s Carnegie Library

In the early nineteen-hundreds, Joplinites appealed to the philanthropic sensibility of one Andrew Carnegie, who granted Joplin $40,000 to establish a public library. (You may read of the details of this endeavor on the Historic Joplin website: http://www.historicjoplin.org/?p=98.) From the National Register of Historic Places’ 1977-79 inventory of Joplin’s Carnegie, I gather that its interior is quite impressive. Some features include the main entry’s original molded tin ceiling, oak flooring, doors, stairways and molded oak door frames, as well as a turned spindle balustrade which ascends from a columnar newel post, topped with carved, laurel garlands that rests beneath an egg and dart molding. The Library was arranged symmetrically around the central stairwell on all three levels.

Completed in 1902, the Carnegie’s original main level floor included the Librarian’s Desk, the stacks, a general reading area and a high school room. On the second floor were the Ladies’ Reading Room, the Fine Arts Room, a general reading room, an inactive storage room and the toilets. The basement housed the Men’s Reading Room, the stacks, a storage room and the boiler room. A 1916 addition brought a Children’s Library to the basement and offices and more room for the stacks on the main floor. The photographs following are likely from the early 1900s:

Librarians' Desk
Librarians’ Desk

By the mid 1960s, the library’s staff was advised to use the upper level for nothing more than a reading room, as structural specifications did not meet the requirements of a heavy book load. In addition to this problem, the heating and ventilating system needed upgrading, as did the plumbing and electrical systems. Thus the Joplin Public Library outgrew its Carnegie upbringing and sought relocation.

In 1981, the library moved to a new location and the Joplin Carnegie Library was sold to the International Institute of Technology, to whom it still belongs.

By 2001, the former library’s Children’s Room, Librarians’ Desk and Reference Room appeared as follows, respectively:

Presently, Joplin’s Carnegie Library building sits on its corner at 9th Street and Wall Avenue, where its future remains unknown. Over the decades it’s undergone changes aplenty, most of which are not aligned with maintaining the building’s historical integrity, such as acoustic ceilings, paneling and partitions. Yet another saddening and maddening narrative of yet another building listed with the National Register of Historic Places (which is a story of intrigue in and of itself) that, apparently, is being allowed to deteriorate into disrepair.

Finally, a comparison: Librarians’ Desk, early 1900s / Librarians’ Desk, 2001: