osborne cemetery

A Brief History of Osborne Cemetery

May is Preservation Month! As such, we’re sharing brief histories of Joplin, Missouri’s four city-owned cemeteries; this is part two of four in the series.

Contrary to popular belief, the Jesse F. Osborne Memorial Cemetery, henceforth referred to simply as Osborne Cemetery, was not open to the public any earlier than 1938. Osborne Cemetery became the City of Joplin’s third public, city-owned cemetery, with Fairview Cemetery being its first (1873) and Parkway Cemetery being its second (1933).

In 1931, Joe H. Myers, then Commissioner of Public Property and Public Utilities, realized that Fairview Cemetery would soon be full and considered plans for establishing a new cemetery on the new cemetery tract that ran along the east and west sides of McClelland park road. This cemetery tract eventually became two cemeteries—Parkway (east) and Osborne (west). Although this tract of land is commonly thought to have been donated to the city by the Osborne family, it was, in fact, purchased by the city during one of former Mayor Jesse F. Osborne’s administrations, around 1922.

In the early 1930s, the city began developing the McClelland park road cemetery tracts, with Parkway Cemetery opening in 1933. Although preparations were being made as early as 1935 to open Osborne Cemetery, it wasn’t until 1937 that Council began seeking a name for the new cemetery. In 1938, Council announced that the new city cemetery was named the Jesse F. Osborne Memorial Cemetery in his honor because “the tract of land converted into the cemetery was purchased by the city while Osborne was mayor and he promoted the project.” They announced, too, that the newly-named, city-owned Osborne Cemetery was now, finally, open for public use.

In early 1939, soldiers’ plots were dedicated for the American Legion, the United Spanish War Veterans, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. By mid-1939, the WPA (formerly FERA) was still working on the cemetery’s stone wall and entrance. In 1940, The Robert S. Thurman American Legion Post and George Klingman donated a 75-foot flagpole to be placed in the cemetery.

Osborne Cemetery has an extensive military section, with veterans of varying ranks who served in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Additionally, members of the Masons, Oddfellows, the Order of the Eastern Star, Shriners, and Woodsman are interred at Osborne. Uniquely, Osborne has a “Babyland” monument.

Interestingly, Osborne Cemetery records list the earliest burials in 1852, 1854, 1857, 1875, and 1877, prior to the time the tract was developed as a cemetery. All other burials in the cemetery, however, took place from 1938—the year which Osborne was, in fact, established as a city-owned cemetery—onward. It’s not uncommon for cemeteries to be developed in an area where older burials took place, which could explain the existence of gravesites dated prior to the time Osborne was developed.  

In 2018-19, a subcommittee of the Joplin Historic Preservation Commission conducted an architectural survey of all four of Joplin’s city-owned cemeteries. Also, they researched and wrote nominations for the cemeteries to be included on the city’s Local Landmark/Historic Sites list. Although the nominations were submitted in summer 2019, the commission awaits a fresh survey of one of the cemetery sites before the nominations can move to the next phase of the Local Landmark nomination process. Click HERE to view the nomination in its entirety, including supporting documentation.

“BABYLAND” monument in Joplin’s Osborne Cemetery. Photo: Paula Callihan

Contributed by Jill Sullivan, Post Art Library Director, Joplin Historic Preservation Commission Chairperson, and Missouri Preservation Board Member