Joplin is a city in southern Jasper County and northern Newton County in the southwestern corner of the US state of Missouri.
Although often believed to have been named for the ragtime composer Scott Joplin, who lived in Sedalia, Missouri, Joplin is named for Reverend Harris Joplin, an early settler and the founder of the area’s first Methodist congregation.
Joplin was established in 1873 and expanded significantly from the wealth created by the mining of zinc; its growth faltered after World War II when the price of the mineral collapsed.
The city gained travelers as Route 66 passed through it; “Joplin, Missouri” is among the lyrics to Bobby Troup’s legendary song, immortalizing the city among others on the famous highway.
While Joplin was first settled for lead mining, zinc, often referred to as “jack”, was the mineral resource on which the town built its economy. As railroads connected Joplin to major markets in other cities, it was on the verge of dramatic growth.
By the turn of the century, the city was becoming a regional metropolis. Construction centered around Main Street, with many bars, hotels, and fine homes nearby. Joplin’s three-story “House of Lords” was its most famous saloon, with a bar and restaurant on the first floor, gambling on the second, and a brothel on the third.
Trolley and rail lines made Joplin the hub of southwest Missouri and, as the center of the “Tri-state district”, it soon became the lead and zinc mining capital of the world.
In 1933 during the Great Depression, the notorious criminals Bonnie and Clyde spent some weeks in Joplin, where they robbed several area businesses. Tipped off by a neighbor, the Joplin Police Department attempted to apprehend the pair. Bonnie and Clyde escaped after killing Newton County Constable John Wesley Harryman and Joplin Police Detective Harry McGinnis; however, they were forced to leave most of their possessions behind.
After World War II, most of the mines were closed, and population growth leveled off. The main road through Joplin running east and west was designated as part of US Route 66, which became famous as more Americans took to newly constructed highways. The roads provided improved access between cities but also drew off population to newer housing and eventually retail centers.
In the 1960s and 1970s, nearly 40 acres (16 hectares) of the city’s downtown were razed in an attempt at urban renewal, as population and businesses had moved to a suburban fringe along newly constructed highways.
The Connor and Keystone hotels were notable historic structures that were demolished, as was the Liberty Building. Christman’s Department Store stands but is abandoned, as is the Joplin Union Depot, since railroad restructuring and the decline in passenger traffic led to its closure.
Other notable historic structures in Joplin include the Carnegie Library, Fred and Red’s Diner, the House of Lords, the Frisco Depot, the Scottish Rite Cathedral, and the Crystal Cave (filled in and used for a parking lots).
On May 6, 1971, Joplin was struck by a severe tornado, resulting in one death and 50 injuries, along with major damage to many houses and businesses.
On May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado first touched down near the western edge of the city among large, newer homes, at about 5:41 pm CDT and tracked eastward across the city and across Interstate 44 into rural portions of Newton and Lawrence counties.
It was reported to have been about 0.75 miles (1.21 km) in width and 22.1 miles (35.6 km) long. About 8,000 houses, 18,000 cars, and 450 businesses were flattened or blown away in Joplin, particularly in the section between 13th and 32nd Streets across the southern part of the city.
The tornado narrowly missed the downtown area.
Total of 158 people died from tornado-related injuries as of the end of June, 2011.