East Town Phase II: Uncovering “Original Joplin’s” untold history

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Representatives with Keenoy Preservation and the Joplin Historic Preservation Commission hold a public meeting Thursday night to discuss furthering the East Town Preservation Project

“Nobody knows your neighborhood better than you do.”

These were the powerful words spoken by Ruth Keenoy as she met with Joplin residents in the Empire Market building Thursday night. 

The goal was to dive deeper into East Town’s rich history — commonly known to locals as the “Original Joplin.”

Keenoy, who specializes in architectural preservation, was hired to conduct the second phase of the project.

Phase I focused on the north side of Broadway. Now it was time for the south side. That area includes Washington School, Shiloh Baptist Church, and Empire Market. 

Empire Market
Washington School, located in the heart of Joplin’s East Town

“You have more time to expand that and maybe bring in some things that the Phase I survey didn’t,” said Keenoy. 

Although this project has taken years of planning and preparation by the Joplin Historic Preservation Commission, nothing could have prepared the Commission for what kind of information would make its way through the door that night.

One resident, Linda Duncan, shared her story about her great-great-grandparents, who moved to Joplin from Canada in 1870.

The couple, who had 15 children, were devout Catholics. But at the time, there was no place to worship.

Until the family opened up their East Town home — often having roughly 200 people camp out around Galena Avenue when it came time for mass. 

“They eventually got a church,” Duncan explained.

A church that would later expand to become St. Peter’s Catholic Church in 1877.

But that wasn’t the only story praised by historians Thursday night. 

Irene Carr, a long-time resident of East Town, shared the story of her father, who started the congregation of Shiloh Baptist Church. 

East Town resident Irene Carr tells the story of how her father started a local congregation that is now more than 100 years old

C.W. Watkins started the church with only a handful of people and a passion for community .

“Our church anniversary last year was 103,” said Carr. 

103 years of Carr’s family pouring their hearts and souls into its expansion, from its origins with her father to her own regular attendance today. 

But, despite the great deal of information Thursday’s meeting revealed, Keenoy adds that there’s still so much more left to learn about East Town.

“I’m really looking forward to learning more about the churches and their impact on the community,” said Keenoy.

Phase II of the East Town Preservation will continue on throughout the next several months, with Keenoy Preservation presenting their findings later this spring. 

The geographical area currently being surveyed spans from Murphy Boulevard to St. Louis Avenue, capped by the north side of 4th Street and south side of Broadway. 

Organizers with the Historic Preservation Commission add that areas like Ewert Park and local cemeteries are next on the list to be surveyed.

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