JOPLIN, Mo. — The construction of Joplin Union Depot, located east of First and Main streets, began in April of 1910. By June 30, 1911, the building was complete.
At 10:30 p.m. that night, it attracted a crowd of more than 2,500 people, cheering on the arrival of the first train into the station – Katy Train No. 83. Fireworks and torpedoes erupted in the sky. The pride Joplin felt was immense.
“Without Union Depot, not just Joplin, but the surrounding areas wouldn’t have been connected to everything else. It was a major transportation hub,” said Post Art Library Executive Director Jill Sullivan. “Without it, we wouldn’t have seen development the way we have seen it.”
Trains arrived and departed from the station for 58 years. But during the 60s, train stations all over the U.S. began to die out.
On November 3, 1969, the last train visited Union Depot. Now, the depot sits idle, fenced off, its walls adorned with graffiti. Hopeful individuals have been trying to save and restore the building for decades with little to no success.
So what’s its story? Why have Union Depot’s many prospects over the years never come to fruition?
Timeline of prospects to save Union Depot
- 1972: Joplin City Council vixes a proposal from the Centennial Commission to restore Union Depot and transform it into a site for the Joplin Museum Complex.
- 1973: Nominated by the Centennial Commission, Union Depot becomes the first building in Joplin to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- 1977: Local property developers Kirk Yocum and Mary Manard ask the city for $70,000 in community development funds to restore the depot; a restaurant is a possibility. Plans fall through.
- 1979: Renaissance Renovation and Development contracts to buy the depot with plans to develop it as a restaurant and retail center; unable to secure enough investors.
- 1980: The depot is sold to Innovative Management and Investment Inc. Restoration fails.
- 1983: Joplin couple Larry and Linda Fullerton buy the depot.
- 1984: The city tags the building as a dangerous structure due to vandals and more. The doors are boarded up and demolition is postponed.
- 1986: The non-profit Joplin Union Depot Restoration is formed to promote the depot’s preservation.
- 1986: Wentworth resident and member of Joplin Union Depot Restoration Nancy Allman acquires the building and seeks public and private funds for restoration.
- “Mrs. Allman told the council she believed the renovated building would attract many residents to Joplin and benefit the entire community,” said Susan Redden, Globe City Hall Writer, 1986.
- It is estimated to be a $1.2 million project. Allman receives $125,000 in Community Development funds, to be made available after all other financing is obtained.
- 1986-89: Glenn Construction Co. begins cleanup and exterior work on the building. More progress on the building is made.
- 1989: Allman is sued by contractor David Glenn, who says Allman has not made payments on work he has completed. Allman files a countersuit saying he damaged the building and is overcharging her.
- 1991: Missouri Department of Natural Resources, who lent Allman $175,000, wants to foreclose the property after another failed attempt at restoration. Subcontractors, who filed claims that they had not been paid for work, win court action to stall the foreclosure sale.
- 1992: Records do not reflect the rest of the funding was ever actually secured by Allman.
- 1998: With the highest and only bid of $175,000, the Department of Natural Resources was granted ownership of the building after unsuccessfully trying to sell it at auction. They fence it off and begin clean up in hopes of selling it in the future.
- 1999: Brian Marlow, executive director of Main Street Joplin, makes an offer to the Historic Preservation Office to purchase the building. The offer is approved and Marlow is given one year to purchase the building. The building is never purchased.
- 2010: Coming full circle, city manager Mark Rohr proposes that Union Depot house the Joplin Museum Complex. Council members authorize the expenditure of up to $25,000 to develop further plans. Plans do not develop.
About the building
Union Depot is the size of a city block, made with cutting edge materials, designed ahead of its time. The building features a “particularly innovative construction technique,” according to its National Register of Historic Places nomination form. The structure is fireproof, built of reinforced concrete with wooden doors and window frames.
The depot was designed by Kansas City architect Louis Curtiss. Curtiss designed more than 200 structures, but Union Depot established his reputation as a “pioneer in fireproof concrete construction,” states Joplin Union Depot 1, published by Joplin Public Library.
The structure was even featured in the January 1912 edition of Popular Mechanics for its use of mining waste in the structure’s concrete.
Leading up to Union Depot was a covered walkway, or “Port Cochere.” Eight terminal tracks led into the station, and 800-foot long train sheds sheltered boarding passengers.
The building “features a central two-story core of approximately 90 square feet with two 62-foot wide single-story wings, one extending to the north 96 feet and the other to the south 99 feet,” according to the nomination form.
When in use, the central area consisted of waiting rooms, restrooms, a ticket office, telegraph office and newsstand. The building also featured a restaurant, dining rooms and coffee shop, as well as a “Men’s Smoking Room” and a “Retiring Room-Ladies Only.”
“As it stands now, time is its biggest threat, as it cannot go on indefinitely, especially because it’s open to the elements,” said Sullivan.
Currently, Sullivan is working on nominating Joplin Union Depot for Missouri Preservation’s 2021 Places in Peril list.
To help save Union Depot, Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation suggests the following:
- “Spread the word about these properties especially those in need of a new owner. By encouraging the public outreach process we may be able to identify a future owner to save these places.
- If you have creative reuse ideas, a rehabilitation resource or know of a potential buyer, please contact Missouri Preservation.
- Contact your Senator’s office to voice support for maintaining Missouri’s State Historic Tax Credits and support for the re-authorization of the Historic Preservation Fund (H.R. 2817)”
Sources: Joplin Public Library, Joplin Union Depot 1, Joplin Globe, National Register of Historic Places nomination form