by Johnny Joo
We were a couple days into exploring Route 66, and were now on our way into Picher, Oklahoma when we passed through the town of Joplin, Missouri. I can’t remember why, but we had ended up making a quick detour from 66, and passed through the center of Joplin. In the distance, we noticed an interesting looking structure, seemingly abandoned. We pulled down a hill, and into the lot where it sat. Sure enough, we were greeted by a large, vacant concrete structure with the name “Joplin” carved into the facade. We had somewhat accidentally discovered the former Joplin Union Depot. The architecture was brilliant, and it was clear that this building held some important history for locals, as well as the surrounding communities.
Construction of the Joplin Union Depot started in April of 1910. The building was completed by June 30, 1911, and attracted a crowd of more than 2,500 people to cheer the arrival of the first train into the station – Katy Train No. 83. The depot was officially opened on July 1, 1911.
What really makes this structure interesting is how it was constructed, or more so with what materials. The depot was designed by Canadian-born architect Louis Curtiss, who had also designed stations for the Santa Fe Railroad in Kansas and Texas. The depot was featured in the January 1912 edition of Popular Mechanics for its use of mining waste in the concrete that made up the structure.
The depot was served by a number of railroads over 58 years of service. The Kansas City Southern Railway, and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad were just a couple railroads that ran through Joplin. On November 4, 1969, service was ended as the last train, the Southern Belle visited the station one last time before finally retiring in Kansas City. The depot has since then sat empty and quiet, deteriorating with the passing of time.
The structure still stands a chance for development within the next 10 years before it is truly at risk. There have been many ideas for its use, with some organizations hoping to save it through renovation, though nothing has been settled or agreed upon. It would take a large investment, and a dedicated developer to step in and save the depot. Many people hope to keep the history of Joplin’s Union Depot alive for future generations. I hope to see this structure come back to life.