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Historic Postcard of Downtown Webb City, MO

Starting as a mining camp, the meteoric growth of Webb

City, Missouri reached a population of more than 15,000 people in a period of
about twenty-five years. Webb City
occupied the central district of the largest lead and zinc mining area in the
world. More than 100,000 people lived in
the immediate area of the Webb City district.
This included the city of Joplin.

While plowing a field on his farm one June morning in 1873,
John C. Webb’s plow hit a considerable sized rock causing his mules to come to
an abrupt stop. Upon inspection of the
sizable boulder, he discovered that he had found pure lead ore. While Webb knew the value of what he had
uncovered, he pondered the discovery and continued to plant and cultivate his
corn crop for the year.

In 1874, Webb tried his hand at mining. As soon as he would dig just few feet deep,
the mine-shaft would promptly fill with water.
After he ordering a large pump and with the help of his prized mules, he
was able to unearth a chunk of lead ore weighing more than 1000 pounds. After discovering that mining was a laborious
task with a continual race with water, he decided to hire experienced men to
lease his land on a royalty basis. This
wise decision caused him to become the first millionaire in the area and the
great mining boom of the Webb City area occurred. The Webb City district became known as the
richest zinc and lead mining field in the world.

People came by railroad, covered wagons, horseback and
afoot. The built shacks, stores, hotels,
restaurants and saloons. Hard rock
miners liked their liquor, and at the turn of the century the east side of Main
Street (formerly Allen) supported a saloon almost every other door, and the
self-respecting women of Webb City used the west side of the street, while the
east side was reserved mostly for men and few women of “lesser estate.”

John C. Webb was a religious man and a Southern
Methodist. When he laid out the town of
Webb City, of which he originally wanted to call Webbville, he reserved one
whole block, across from his home and 160-acre farm, for a Methodist Church and
a school. The church space was used for
the school, therefore he bought an adjoining lot of 100 square feet and build a
brick church building on it at his expense and gave it to the congregation. It was originally named “The Webb Chapel” by
Reverend Ben Deering, who was the pastor of the church at the time of Mr.
Webb’s death in 1883. A building owned
by Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, now AT & T, stands on the corner of
Broadway and Liberty Streets on the site of the first Methodist Church.

As the population of the community grew rapidly, the need
for law and order became imperative. In
December 1876, W.A. Ashcroft, O.Jacobs, James Smith, J.E. McNair and R. A.
Sterling, acting under the authority of an expression of the citizens tax
payers, drew up and presented a petition to the county court praying for
incorporation for the city. On the
eleventh of that same month, the grant was obtained and the aforementioned
gentlemen appointed trustees to serve until their successors should be elected
and sworn in. The first meeting of the
board of trustees of Webb City was held at the office of F. Brurein on the
evening of December 11, 1876.

By 1879 Webb City had a population exceeding 3,000 within
the boundaries of the town. Allen
Street, now Main, was a bustling mass of men, horses, wagons and buggies. The first telephone was introduced in Webb
City in 1881 when Charles W. McDaniel installed an exchange in town. Colonel James O’Neill, an early Webb City
business leader, saw the need for public utilities and built a water works and
gas system for the city. These modern
conveniences made Webb City an equal to any other town, with her gravel streets
being water daily and lighted by gas at night.

Webb City’s appearance was shaping into a real
metropolitan city by 1893. The business
section of Allen Street stretched seven blocks with business buildings crowded
closely together on each side. Business
sections overflowed on adjoining streets and extended westward on
Daugherty. Many business places had
reached a substantial maturity having been established for fifteen or twenty
years. The city was bursting at the
seams with a semicircle of mines engulfing her.
A hospital at Broadway and Tom provided operating space for the removal
of limbs maimed or broken in mining accidents.

This was not a time to boast, nor was it a time to
cry. It was a time to work and
build. Residences for the rich and the
poor were constructed with all the speed, money and brawn the citizens could
muster. Storehouse and warehouse space
was at a premium and all the stores, hotels, restaurants, blacksmith shops and
all the other services required to keep the city going was based on one
economic source – the mines.

A. H. Rogers from Springfield saw great business potential
in the Southwest Missouri mining fields and built a horse-drawn streetcar line
from Carterville into Webb City in 1889.
He operated this line until 1893 when he consolidated with the Joplin
Electric street railway and the Jasper County Electric under the management of
the Southwest Missouri Railroad Company.
Extensions of this railroad were made to Prosperity, Oronogo, Alba and
Duenweg. The new railroad company
experienced considerable difficulty in securing a franchise in Webb City
because many of the merchants felt that an interurban line to Joplin would have
a tendency to take business away from the local merchants. Mayor G. M. Manker suggested that a clause be
inserted into any franchise the city gave the railroad which and car-barns be
located in Webb City. (Today those
buildings house the Webb City roller-skating rink “Skateland” and the
“Clubhouse”)

The citizens of Webb City were not amiss in their civic
and social obligations. Many lodges came
into existence and their progress was marked with much enthusiasm. All news was faithfully recorded in the Webb City Times, established in 1879 by
Milholland and Single. During this decade,
two additional newspapers were printed for brief periods – The Webb City Star, and The
Record. In 1890, the Webb City
Sentinel began its daily publication and continues to serve the Webb City
community today.

In 1918, the curtain fell on the mining boom in Webb City
when the greatest ore strike in the history of the Tri-State district was
discovered in Oklahoma. The rush to get
to the new mines fields was so great that the Webb City mines were closed in a
matter of hours. Business and
professional people of the city were stunned and they met in the form of the
Webb City Commercial Club, now the Webb City Chamber of Commerce. An average of 140 members met each week to
talk about rebuilding the town. With
great economic development and progressive minds, they brought a shoe factory,
a leather factory and several other small businesses to Webb City. The encouraged existing industries to expand
and the exodus from Webb City was stopped.
Webb City attained the distinction of increasing her industries more
than any other city of like size in the United States.

Any Webb City historian is honestly unable to end the
story of this community. Each year
brings progress and the numerous corporations located in Webb City extend their
operations throughout the world and even into space. The property encircling the community that
used to bring forth the prosperous zinc and ore have been reclaimed for retail
and industrial businesses. Historic
Route 66 still runs right through the center of Webb City’s National Register
Commercial Historic Downtown District and sees hundreds of travelers from all
over the world.

The perpetually optimistic people of Webb City look to the
future with confidence, guided by an enthusiastic Chamber of Commerce and
forward-thinking City Council, Mayor and city staff.

Contact

Contact Information

phone(417)673-4651
location200 S Main Street
Webb City, Missouri
64870
14954

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