For More Details
Carthage Chamber of Commerce, (417) 358-2373 or visit online at www.carthage
Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1-800-657-2534 or visit online at

Before You Go
To plan your trip, stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, TripTiks and TourBook guides. Or, go to our online Auto Travel section.

Visit Carthage and Joplin
History, inspiring sites and simpler pleasures are waiting

Published: Mar/Apr 2002
By Sally M. Snell

Civil War re-enactors at the Kendrick House preserve the rich history held by Carthage / Michael Snell photos
Explore the communities of Carthage and Joplin in southwest Missouri, and you’ll discover a treasure trove of heritage, inspiration and sweet delights.


Visitors to this quiet community may not realize its history has brutal foundations. Carthage was the setting of the first full-scale land battle of the Civil War. Missouri Gov. Claiborne Fox Jackson was taking a contingent of Missouri State Guardsmen south to be trained to fight for the Confederacy. On July 5, 1861, they were intercepted near Carthage by a smaller army of Union volunteers. The battle raged through the heart of the community. Jackson emerged victorious, but the county was nearly left in ruin. Census records from 1860 indicate the population for Jasper County was 6,883. At the conclusion of the war, the population was 30.

Learn more about the Civil War at the Battle of Carthage Civil War Museum, which contains a room-sized diorama of the conflict’s progress, artifacts and interpretive displays. Then visit the Battle of Carthage State Historic Site, located nine miles north of town.

Belle Starr, then known as Myrabelle Shirley, witnessed the battle from the balcony of her father’s hotel. She took up with a gang of outlaws after the war and became known as “Belle Star, Queen of the Outlaws.”

Carthage suffered many times from the brutality of war from both sides of the conflict. On Sept. 22, 1864, Confederate raiders burned Carthage to the ground. Only Kendrick Place survived. Built by slaves in 1849-1854, it served as headquarters for both Union and Confederate troops during the war, and today is a living history museum.

Following the war, prosperous gentry created streetscapes of sprawling Victorian-era mansions that were monuments to the owner’s accomplishments. In fact, Carthage once had more millionaires per capita than any other U.S. city. A driving tour highlights 20 of these gems, including Hill House that’s trimmed with piers, turrets and pinnacles, and the staid late-Victorian Leggett House, built by the inventor of the coil bedspring. Whether it’s a romantic retreat or a home-away-from-home for business travelers, enjoy a hint of this old-time luxury at the Grand Avenue Bed and Breakfast.

Precious Moments® collectors and anyone celebrating hope and love will appreciate the message found at the Precious Moments Chapel Center. Sam Butcher originally created these soulful-eyed figures for family and friends to convey “a message of loving, caring and sharing,” said public relations manager Lynn Iliff Onstot. “And from there came the name Precious Moments.”

The public came to know and love Precious Moments when Butcher and a friend used them in a line of greeting cards in 1975, and later when a partnership with Enesco introduced the first porcelain figurines.

Butcher discovered the beauty of southwest Missouri in the mid-1980s, inspiring him to build the chapel on its present site.

Visitors should minimally plan to spend a few hours here, touring the chapel, watching the “Fountain of Angels” show, and visiting Wedding Island. Onsite camping facilities, restaurant and a fudge shop are the icing on this uplifting cake. The center holds a few surprises for returning visitors, including Sam’s–a themed restaurant slated to open March 29 in the former gallery building.

Inner joy can also be found in the Our Lady of Peace Garden at the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix. The turtle and incense burner in the garden’s center is a symbol of good health and peace, and Vietnamese martyrs are remembered on plaques around its perimeter. This Vietnamese Catholic Monastery draws tens of thousands of Vietnamese worshippers to Carthage every August for the Marian Days three-day festival.

Main Street Mercantile is a country collectibles paradise, but perhaps its greatest treasure is at the rear of the store in the Woodshed. Every first and third Friday, the Woodshed brings in bluegrass performers. As Carthaginian Dick Ferguson puts it, “We got a lot of foot stomping here.”


The Hoover Historical Museum in Joplin pays trib-ute to simpler times and the pleasures found there./ Michael Snell photo
The discovery of lead and zinc in the 1800s fueled the growth of Joplin and adjacent communities. Mining declined following World War II, but a statue in downtown Joplin commemorates the miner’s legacy.

Learn more about the region’s mining heritage at the Everett J. Ritchie Tri-State Mineral Museum. Minerals, photographs and interpretive panels build the story of the zinc-lead mining industry that gave birth to the town of Joplin. The Dorothea B. Hoover Historical Museum is housed under the same roof. Young and old will delight in the American Miniature Circus, complete with big top and animal parade. Also note the piano Scott Joplin played while employed at the House of Lords gambling hall.

The Frisco Greenway Trail is a remnant of an electric railway system that once served mining fields in three states from 1889-1939. The rails are gone, and today pedestrians and bicyclists use the four-mile path.

On a sweeter note, Richardson’s Candy House is a delight of hard candies and hand-dipped chocolates. Watch candy being made while you shop. Afterwards, browse the gift shop upstairs for non-perishable goods. Richardson’s recently opened a store in Carthage with ice cream, coffees, and gourmet foods in addition to their candies

During your visit to Joplin, be sure to visit the George Washington Carver National Monument near Diamond, Mo. Noted agronomist and educator, Carver spent his boyhood on this sprawling farmstead, studying plants and beginning a lifelong quest for education. Said Carver during a visit home while attending college, “No man has enough learning, Aunt Sue. And me–I’m still trying to find out what makes it rain and why sunflowers grow so tall.”

End your visit on a grand note. Grand Falls is a moonscape of butter to umber-colored chert, pocked with still pools of water, bracing its 15-foot descent, making it Missouri’s highest continuously flowing waterfall. To find the falls, travel Interstate 44 to exit 86, south to Glendale Road and turn west. Cross Shoal Creek on Jackson and turn right on Murphy. Grand Falls is 1.1 miles from turnoff.

The Carthage and Joplin area is rich in heritage, inspiration, and sweet delights.

Sally M. Snell is a contributor from Topeka, Kan.

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