Webb City - The Mine
continues as you near
Webb City and
where you’ll notice piles of chat and old mine tailings in the area.
Webb City, now principally a
suburb of Joplin, was once a large corn
and wheat farm belonging to a man named John Cornwall Webb. John had
Missouri from Tennessee in 1856, settling on about 200 acres and
subsequently, acquiring an additional 120 acres, part of which would later
become the community of Webb City.
discovered lead in his corn field in 1873, he took on a partner named
W.A. Daugherty and
began to mine. However, the mine continually filled with water and
Webb, discouraged, sold his interest and leased his land to Daughterty
and another experienced miner named
G.P. Ashcroft, two years
Historic Webb City postcard.
another direction, Webb platted the town of
Webb City, which was also called Webbville, in July, 1875. The
following year, the Center Creek Mining Company began
operations on Webb's land and the area was soon flooded with miners,
most of whom made their homes in nearby
Joplin, which, at the time, was filled with gambling
halls, saloons, and brothels.
In the meantime, the mine owners made their homes in
Webb City and
the town was incorporated in December, 1876 with a population of about
700. John Webb's younger brother, Benjamin C. Webb, became the town
Before long, a business district was born and John Webb was
influential in its development, providing land for a school and the
first Methodist Episcopal Church; and building the first brick home, brick business building, and the first
hotel. More businesses quickly followed, including a hospital.
In 1879, the St.
Louis and San Francisco Railroad was built to Webb City, followed by
the Missouri Pacific Railroad two years later. By 1880, Webb City was
called home to nearly 1,600 people. In January, 1882, town founder,
John Webb, along with his son, Elijah, established the Webb City Bank. The
following year, John Webb died, but his son continued to run the bank,
which still exists today. However, like so many other small banks, it
was taken over by a larger corporation several years ago.
In 1889, a man named A. H. Rogers
established a horse-drawn street car line from Carterville to Webb
City. Four years later, in 1893, the horse-drawn street car became the
SouthWest Missouri Electric Railway, which operated to Joplin and
Cartersville. One of the pioneer interurban railways in the country,
the line expanded to
Kansas in the next
After the success of the first sheet
ground mine, called the "Yellow Dog," in the 1890's, business boomed.
By 1896, there were 700 mines located in the in the Webb
City-Carterville-Prosperity District, which,
produced 23 million dollars in lead and zinc between the years of 1894
and 1904, though they wouldn’t reach their peak until 1918.
That same year the co-educational Webb City College was established.
In the meantime, Elijah Webb, son of the
town's founder, had continued to operate the bank as well as managing
the family's land and mineral interests, which were leased to numerous
operators. Having become very wealthy, he built a magnificent Queen
Anne style home during the last decade of the 19th Century that
featured two stories, 12-foot ceilings, inlaid wood floors, three
fireplaces, oak trim, and all the trimmings of a successful man of the
time. It is just one of several historic homes that continue to stand
in the city today.
Elijah Webb's beautiful home still stands in Webb City
Over the next several years, Webb City
continued to grow and by the turn of the century, the town was called home
to more than 9,000 people.
Most of the wooden buildings were replaced
with brick, the 100-room Newland Hotel was built, there were 18
churches, an Opera House seating 1,500 people, four banks, two
railroad depots, and multiple other business. The city soon also
boasted a fire department, paved streets, electric lights, water
works, a sewer system, and two telephone companies.
In 1903 the Southwest Missouri Electric
Railway expanded again, building a loop line through Duenweb, and in 1906,
north to Alba. It then became known as the Webb City Northern. With Webb
City as its hub, numerous buildings were established, including offices, a
power house and car barns located on Madison Street between Broadway and
In 1910, Southwest Missouri Electric Railway built a Clubhouse for
its employees, which was used for passing the time between shifts. It
was equipped with showers, beds, card and pool tables. Adjacent to the
railroad operations was the site of a large surface mine called the
Sucker Flats Mine. Nearby, a second business district developed with
several restaurants, retail businesses, and some light industry.
Today, the area is known as King Jack
Park. A fully restored streetcar continues to operate on special
occasions and the depot houses the Webb City Area Chamber of Commerce.
The first floor of the power house and the clubhouse are still in use
today, the power house being occupied by a skating rink and the
Clubhouse, is the headquarters of the Webb City Historical Society.
In 1914, the Webb City Public Library was established
at the corner of Liberty and First Streets. It continues to operate
today and is also home to the Webb City Area Genealogical Society.
That same year, World War I broke out and the mines were extremely busy producing minerals for
the war effort. During this time, the zinc and lead concentrates
produced in the Webb City-Carterville-Prosperity District were valued
at more than $18 million and the city's population increased to some
15,000 people. In the meantime, the the
Southwest Missouri Railroad network expanded once again, into
Springs, Kansas, as well as Picher, Oklahoma in 1917. When
complete, the electric railroad line encompassed some 94 miles, serving the Tri-State Mining Field.
However, Webb City's boom days were nearing their end.
When the war ended in 1918, the
mining industry declined because of the low price of ore and the
discovery richer ore pockets in Oklahoma. However,
citizens diversified into industrial and agricultural production. A
number of factories were enticed to come to the city including those
producing leather, shirts, shoes, cigars, boxes, caskets, and other
products. They did such a good job that in 1920, the city attained the distinction of increasing her
industries more than any other city in the United States, with an
increase of 250 percent. The area also expanded into the gravel
industry, shipping countless tons of gravel, chat, and sand all over
the country. In the 1930's and during World War II, explosives were
manufactured by powder plants located near Webb City.
In the meantime, automobiles and buses had taken over
the roads, bringing an end to the streetcar era. The Southwest Missouri Electric Railway
discontinued all of its routes in 1939. Though mining continued for
some years, after World War II, it ceased altogether.
Route 66 was established, which ran right
through Webb City's downtown area. After World War II, people began to
travel as they never had before, and all manner of business sprang up
to accommodate the traffic along the popular highway.
After mining was discontinued, Webb City continued to
diversify, but, the city suffered, losing population and a number of
business throughout the years. Recent years; however, have once again
seen the city thriving with new businesses and a new generation of
Route 66 travelers. Today, the town is called home to about 11,000
The old Mother Road runs right through downtown Webb City, and is prominently marked. Several historic buildings can be
seen and the Route 66 Center, located in a renovated old gas station sits at the corner of Webb
and Broadway Streets. The Center provides information, Route 66
displays, and offices for the Chamber of Commerce. The focal point is
a mural by Mayor John Biggs, measuring 8 feet tall and 16 feet wide,
that depicts 1940s travelers along old Route 66. Visitors can also see
movies at the Route 66 Theater, located at 24 S. Main one block off of
Route 66. The theater is situated in the historic Newland Hotel
While traveling through Webb City, keep your eyes open
for several beautiful murals painted by local artists, and a 30 foot
oil painting depicting the city's history hangs inside the Webb City
Bank. The city is filled with historic Victorian architecture and two
distinctive art pieces can be seen at the southern end of Main Street
– the Kneeling Miner and the Praying Hands, a statue that stands 32
feet high and weighs over 100 tons. The Praying Hands are perched on a
King Jack Park, just behind the railroad
tracks. At the park, visitors can also see the the Southwest Missouri
Electric Railroad Association’s trolley, the Mining Days Community
Building and Amphitheatre, the old trolley depot, which houses the
Chamber of Commerce; the powerhouse, and Employee Clubhouse, which
houses the Webb City Historical Society.
Route 66 Center, Webb City,
Route 66 News
The city also pays homage to its war heroes in
three locations. In Mt. Hope Cemetery is outdoor chapel and Veteran’s
Memorial inscribed with the names of the 77 Missouri Congressional Medal
of Honor recipients; in Memorial Park is a World War II Memorial bearing
the names of those Webb City service men and women who lost their lives in
our wars; and, just west of the Praying Hands, a WW II howitzer stands in
silent vigil over the memories of those who have served their country.
After seeing all the sights of Webb City, Route 66 continues
south on US-71 Business Route (Madison Street) into
the self-touted lead mining capital of the world.