Joplin, Missouri, puts the heart in heartland.
This gem of a city brings people together from across the country — literally.
“Joplin is a crossroads of the U.S.,” said Kerstin Landwer, assistant CVB director and director of sales at Visit Joplin, MO. Located directly on Route 66, Joplin is where the historic route meets two interstates and where the nearby borders of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas converge. This town is home to a vibrant past and over 200 restaurants and museums that can’t be found anywhere else (World’s Largest Small Appliance Museum, anyone?). The newly opened Harry M. Cornell Arts and Entertainment Complex offers ample opportunity to gather and experience the arts, and the downtown Arts District’s mural collection features joy around every corner. With several charming towns across the Kansas border just a few minutes to the west and the magical Ozark mountains beckoning to the east, groups that want to expand their trip to see more of the local region will find plenty to do.
This historic locale has seen it all: mining booms, visits from legendary outlaws and times of unspeakable hardship, like the devastating tornado that tore through the city in 2011. “Joplin is a very resilient community,” said Landwer of the storm that destroyed a third of the city. In the days after the tornado, many children in town reported seeing beautiful creatures they called “butterfly people,” hovering protectively over survivors and their families. Today, the spirit of the butterfly people continues in local art and community stories. That’s the kind of place Joplin is — a tight knit community full of wonder, resilience and unshakeable faith.
Of course, Joplin’s history with faith goes back to day one; it’s named after Methodist missionary and early city settler Reverend Harris Joplin. The city offers Sacred Places tours for groups that feature stops at historic churches and places of worship in the community. Here are four Joplin highlights that make great additions to group tours.
Route 66 crosses directly through Joplin’s downtown Main Street, on a prized stretch of the highway that can take drivers through three states in just one day. Joplin is such a fixture on the route that it gets a mention in the lyrics of “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66.” Bonnie and Clyde took Route 66 to Joplin during their infamous crime spree and chose the city as a hiding place for several weeks — and they’re just two of the thousands of travelers who’ve made their way down this stretch of famous highway. When passing through Joplin, Route 66 offers a great opportunity for local step-on guides to share its history and paint a vivid picture of what road trips through Joplin looked like in decades past.
George Washington Carver National Monument
Just outside Joplin is George Washington Carver National Monument, the first national park to be dedicated to an African American. Carver was born into slavery near the end of the Civil War and ultimately became an agricultural scientist, teacher and activist who invented over 300 peanut products. His work was the catalyst for the widespread introduction of peanut butter across the U.S. Carver lived a life of hard work, creativity and devoted Christian faith. At the park, groups can view a statue in Carver’s honor and visit the home where he was born. The site also offers a presentation on Carver’s many accomplishments, hands-on exhibits about early 20th-century American life and an opportunity for guests to make their very own peanut butter.
Spiva Center for the Arts
This arts hub has been a Joplin fixture since 1947. Now located inside the glimmering newly opened Cornell Arts and Entertainment Complex, Spiva offers rotating exhibits featuring the works of local and global talents. Spiva also holds the distinction of hosting the oldest continually running photography contest west of the Mississippi, PhotoSpiva. The center includes gathering spaces for large groups, offers art classes and sells original pieces by talented local and regional artists.
Downtown Joplin is adorned with murals that highlight its history and values. There are 10 viewing spots throughout the town, featuring 20 murals created by artists from all walks of life. The city is especially proud to display the last signed mural by famed artist Thomas Hart Benton. The 1972 mural, “Joplin at the Turn of the Century 1896-1906,” was dedicated to the city to mark its 100th birthday. The mural depicts the city’s spirit and energy in 1900 and is housed in Joplin City Hall. City Hall also houses the work of Benton’s grandson, Anthony Guide.