“We’re kind of on the way to everywhere.”
Cameo Gerdes likes to highlight the location of Joplin, Mo., a town that sits near dead center of the United States.
“We’re an hour from Springfield, and an hour and a half from Branson, an hour and a half from Tulsa, and about an hour from the Rogers-Bentonville area in Arkansas. We’re right in the middle of the Bible Belt.”
That central location helps Gerdes, director of sales at the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, to attract groups traveling through the lower Midwest to spend time in her town. When they visit, they find a destination that is a thriving city by day and a small town by night. Although only 47,000 people live in Joplin, its population more than doubles during the day.
This summer, Joplin will host the sixth annual Going On Faith Conference, which will take place Aug. 24-26. During the conference, delegates from around the country will get to enjoy Joplin’s city amenities and small-town feel, along with a variety of historical, natural and cultural attractions.
Joplin Museum Complex
Visitors can learn about the history of the town and enjoy some quaint and eclectic collections at the Joplin Museum Complex.
“Joplin was actually founded as a mining boomtown,” Gerdes said. “At one point in time, it had the highest-producing lead and zinc ore mines in the country.
“One wing of the Joplin Museum Complex is dedicated to the mining industry. It’s built to look like you’re walking into an underground mine. And there are rock specimens there that are the only ones in existence — you won’t see them anywhere else in the world.”
Exhibits throughout the Tri-State Mineral Museum interpret the geology and chemistry that made the Joplin area such a fertile ground for mineral ore. The museum also details tools and methods used by miners from the 1870s through the 1960s.
The other wing of the museum complex features collections on a variety of themes. The National Cookie Cutter Museum makes its home there, rotating its collection of historic cookie cutters four times a year. There is also an exhibit of Route 66 memorabilia, along with a miniature circus put together by a local man.
“There’s also a display on Bonnie and Clyde,” Gerdes said. “The famous shootout where they first got pictures of Bonnie and Clyde was actually in Joplin, so they have a collection of different items that were found after the shootout. There are some pieces of her costume jewelry on display as well.”
Since the 1970s, Joplin locals have known the Candy House Chocolate Factory as the best place in town to visit for gourmet-style sweets. Now, groups can visit the factory to see how the candy is made and to have a taste for themselves.
“About four or five years ago, they built a factory in downtown Joplin,” Gerdes said. “They give free tours, and you get to taste the chocolate. It’s usually the owner or his wife giving the tour, and it’s very personal, because you hear the owner’s story.”
Groups spend anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes at the candy factory. They start with an overview of the candymaking process, observing the factory floor from a series of large windows in the sales area. From there, the owner walks visitors through the kitchen, where the candy centers are created, and then into the coating area, where the candies are dipped in chocolate that has been melted in a large kettle. The last stop is the boxing area, where workers package an assortment of candies into boxes for sale.
At the end of the tour, each visitor gets to taste some of the Candy House’s specialties.
“It’s all old-fashioned candies and hand-dipped chocolates,” Gerdes said. “The English toffee is the best thing you’ve ever tasted.”
Wildcat Glades Conservatory and Audubon Center
Located in Wildcat Park, the Wildcat Glades Conservatory and Audubon Center preserves some of the last remaining “chert glades,” a biologically rich habitat found only in the surrounding area. The glades attract a number of species of birds and other wildlife and make for an active, nature-based stop on a group tour.
“It’s a full-on nature center with walking trails and everything,” Gerdes said. “They have some really easy nature trails that overlook the creek. I’ve had some bus groups that really enjoy taking a walk on the trail.”
The conservatory is the first Audubon Center in the state of Missouri and is a certified green building. Staff members can take visitors on tours to highlight unique aspects of the center.
“They have a lot of programs available that they’ll do with groups,” Gerdes said. “They’ll go through and talk about all the green aspects of the building, and tell you how to do similar things at home. They’ll also do Audubon bird watching programs or programs on the wildlife in that area — the bugs, fish reptiles and everything else.”
Spiva Arts Center
In a historic building in downtown Joplin, Spiva Arts Center presents visual artwork by artists from the four-state area surrounding Joplin. Exhibitions change several times a year and feature work by both professional artists and amateur enthusiasts from around the region.
Here’s a look at some of the exhibitions at the Spiva Center in the coming months.
PhotoSpiva — Now in its 34th year, PhotoSpiva is the longest-running photography competition in the country. The contest encourages both amateurs and professionals to submit photos that portray a snapshot of life in their towns. Photos from the contest are on display until April 25.
At the Center: Robert Higgs — This exhibit is a retrospective of watercolors and oil paintings by Robert Higgs, a Midwestern artist who painted during the early and mid-1900s. Higgs was a key player in the founding of the Spiva Center.
Jim Bray `10/55: The World I Know — This exhibit celebrates the 55th working year of Jim Bray, a designer, painter and calligrapher who lives in Joplin. The exhibit will feature some of Bray’s watercolors, acrylic paintings and collages.
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