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RetireeNews Spring 2009

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Something Old, Something New

In the fall 2008 issue of RetireeNews we visited Joplin. Just 16 miles away is Carthage, a smaller, slower paced community that shares its history with Joplin, but also has its own unique and inviting character and charm. If you are looking for a relaxing get-away, a nice place to browse to your heart’s content, and a place to take in the sights, sounds and tastes of small town Missouri, Carthage has to be at the top of your list! Whether it is military history, beautiful old homes, or arts, crafts & festivals, you will find it here.

Civil War buffs will be familiar with Carthage, the county seat of Jasper County. Significant battles occurred here in 1861 and 1863. Continuing guerrilla terror, the pain of lost loved ones and lost property took their toll during those years. Area resident Myra Shirley’s brother was killed and subsequently, her father moved the family to Texas. Bitter from her losses, Myra Shirley, “cast her lot with several guerrillas from western Missouri and became known as Belle Starr, Queen of the Outlaws.” She is depicted in a mural, “Forged In Fire” at the Carthage Courthouse. In 1864, Carthage was set on fire by Confederate guerrillas. In the immediate aftermath, the ruins of Carthage were called, “haunts for wolves and owls.” But those who remained rebuilt. The population increased, and the area eventually recovered from the war to benefit and thrive during the industrial boom of the 1880s.

Jasper County Courthouse
Jasper County Courthouse

One of the factors driving the industrial boom was the arrival of the Missouri Western Railroad in 1872 and later, the opening of nearby lead mines and limestone quarries. The largest employer in Carthage in the 1870s, employing mostly women, was the Carthage Woolen Mill, the second largest in Missouri. Flour mills and brickyards occupied the area in Carthage known as “the bottoms.” One of the early manufacturers was C.D. Plow Works which produced 200 plows a day in the early 1880s. When C.B. Platt, son of the company’s owner, began making coiled bedsprings, which Joseph Leggett had patented, the future of the company changed. Today, Leggett & Platt is a Fortune 500 company.

Mr. Leggett and Mr. Platt married sisters and the beautiful “twin” homes built by these industrialists are just two of the many examples of beautiful Victorian architecture in town. (The Leggett House is now a Bed & Breakfast destination.) Another architectural masterpiece in Carthage is the Jasper County Courthouse built in 1894-95. It was constructed during the time when Anna “Annie” White Baxter was in office. She was the first woman in Missouri to hold public office, elected as County Clerk by men, before women even had the right to vote. The Leggett House, Jasper County Courthouse and the Missouri State Capitol were all constructed with Carthage limestone, also known as “Carthage Marble.” The Romanesque Revival style courthouse is the centerpiece of the historic district which is considered to be among the Midwest’s most outstanding collections of commercial architecture.

Today, at a time when many in America grieve the loss of manufacturing jobs, Carthage is weathering the storm. Chamber of Commerce President John Bode attributes the strength of the local economy to the great transportation system in the area. With Leggett & Platt remaining one of the top employers, along with Butterball and Schrieber Foods, there are approximately 6,000 manufacturing jobs in this community of 13,000 people.

Henry Leaming, a MOSERS Retiree Connection member and life-long area resident, had his first job at Schrieber Foods, then Schrieber Cheese. He said it was a very desirable job because they paid $1.65 per hour, when minimum wage was just $1.25. Schrieber Foods now has a state-of-the-art, nine-story, fully automated refrigerated storage building in Carthage. The entire building is serviced by robotic equipment which moves up and down and across the vast shelving systems placing and retrieving products.

Just as manufacturing is so much a part of the fabric of life in Carthage, so is military history and that tradition continues today. The town’s Powers Museum is a partner in the Veterans History Project with the Library of Congress. Since 2005, 160 area residents have been interviewed and had their stories recorded, in their own voices, of wartime service, both overseas and state-side. The museum is interested in collecting oral histories, photographs and correspondence of veterans and home front workers such as USO, Red Cross and war-time factory personnel from WW II to present conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. More information is available on this project from the Library of Congress at or by contacting the Powers Museum at 417-358-2667 or online at

Arts, Crafts and Music
Of interest to art enthusiasts, collectors, and travelers looking for peaceful respite, is the Precious Moments Chapel. Visitors can wander among the chapel, gardens and water fountain and view the many memorials in private reflection or listen to tour guides tell of 84 biblical, hand painted murals and several stained glass windows that adorn the chapel. Tour guides also tell the rags-to-riches story of Samuel Butcher, artist and creator of Precious Moments figurines. Several gift shops and concessions are located on the property.

Precious Moment Figurines with Children
Precious Moments Grounds

For the past 24 years, Carthage has been home to the Midwest Gathering of the Artists. In 2008, the event featured 33 artists and their work, in a variety of mediums, and attracted approximately 2,000 people. Well-known, local artists include Lowell Davis, who painted the mural at the Jasper County Courthouse, Andy Thomas, who has combined his love of history and art in numerous Civil War oil paintings, and Bob Tommey, nationally known painter and sculptor of American Old West art. Tommey, along with fellow artist Bill Snow, created the bronze statue in Carthage Central Park of native son, zoologist and television personality Marlin Perkins (host of Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom”).

Leggett House in Carthage
Leggett House

Another large annual gathering in Carthage is Marian Days, a pilgrimage and festival organized by the Vietnamese-American Catholic community of priests and brothers. In August of each year, 50,000+ people gather here. The celebration focuses on daily Mass and reconciliation services, but also includes a variety of food, music and fireworks. Many local residents provide tent space on their lawn and welcome participants into their home.

The largest event of all, and the signature event of Carthage, is the Maple Leaf Festival and Parade. The week-long festival culminates with the largest parade in Southwest Missouri on the third Saturday in October. The event draws 65,000+ visitors who enjoy “Boots, Bands & BBQ,” a quilt show, lip-sync competition, pageants, 100+ craft booths and antique shops, and 40-50 food vendors. Chamber President John Bode said, “If you want a good brat,” you’ll find it at the parade. “They are absolutely the best brats you will ever eat in your life!” The event includes more than 170 parade entrants, including the Budweiser Clydesdales.

Other Things to See and Do

  • Take a trip to yesteryear and visit an 1800s country village complete with a general store, country church, one room school house and more at Red Oak II, created by local artist Lowell Davis.
  • Visit the 66 Drive-In Theater, the last of the original six drive-in theaters named after the famous road, and watch a movie under the stars. It is open weekends April-September.
  • Listen to one of the live music shows. Bluegrass, gospel, and comedy shows begin at 7:30 p.m on the first and third Fridays at The Woodshed – Emporium on the Square. The Carthage Acoustic Festival is a day-long event which takes place in June.

Shopping and Dining
With everything from home grown produce, flowers and baked goods at the Farmer’s Market to craft malls, gift shops and art galleries along Historic Route 66, visitors can be sure to find a keepsake.

If you find yourself in Carthage at mealtime, there are dozens of restaurants to tempt your taste buds. Special mention should be made of Stone’s Throw Dinner Theater, where you can spice things up with a comedy or mystery to go with your meal. Or, you might choose the Lucky J Restaurant & Arena if you would like to watch a rodeo while you dine. For breakfast, locals recommend Ziggy’s.

So, if the charm of small-town Missouri and yesteryear appeal to you, as well as the promise of a bright tomorrow, go ahead, plan a visit to Carthage during your next road-trip through retirement.

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