Visitors of St. Joseph, Missouri, a town roughly an hour north of downtown Kansas City, will find that the city is home to 13 distinctive area museums, 12 annual festivals, and the Kansas City Chiefs Summer Training Camp. The City is also known for their amazing architecture listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is home to the Pony Express. Companies like Mead, Aunt Jemima, and Quaker Oats have called St. Joseph home at one time or another. It is also home to a couple notable people by the name of Jesse James and Walter Cronkite.
Currently tourism brings in $195 million dollars of revenue to the city, and historic tourism is at the forefront.
Historic architecture is a finite resource in this city. Last summer, two of our original downtown storefront buildings that were located in a historic district were demolished. This summer, we are at risk of losing yet another original Italianate storefront structure in a neighboring historic district. The building at 222 South 4th Street, St. Joseph, Buchanan County, Missouri was constructed in 1874 for St. Joseph’s first newspaper, The St. Joseph Gazette.
Since the current owner is looking to retire at the end of 2016 and none of his employees purchased his company, he was open to options on how to sell the building. Before he made any effort to sell the building in the real estate market, he received an offer from a nearby neighbor interested in buying his building. That offer turned out to be from a nearby gas station owner interested in demolishing the building to make way for a few diesel fuel pumps.
Recently, members of our downtown review board approved the certificate of appropriateness for demolition of this building.
Historic St. Joseph Foundation has begun the process of appealing this decision.
As for the building, it was built in 1874 and was home to the St. Joseph Gazette newspaper. The St. Joseph Gazette was founded in 1845 by William Ridenbaugh just two years after St. Joseph was established by fur trader, Joseph Robidoux in 1843. The famous poet Eugene Field served as editor of the Gazette in 1875 at this location.
The 1991 survey listed this building as “contributing” on the National Register of Historic Places for the South Fourth Street Historic District (G. Tracy Mehan III - Director, Department of Natural Resources & State Historic Preservation Officer)
Other famous people associated with the Gazette include employee, Chris L. Rutt whom created the recipe for Aunt Jemima Ready Mix Pancake Mix. Unable to make a go of it, he sold the recipe to the R. T. Davis Milling Company who showcased it at the Columbian World’s Fair in 1893 at Chicago.
Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb was an American writer, publisher, and the United States Consul to the Philippines. He converted to Islam in 1888, and is considered by historians to be the earliest prominent Anglo-American Muslim convert. In 1893, he was the only person representing Islam at the first Parliament for the World's Religions. His prowess as a journalist was soon apparent, and he was offered the city editorship of the St. Joseph Gazette in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Charles Fremont Cochran was a U.S. Representative from Missouri. Born in Kirksville, Missouri, Cochran moved to Atchison, Kansas, in 1860. He apprenticed to the printer's trade. He was the editor and publisher of the Atchison Patriot in 1868 and 1869. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1873 and practiced until 1885. He served as prosecuting attorney of Atchison County, Kansas from 1880 to 1884. He returned to Missouri in 1885 and settled in St. Joseph where he engaged in the newspaper business and edited the St. Joseph Gazette. He served in the State senate from 1890 to 1994 and was elected as a Democrat to the Fifty-fifth Congress and to the three succeeding Congresses from March 4, 1897 to March 3, 1905. He was a contestant for renomination in 1904 but finally withdrew as a candidate. After that, he returned to St. Joseph and founded the Observer, a weekly newspaper, where he served as editor until his death in St. Joseph, Missouri, on December 19, 1906. He was interred in Mount Mora Cemetery, St. Joseph, Missouri.
Architecturally, the structure is of Italianate influence. It is a three-story corner brick building that has had the cornice removed. The second and third floors have been divided into two bays by a raised center pier. The third story has three very tall round arch windows with 4/4 sash per bay with blind arch transoms, limestone round arch hoods with keystones and spandrels with panels. The second story has three large rectangular windows with brick flat arches with drops per bay filled with concrete and glass block, but the opening has been maintained. Part of the original storefront appears to remain under present shake shingled canopy and vertical wood siding, as suggested by quoins exposed on southeast corner. Details return on the south elevation. The entry is set in “Gibbsian” surround with flanking quoins and arches above with voussoirs alternately raised. The west-facing rear exterior has a historic wing with dentiled cornice, the unadorned windows remain intact.
We need your help to convince everyone involved that breathing new life into historic buildings can start a positive domino effect. Like many cities today, St. Joseph's downtown has been home to a downtown renaissance. Replacing a viable 142-year-old building with a few gasoline pumps is a retrogressive move toward that idea. By reusing an intact historic building, we can promote sustainability, improve neighborhoods, increase economic development, respect our cultural heritage, and maybe, just maybe, we can further the trend of turning a dormant blue collar town back into a city worthwhile.