Joplin, MO (SNS) – An effort to get the Mission Hills mansion listed on the National Register of Historic Places will soon get underway, the Board of Governors learned Friday, April 16, during a meeting at Missouri Southern State University.
Brad Belk – the director of the Joplin Museum Complex and a member of the MSSU Alumni Association board – shared some of the history of the mansion and discussed the application process for the national register.
“I’ll be writing the application,” said Belk. “It’s a lengthy, well thought out process in terms of how they request the information. You must provide everything from GPS points of reference to a historical narrative about the building.
“To be listed, a building has to have historical significance, and I feel 100 percent that the Mission Hills mansion has that. For the university, it links the past to the present.”
Built in 1920 by Lucius P. “Buck” Buchanan, a wealthy mining developer, the mansion was constructed with a Spanish motif. It was reportedly inspired by a house he saw in Puerto Rico.
After Buchanan’s death in 1939, it was purchased by Frank C. and Juanita Wallower. One of the leading developers of the Tri-State Mining District, Frank Wallower set up a generating plant to produce electricity for Mission Hills, and the mansion was one of the first homes in the Joplin area to be air conditioned.
In 1964, the land and buildings upon it were purchased by the Jasper County Junior College District. The 320-acre Missouri Southern State College campus opened in 1967, with the residence housing classrooms and offices, including the office of Leon C. Billingsly, the college’s first president.
In 2004, a project began to renovate the Mission Hills Mansion, which had fallen into disrepair. The oldest building on campus became the Ralph L. Gray Alumni Center and the permanent home of the MSSU Alumni Association, which raised approximately $1.8 million toward the structure’s renovation.
Lee Elliff Pound, director of the Alumni Association, said that she’s looking forward to beginning the process of having the mansion recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.
“We’re so pleased to be able to work on a project of this magnitude,” she said. “The historic importance of the Mission Hills mansion to Missouri Southern is great, and to have such a designation would be quite impressive for our institution.”