Homesteaders flocked to the area, creating a thriving community.
By Ron VandenBoom
Like most of the small communities along the Hi-Line, Joplin owes its existence to the Great Northern Railroad and the homesteader boom of the early part of the 20th century.
The railroad built the first section house in Joplin in 1909 at roughly the same time Inverness, Rudyard, and Hingham were also making their first appearance on the Hi-Line.
Joplin soon accommodated waves of homesteaders lured to the area by free land and what railroad tycoon James J. Hill advertised as a veritable Garden of Eden. Early homesteaders soon learned that like the first Garden of Eden, this garden too had a serpent. A lot of hard work was needed to turn the vast Montana landscape into productive farmland.
Joseph E. Rehal, a Syrian immigrant, is credited with being the founder of Joplin. Coming to the area in 1910, Rehal constructed four buildings one being the Park Hotel and another the Opera House.
Ellsworth Graff, a longtime resident of Joplin, takes the town's founding back even farther with E.C. Tolley, a land developer who started a land office in 1909 and opened the area for homesteading.
By 1917, Graff said, the town also had two lumber yards, several livery stables, a meat market and an assortment of bars.
It's likely that both stories are true and contributed greatly to the development of Joplin.
The Joplin Times was started in 1910, printing local news, but by 1918 the paper folded.
The Joplin Commercial Club was formed about 1915 and adopted the slogan, "The Biggest Little Town on Earth." It was a slogan that is still in use today as is a commercial club.
By 1915, Joplin, like many Hi-Line towns during their heyday, touted two doctors, a real estate office, blacksmith shop and general store. Also lining the main street were a bank, drug store, meat market and dentist.
Several saloons and a meeting room above the Ole Grimstad's Saloon, one of Joplin's few two-story buildings, offered residents a place to hold lodge meetings, provided the facility was not already being used for one of the regular Saturday night dances.
The Joplin Concert Band was formed in 1914 and by 1932, W.C. Kester organized a community band. Membership in the band was open and at times it had as many as 40 members. It performed at public events throughout the area and was known to have played at the Rudyard, Shelby, Great Falls and Havre fairs.
A two-room school was erected. By 1913 a total of 26 students were enrolled in the lower grades and the population was growing. According to Graff, the first graduation ceremony was held in 1925. By 1935, a new school costing more than $45,000 was added to the community.
Graff said that prior to World War II, the school was sizable, but after the war the population of the school was cut in half. Even then the population of Joplin had started to decline, he said, and modern farm equipment and automobiles were changing the face of the small Hi-Line communities. By 1980 the school system could no longer survive on its own and merged with the Inverness School District to form JI School District.
Joplin still has "all-class" reunions. Graff said the reunion in 1981 hosted about 800 people.