Talk of the founding fathers of Joplin often revolves around the names of Patrick Murphy, Tom Connor, Charles Schifferdecker, Elliot Moffet, John Sergeant, and others. But one who is sometimes overlooked is Edward Cellken. In Joplin’s early days, he was known for his business acumen and philanthropy.
Cellken was born on January 1st, 1839 in Altdorf near Nuremberg in Germany. When he was 21 years old, he emigrated to the United States and settled in Cincinnati. He worked as a cooper or barrel maker. He married Annie Margaretha Grome in September 1865. He died in 1919 after many business successes in Joplin and the surrounding area.
After the Civil War, a business failure in 1866 led him to “go west and grow up with the country.” The cell kens settled in Sedalia for two years.
They moved to Baxter Springs, Kansas, in 1868. There he opened a brewery, which he ran until 1880. Kansas was a breeding ground for the abstinence movement and the home of Carry Nation. While moderation found support among the population, the German immigrant community vigorously opposed it, believing it posed a threat to their beer supply, but also considering the negative effects a ban could have on immigration. German newspapers had begun to paint a dry picture of Kansas for their European brothers.
One of those immigrants who arrived in Baxter Springs was Charles Schifferdecker. He had worked in a brewery in St. Louis and had met Cellken, who advised him in 1875 to move to Baxter Springs and work for him in the brewery.
The men worked so well together that after nine months ,zell set up a wholesaler of beer and ice cream in Joplin and Schifferdecker moved to Joplin to operate it, while cellken stayed in Baxter Springs to run the brewery.
The business operated successfully for five years. In 1878, however, the election of John Pierce St. John as governor of Kansas rang the death knell for Kansas brewers.
St. John was a passionate prohibitionist. He convinced the legislature to propose an amendment to the ban in 1880. The change was accepted, and Kansas became the first state to go dry.
The brewery closed in 1881 under the Kansas Act. The cell kens moved to Joplin. Cellken was a wealthy man at the time and in 1882 built a stylish new eight-room Italian mansion on the corner of Ninth Street and Joplin Avenue for the princely sum of $ 16,000.
The Zellkens and their six children lived there for five years. In 1887 ,zellken, a devout Catholic, sold the house for her convent to the Sisters of Mercy. The nuns used it as a house and boarding school for girls.
Cellken had challenged the nouveau riche of Joplin to transform Joplin into a real metropolis by building houses and businesses of significant character. His own new Queen Anne style home at 406 Sergeant Avenue reflected this. This house was completed in 1893.
Change to mining
Cellken was not content to limit himself to the beer and ice cream business before moving to Joplin. The Cherokee County’s minefields had only just been discovered in 1877. He saw it as a promising investment opportunity. Together with other investors, he founded the South Side Town & Mining Co. The company bought a farm on the south side of Short Creek from the German farmer Egidius Moll for US $ 10,000 and founded the city of Galena, Kansas, that same year.
In the decades that followed, his mines were productive and made him rich. He maintained close relationships with Galena companies and brother organizations for the next 40 years.
It looked like all of his businesses were successful. Together with Col. W. Phelps, Patrick Murphy, and Tom Connor, he owned the Joplin Water Works Co. They kept control of it until it was sold in 1899. He was also a shareholder and vice president of Miners Bank.
One of his disappointments was a wool factory. In 1893 Cellken, Schifferdecker, Charles Henderson, and TA McClelland founded the City Woolen Mill Co. on 11th and Main Streets. However, as Cellken later admitted, Cellken never paid a dividend. It closed, but the men held onto the property. In 1911, the Inter-State Grocery Co. bought the property for $ 40,000, which made a “nice profit in the wool mill disaster.”
Cellken was also one of the owners of Inter-State Grocery Co. Joplin’s extensive railroad connections made it a natural location for wholesalers. Annual business volume was $ 1.43 million through 1914 with a target of $ 3.5 million in three more years. The management decided to build a new industrial wholesale building on the 11th and Main. The five-storey building is to be built completely with a cellar in reinforced concrete. The estimated cost was $ 1 million. Today it is the griffin building.
Althoughzellken apparently had the Midas touch, he has been generous to good causes since moving to Joplin.
He contributed money to the construction of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Peter and its parish as well as the Catholic Church in Galena. Over the years his name has been one of the leading donors in numerous fundraising drives for St. John’s Hospital. He supported the Red Cross campaigns and the Salvation Army. He gave the city of Galena money for poor relief. His private charities were kept private but were known to be numerous.
He was a road sponsor and made a substantial contribution to the fund for the concrete road from Joplin to Miami, Oklahoma. His drawings for the Liberty Loans during World War I were high.
Joplin’s German community
The German community in Joplin was large in the 1870s. In 1876 50 German-Americans founded the Germania gymnastics club as a social association. Cellken was one of the founders and had served as president. His hall, built in 1891 on the southeast corner of Third Street and Joplin Avenue, was a half-timbered building that covered the entire 50 by 120 foot lot. It has hosted many of the city’s major social events.
A year after the declaration of war on Germany, the anti-German mood had grown so strong that in April 1918 a mob stormed a delicatessen shop owned by long-time Jopliner Gustav Brautigam.
He escaped the violence, but two weeks later members of the Germania gymnastics club decided to dissolve the organization and donate the hall to the Red Cross. Cellken, 79, was still an active member.
He suffered from heart disease in the last year of his life. He died on November 29, 1919 at the age of 80.
While not getting the public recognition of men like Connor or Schifferdecker ,zellken found his success behind the scenes in business and philanthropy.