Chapter 6 - Sarcoxie's Economic Growth
In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, the natural resources found below the ground west of town provided a boon for the region and prospered Sarcoxie’s commerce. A strike on Sam Block’s farm started the discoveries. It was reported, “In a few days, he had approximately 200 pounds of lead shining in the front yard”. The largest producer in the area was the Optimo Mine. Numerous other mines operated in the area including the McCowan Mine, Plymouth Rock Mine, the C.Z. Camp, the Sagamo Mine and the Cameron Mine. Other factors influencing the prosperity of the region included quarrying of granite and production of lime at the Sarcoxie White Lime and Marble works founded in the 1880s.
Production of agriculture goods was the most important financial impetus driving Sarcoxie’s growth and commercial prosperity. Hermann Wild from Saxony, Germany, migrated to America, coming to Jasper County in 1868. In 1875, with his sons, James B., Henry N., and Frank H. Wild, Sarcoxie Nurseries was established on the southwest edge of Sarcoxie. That endeavor became the beginning of a first class nursery. By 1906 Gilbert Wild, the largest peony grower in Missouri, was shipping flowers to all parts of the U.S. and several foreign countries. In time the business split and a grandson, Gilbert Wild started the daylilies, iris and peonies branch called Gilbert H. Wild and Son. Over the years, the company has shipped their stock to 48 states and seven foreign countries. Throughout the 20th century during the month of May, visitors flocked to Sarcoxie, the “Peony Capital of the World” to view the blooming array of flowers and purchase bulbs for their gardens. For many years it was reported that as many as 20,000 visitors traveled to Sarcoxie to enjoy the array of beautiful blooms.
The soil was perfect for raising strawberries and other marketed berries. Due to the abundance of berries during good weather years and the ability to transport them by rail and trucks, Sarcoxie became one of the leading producers of strawberries in the world. The growers organized the Sarcoxie Horticultural Association, a cooperative that collectively marketed their berries. Demand around the country for the “juicy, red fruit” grew, allowing hundreds of car loads to depart by rail or truck each growing season. Local growers lined up at the “berry barn” at the end of 7th and Joplin Street to have their berries packed in ice and loaded in the train cars at the depot on the east side of 7th Street to be shipped throughout the U.S. Thousands of pickers flocked to the area during picking season. Campsites were set up all over town including just northwest of the square by the railroad tracks. Another large camping area was set up southeast of town at Stebbins Park and always overflowed with pickers called “Willy’s”.
Another major impetus for Sarcoxie’s commercial success was the Juvenile Shoe Corporation. Through the negotiations promoted by the Commercial Club in 1947, Juvenile Shoe Corporation, producer of children’s Lazy-Bones style foot ware, was convinced to bring their operation to Sarcoxie. This endeavor was extremely important to the local commerce. The operation employed local citizens. The operation provided jobs and boosted the local economy from 1948-1984.