Rose Marie Briggs recreated Tipperary, the town, the mine and also the people between 1914 and 1927 in her book entitled "Tipperary, Gone But Not Forgotten". She also wrote a book about the Olmitz mine named "Memories about Olmitz". Her blog is located at

"History of Hiteman - A Mining Town (Albia)" by Rosalie Mullinex is also available from Rosalie.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Palmer's Coal Shaft

From the Chariton Leader of October 3, 1874

Groping around in the dark on one’s hands and knees, aided by a dim light, a hundred feet below the surface of the earth, is not the pleasantest thing on the earth, however pleasant it may be in the earth, but to a great many it may appear romantic. On Monday of this week while searching for an item, the idea struck us to visit the coal shaft on the farm of Mr. T. E. Palmer, a short distance East of town. We were soon there, and signifying our intention to explore the coal mines that are becoming so famous in our midst, we were soon at the bottom, just one hundred feet down. Here we found a large main entry to the coal rooms, and a dozen or so miners busily engaged in picking out coal of the finest quality. We visited several rooms and found a splendid vein of coal underlying the soft soap-stone that redily yields to the pick. 

The vein is from 19 to 22 inches thick, and apparently increasing in thickness as the miners extend their rooms. The floor, to our great surprise was perfectly dry, not a drop of water finding its way to the floor.

Overhead there is a ceiling of soap-stone which insures everyone against the possibility of danger from caving. The miners infored us that it was the best roof they had ever seen, and all expressed their opinion that Mr. Palmer has one of the best coal prospects in the country. At the present time the hands are averaging from 20 to 30 bushels of coal per day, but as soon as they have enlarged the rooms more, they expect a much greater yield, There is a convenient contrivance for supplying the mines with fresh air, which obviates any danger from what is known as damp air, and we found that we could breathe with as much comfort down below as we wished. Mr. Palmer has built a snug house over the pit, also a business room for himself, and a little blacksmith shop where his hands can sharpen their own tools, and made everything as convenient and comfortable for both miners and proprietors as possible. The coal is drawn up by horse power, and done so quickly that the car can be drawn up, unloaded, and sent down again in two or three minutes. Two pair of scales are put up, one to weigh the coal as it comes out, and the other for wagons to stand upon while being weighed. He expects inside of a few weeks to be able to turn out several hundred bushels of coal per day to meet the home demand for it. He is now ready to give steady employment to at least a dozen more good miners, so that ere long we may expect to get our coal to order, without running the risk of freezing to death while waiting for it. Mr. Palmer’s energy in developing this fine coal bank is truly commendable, and deserves the highest praise from the community.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Lucas Loses Landmark to Softball Park

From the Chariton Leader - February 7, 1950

The town of Lucas whose roots are firmly entrenched in the coal mining industry, is losing one of its landmarks.  The site of the Big Hill coal mine, a living monument to the memory of a time when Lucas was one of the major coal producing areas in Southern Iowa, is being removed from the scene.

This site is being renovated and will soon be supplanted by a modern, up-to-date softball park.

Big Hill was one of the last major mines in the Lucas coal field and was last worked some 18 odd years ago and even then on a minor basis.  Evan Daniels, present owner of the ground, was the last operator of the mine.

The mine saw thousands of tons of coal come out of its shaft and saw hundreds of miners go down into the "Bowels of the earth" to mine its "black gold".

Most illustrious of its workers was John L. Lewis the present head of the United Mine Workers of America.  Lewis was a miner in the Big Hill mine long before he started his successful climb to the top of the mine union.

Ray Polser, manager of the Lucas Pioneers - a girls' softball team - is the man behind the move to build the park at the site of the old mine.  The main shaft, air shaft and an old cistern which were connected with the mine are being filled in and dirt for this purpose is being used from the huge dirt dump which was left by the many years the mine was in operation.  The dump is being blasted to get the dirt loose, then is being moved into the park with a bulldozer.

Present plans, according to Polser, call for the proposed softball park to be the most modern in Iowa.  It will be lighted for night play, and will be contained by a board fence all around the park.

It is expected that the park will be ready for its first game by the middle of May, Polser said today.

Besides the Class A girls' team, the Pioneer Girls, it is hoped to organize a Class B girls team and also plans call for at least one boys aggregation, will play games at the park during the summer.

Polser, who has long been active in girls' softball in the state of Iowa, said today, "This new park will be the attainment of what I have hoped for ever since I started organizing teams - a modern up-to-date park for the town of Lucas which will enable us to bring the best teams in this section of the country here to play and also give the fans ample seating room to see the games."

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Attempt at Coal Mining in Benton Township

This story appeared on Frank Myers' Lucascountyan site on February 26, 2013.

I (Frank Myers) happened onto a 1909 newspaper article the other day that offered a few details about my family's abortive coal mining enterprise --- something my dad had talked about but didn't experience personally because he wasn't born yet.

This happened midway through the period from roughly 1880 into the 1930s when coal was a growth industry in Lucas County and all sorts of people wanted a piece of the action. Here's the article from The Chariton Patriot of June 24, 1909:

New Mine to Start Development of Coal Field

The result of prospecting for coal in Benton township is the opening of a shaft on the farm of Harvey Whiteside. The shaft goes down to the depth of 83 feet where it strikes a vein of good coal that is two feet in thickness. A roof of rock is above the coal and there will be no trouble with water in the mine. The work of driving entries will begin at once. The company that will mine the coal is a corporation known as the Benton Coal Company. The company has leased the coal rights from Mr. Whiteside for a period of five years. He is paid one-fourth cent per bushel for the coal right. The members of the company are Harvey Whiteside, O.A. Scales, W.H. Holmes, Wm. Schreck, U.G. Berg, David Hupp, Ward Carpenter, Dan Myers, Irwin Myers. The endeavor will be to fully develop this field, but for the present the mining will be done on a limited scale, coal being sup pled as is now done at the Inland mine. The demand for this coal will come from farmers in the southern and southwestern parts of the county, which demand has heretofore been largely supplied by the mines near Bethlehem.

The shaft was located in the hills east of Wolf Creek about two miles south of Salem Cemetery on the old George Redlingshafer farm. George was an uncle of mine, some generations removed, and Harvey Whiteside, the Redlingshafer son-in-law who had purchased the farm when George died. With the exception of W.H. Holmes and Ward Carpenter, all of the investors were cousins. Irwin Myers was my grandfather; Dan Myers, my great-grandfather. They all lived along or just off the New York Road.

The good news here is that none of these guys lost much money. The bad news, they didn't mine much coal either --- perhaps enough to heat their own homes for a winter or two but little more. There were a couple of difficulties. First, the coal bed was not extensive enough to exploit commercially; and second, these men were farmers, not miners, and really didn't have too firm a grip on what they were trying to do.

Some years later, another group of investors sank a shaft just to the north --- west of the New York Road again, but north of the Chariton River. That enterprise didn't get off the ground either and pretty much marked the end of coal fever in Benton Township.

So when my dad was a kid, farmers in the neighborhood of Myers Corner still hitched horses to wagons and made the trek down to the mines east of Bethlehem for their winter supplies of coal.

I've sometimes wondered if, more than a century later, any trace of this modest mining enterprise remains --- a pile of dirt, perhaps, or a hole in the ground. I think, if approaching the Wolf Creek hill from the west, you crossed the the bridge across Wolf Creek and then walked south through the gap in the fence just the other side you'd be on the route to the old mine. But I have no idea who owns the Whiteside farm nowadays and lack the enthusiasm to ask permission and go exploring anyway.

Thanks Frank, very interesting.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Olmitz - A Coal Mining Town

On Frank Myers Blog today he had a very interesting story with pictures of the Olmitz mining area.  Click here to visit this blog:

Monday, May 3, 2010

Tipperary - A Coal Mine

Taken from the History of Lucas County Iowa 1978.

Tipperary was known as Mine No. 2 and Olmitz was known as Mine No. 1.

In the early 1900's William Haven, an eastern engineer, organized the Inland Coal and Western Iowa Development Companies and a coal mine was sunk in Section 9, Lincoln Township, northeast of Chariton.  In 1902 coal options were first recorded for Pleasant Township at which time land owned by P.T. Bebout and wife was optioned to S.H. Mallory for $25 per acre.

In 1903 mineral title was transferred by Eli Manning, agent for S.H. Mallory, to Lee N. Goodwin, and in 1904 assigned by Goodwin to the Western iowa Development Company.  It held title until 1913 when all mineral rights held by the company were deeded to the Central Iowa Fuel Company for $335, 000.

This same year the Rock Iscland Railroad Company built a rail line between Des Moines and Allerton, making possible the development of the coal field in northeastern Lucas County.  Work started immediately on plans for a railroad spur and the sinking of a deep coal shaft and air shaft on the land covered by the Bebout option.  Some months were required to complete the sinking of the main shaft and an air shaft.  The former reached a depth of 186 feet and the latter 240 feet.

A Mr. Taylor from Kansas City was the contractor for the building of the railroad grade to mine No. 2.  This was accomplished by a work force of colored men and mule power.

People drove from miles around to observe the activities as work progressed on both the railroad grade and mine shafts.

The work force for the railroad construction was housed in tents.  A large screened-in tent served as dining hall and kitchen, both supervised by a lady by the name of Lee, a widow with two small daughters by the name of Arlella and Tommie Lee.  The little girls attended Center School for a time.

The work force and their families grew and the need for a post office was discussed at a local union meeting.  Two names recalled were Pity Me and Tipperary, the latter a very popular song at that time.  The men, bearing in mind the difficulties encountered in reaching the mine site, unanimously approved the name and the mining camp became the well known and remembered Tipperary.

The first post office was located in the Bill Greenhalgh residence in the north part of the camp and the mail was delivered there by the rural mail carrier, Jonathan D. Lenig.  For some reason the post office was discontinued for a time and again mail boxes lined the road north of the camp.

In March of 1924, Miss Wilhelmina Fisher was appointed to re-establish the post office.  The mail was brought to the post office by Harold Moon, then rural carrier, and many times on horseback in severe winter weather.   The post office closed in September 1927 after the mine had closed in April.

Pay day was every other Saturday and payment was first made in gold, brought to the camp brom Chariton by the paymaster, Mike Carr, in a heavy locked wooden chest.  The men who brought the payroll were armed but there was never an attempted hold-up to the writer's knowledge.  When working at full capacity, thousands of dollars were paid to the approximately 400 workers.

Despite the fact that the work was hard and dangerous, money was squandered in gambling games and drinking, sometimes with tragic or near tragic results.

In one instance, the death record reads that "Evidence of the coroner's inquest showed that during a drunken brawl a man was struck a hard blow on the jaw, crumpled and fell to the ground and died within a few minutes."

It was such happenings that caused the camp to be looked upon with disfavor.  However there were many good people in Tipperary that were an asset to the community and to Lucas County 

(This is a very long article, so it is in two parts.  Part Two is below this one).

Tipperary a Coal Mine

(Part Two)

This article was taken from the History of Lucas County Iowa 1978

In the early days of the camp many of the men lived in tents or found residence in near-by farm homes.  Eventually houses and shacks dotted the hills surrounding the camp.  Several of the miners built homes on leased ground away from the camp.  The Central Iowa Fuel Company contracted with Pete Johnson (father of two Chariton businessmen, Renus and Luther Johnson) to build twenty houses near the mine that were rented to employees wanting to be close to work.

One shack is remembered because it was built on a hill side near the railroad tracks.  The upper story was reported to have an entrance which led into a cave housing a still.  Stills were quite common property and the brew of some operators, not locally consumed, was bootlegged over quite a large territory, including Chicago. 

More families moved in and the district's school enrollment grew rapidly.  By the fall of 1916, 42 pupils from primary to eighth grade attended Center   The Misses Lida and Adda McMannis, whose farm home overlooked the camp, were employed yearly to teach the lower grades.  Many other teachers were at Center School during the remaining years of the camp.  At this writing three former teachers are residents of Chariton - Mrs. Fern Bingaman, Mrs. Edna Storm and Mrs. Stella McDowell.

The road was re-routed south of the ball diamond to accomodate the railroad yards.  In the bend of the road, a rather large building was constructed and used for a dance hall and skating rink.  Two French ladies (Sisters) by the name of Langlois who lived in the Buxton coal camp in Mahaska County showed movies there.  They traveled by horse and buggy and sometimes drove two teams of ponies to a light vehicle.  During inclement weather the roads would be almost impassable, which caused the movies to be postponed or cancelled.  One sister was responsible for showing the movies and the other played the piano.  The dance hall was sold and torn down after a few years.

John Bennett owned a small grocery near the meat market   Next to the grocery was Dr. Fisher's office where the second post office was operated by his daughter, Wilhelmina.  Miss Fisher owned one of the first radios in camp.  When there was a ball game or prize fight broadcast she would set the radio near the door and the porch would soon be crowded with listeners.

The largest store was that owned by Frank and Elizabeth Brown.  This was located just south of Dr. Fisher's office and a little farther south was the barbershop of Mr. Foster from Russell.

At the top of a rather steep hill was the school house which was also used for church services and meetings of various groups.  The steep hills were the concern of every car owner and labor was donated to haul cinders from the mine to those troublesome spots.  It was often said that if a salesman had a car that would climb the Tipperary hills he had a sale.

Time has erased most of the reminders that a once thriving coal camp with a population of more than one thousand was Tipperary.  There is no longer access to the area; if so, one would find it most difficult to locate a former well known spot.  The old shale pile was used for road surfacing in Lucas County some years ago and perhaps the remains of same would be the only site one could readily identify, and this too could be difficult as nature has again claimed her own after fifty years.

Olmitz - A Coal Mining Town

This article was copied from the History of Lucas County Iowa 1978 history book.

One of the most colorful mining towns which sprang up in the early 1900's was Olmitz, located in the northeast portion of Lucas County.

The Rock Island Railroad tracks were laid by Mexicans and colored workers.  At one time the group was quarantined because of a small pox epidemic.  They had to stay secluded in their homes until the disease ended.

Olmitz supported a five-room school and a two-year high school.  There were 104 company homes, two pool halls, a church (the priest commuted from Chariton), a garage and a restaurant.  A show hall operated by two French women, was a high light of the town where residents could dance or roller skate.

Jay Batten operated the company store which housed the post office.  There was also one gas station and an ice house.

Supplies were hauled from Russell and Chariton by a team of mules.  In 1916 the Miley Brothers hauled with a Model T, but some supplies were delivered from box cars

Since there was absence of electricity, Mrs. Mary Braida tried to initiate one of her own.  She connected a set of batteries and ran a wire through town.  Anyone who wanted to hook on could for a small fee.  However, there weren't enough subscribers to pay for the cost and the first utility firm of Olmitz dissolved.

When the mine closed in 1925 a lot of houses were moved to Williamson or Russell and some were bought by farmers in the area.

Some of the people who lived in Olmitz were Blanche McShane, Leonard McShane, George McFarland, and Mike Katusa.

Olmitz High School 1924-1925:  Juanita Carter, Buelah (Brenton) Braida, Elsie Coop, Georgia (Shore) Hubler, Margaret James, Mildred Davis, Lesie Rhodes, Violet Beckam, Teresa Lanin, Alberta (Covey) Thompson, Viola Davis, Mary Vergosky.