Monday, September 03, 2012

Labor Day on Miners' Row

There are six houses built during 1913 for coal miners here in a row just north of Yocom Park although the most northerly has kind of disappeared in a tangle of overgrown shrubbery.

It's Labor Day, a national holiday since 1894 that is intended to honor America's workers, and I got to thinking yesterday afternoon about this row of houses just north of Yocom Park on the east side of Highway 14 (North 7th Street) --- a fairly intact reminder of the days when coal mining, in addition to farming, was part of Lucas County's economic base.

The year was 1913 and there was a good deal of optimism in Chariton about the future of the the county's coal fields, exploited first commencing in the 1880s out west near Lucas and its ghostly sister, Cleveland.

Attention had shifted after the turn of the 20th century to coal underlying the area just north of Chariton and stretching northeast into Pleasant Township, where the legendary Olmitz and Tipperary mines eventually would be opened.

The Inland Fuel Co. already had developed and was preparing to expand its mine just north of town. Plans for new mines to the northeast had been made. And, most importantly, the new north-south Rock Island Railroad line was completed during that year --- the first trains rumbling through during July. Transporting the coal mined here would be the key to the industry's success.

Although mining companies generally provided housing for their workers, as they did company stores and other amenities in what became controlled economic communities, there was room for local entrepreneaurs to make money, too. And that was what motivated two Chariton businessmen to build this row of small houses during the fall of 1913.

The Chariton Leader of Aug. 23, 1913, reported that "W.A. Eikenberry and O.J. Israel have arrnaged to erect six cottages on the vacant half block just north of the electric light plant. The grounds will be leveled down and these cottages will be made modern, water piped into the buildings and heated by furnace. These will be for the benefit of those who come here to work in the mines."

The landscape was a little different in east Chariton during 1913. The city's electric light plant was located right along what now is Highway 14 in the southwestern corner of the current Yocom Park. The sunken area that now forms a large part of the park was Lake Como (more accurately Pond Como), created to provide the water needed for the coal-fired boilers that generated Chariton's electricity. This post card view shows how that body of water looked when this new row of houses was built just to the north. The light plant is just out of the picture to the right, but you can see its chimney stacks.

The six cottages are similar in form to most houses built for miners at that time, although sturdier --- they have survived for a century, after all.

Similar houses, generally smaller and not intended to be quite so permanently located, would line now-vanished streets in Williamson and the ghost town of Olmitz as well as what sometimes still is called White City in southeast Chariton. A majority of these houses were moved elsewhere or torn down as Lucas County's mining industry faded although many still can be found.

But this is the largest intact grouping of miner homes that I know of, although most I'd guess have little knowledge of their origin, and as such deserves a little respect.

Mining was almost extinct in Lucas County by World War II and expired entirely with the closing of the Big Ben mine during the latter half of the 20th century. These cottages and others scattered around Chariton and elsewhere were purchased by mining families who remained and by others. My mother's cousin, Olive Brewer, owned and occupied one of these houses when I was a kid, although I can't remember which one.

Some have been treated kindly by subsequent owners --- and others haven't.

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