Friday, November 21, 2014

Black Diamonds: Lucas County & Coal (Part 4)

The town of Phillips, named after Thomas J. Philips --- then superintendent of mining operations at Cleveland --- was platted in 1887 just south of the White Breast Coal & Mining Company's new No. 3 mine. The town died at birth; the new mine three years later.

To recap a little --- William Haven and his crew of miners hit Lucas County deep coal with an exploratory shaft about a mile and a quarter east of Lucas on Saturday, Jan. 15, 1876. Sunday, Jan. 16, was spent burrowing through the bed to determine its thickness and when that had been gauged at 5-feet-3-inches --- 5 feet was a magic number --- there should have been a shout of "Eureka," if there were not.

The White Breast Coal & Mining Co. was incorporated the following Wednesday and west central Lucas County began to boom.

This all took time, of course. The exploratory shaft would remain as the air shaft, but the main shaft had to be dug and walled some distance to the south. Rail sidings were built from the main line of the C.B.&Q. to the mine site so that coal could be hauled away. Mine buildings were constructed and equipment installed.

The Chariton Leader, in its edition of Feb. 5, 1876, reported, "The air shaft of the Whitebreast Coal & Mining Co. is located 1 1/4 mile east of Lucas, and to the main shaft, which is 850 feet south, about one mile. The main shaft is to be driven 150 feet from the railroad track. They intend having one main switch with three branches for the three grades of coal (slack, nut and lump), making the most complete mine in the state for advantages and facilities of loading."


A year later, the mine was fully operational. The following is part of a longer report published first in The Burilington Hawkeye, then reprinted on Jan. 17, 1877, in The Chariton Patriot:

The mine is worked from the principal shaft, which is 7 x 14 feet, very strongly walled with timbers, and protected from surface water inflow. It is ventilated by the aid of another shaft, the two forming an up-current of air through the principal shaft. The mine is remarkable dry and free from either moisture or foul air. We tramped through the myriad galleries as if over a dusty road, and no sign of moisture presented itself; in fact, the visitor comes out as dry externally as when he entered upon his subterranean explorations....

The underground work is in charge of Thomas A. Francis, a skilled and experienced miner, by whom, also the prospecting was done under the supervision of Mr. Haven, the general superintendent. Mr. Francis is "pit boss," and takes an especial pride in the "underground city," which he is rapidly constructing. The progress of the work is something creditable to Iowa enterprise. One thousand yards of main and side entries have been driven and a large amount of preliminary work done, which now puts the company in position to turn out 50 car loads of coal per day, or more by working day and night. The equipments have cost altogether about $35,000 and are as complete and efficient as capital and modern invention can make them.

The buildings consist of engine and boiler house, tower and coal shutes, blacksmith and carpenter shops, etc. The coal passages are all equipped with iron tramways along whose smooth tracks mild mannered mules drag a ton of coal at a time. It is raised to the surface on a car in the quick time of 12 tons in 10 minutes as timed by the watch. Twelve tons make a carload, and at this rate the mine would turn out 60 cars a day, or one hundred cars working double time. The coal is weighed on a 60,000 pound Fairbanks track scale, 32 feet long and double beam. It is in charge of Thomas Watson, weighmaster, who handles the monster scales with all the ease and accuracy with which a postmaster weighs a letter.


As what was known as Mine No. 1 was developed, the demand for professional miners grew --- and they arrived by rail, primarily from the East, at a steady pace, some unattached but many with wives and children. With the exception of Swedes, nearly all were immigrants from the British isles or the sons of immigrants.

William Haven platted the original village of Cleveland for White Breast Fuel & Mining during June of 1878, but there had been building on the site since shortly after No. 1 was opened. Now growth would begin to accelerate and the village would be added to twice before it began to decline. Lots were for sale, and many bought, but the mine company built most of the early houses --- rented to miner familes as they arrived in town, then often sold to them later. Lucas was experiencing a building boom, too.

When the 1880 federal census was taken, 891 people lived in Lucas; 380 in brand new town of Cleveland. The Welsh were best represented among Lucas County's newest citizens, but the English came in second. Then in declining numbers, Scots, Swedes and Irish.

Labor giant John Lewellyn Lewis was born in Cleveland on Feb. 12, 1880. His father, Thomas H. Lewis, who left Wales during 1869-70, apparently had worked in mines in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois before heading to the Black Hills in search of gold. He arrived single in Lucas County during 1876 to work in the new White Breast mines --- and married Anna L. Watkins, daughter of another Welsh miner, here on May 20, 1878.

Cleveland was a "dry" town --- White Breast Coal & Mining did not allow the sale of intoxicating beverages on its property and the deed for each lot it sold contained a covenant also forbidding the sale of liquor. It was in some ways, a model family village.

Lucas, however, was not dry --- nor was a stretch of open territory between the two towns before annexations to both closed it. There was a rather famous saloon named "Last Chance" in that gap in the beginning.

The area east of Cleveland, over the line into Whitebreast Township around the mines, developed into the unincorporated settlement known as East Cleveland. At times any thing that could go on there, did --- with the added complication of no law enforcement.


Also during 1880, work began on a second White Breast Coal and Mining shaft some three-quarters of a mile east of Shaft No. 1. The Chariton Patriot of Oct. 22, 1880, reported that the new shaft --- Mine No. 2 --- was "nearly down to coal." It opened and was developed fully during 1881, increasing the need for miners. These two shafts more commonly were called "A" and "B" and as mining continued during the 1880s, their underground workings joined up.

1880 also was the year that the White Breast partners, including John C. Osgood and William Haven, opened the Western Supply Co. store in Cleveland. This was a company store, but also because of its scale and variety of merchandise served Lucas and the surrounding rural community. It was rather famous in its time.

About this time our friend William Haven, who began his career as prospector, then became president of White Breast Coal and finally, after passing the presidency on to Osgood, became general superintendent, slips out of sight briefly. Everything indicates Haven had marginal interest in completed projects, preferring to move along to something new. Thomas J. Phillips replaced Haven as superintendent of operations at Cleveland during 1880.

Most likely Haven remained on the White Breast payroll, but in another field, until 1882, when he sold out after agreeing not to engage in the coal business along the C.B.&Q. line for 10 years. We'll catch up with him in upstate New York, Omaha and St. Joe, Missouri, another time.


The 1880s were the boom years for the White Breast field, and as many as 800 miners were on the payroll during those years. By 1890, Cleveland's population had grown to 807; Lucas, to 1,320. Cleveland actually had begun to decline by 1890, so its population may have been even larger a little earlier.

The first black miners arrived in Cleveland during the fall of 1881, recruited by White Breast Coal. I'm not going to tackle this topic now, because it's complicated and the record is muddled by misinformation, speculation and the overt racism of many of the newspaper men who filed reports datelined Cleveland during the 1880s. 

One of the potentially most interesting reports about these new Lucas Countyans, published in The Patriot of Nov. 2, 1881, is largely illegible because of careless microfilming (an original copy of the newspaper, if it exists, is not accessible in Chariton and damnfool state archivists destroyed the state's newspaper archive many years ago after microfilming it). But what little bit of it that can be read, follows:

"Yesterday afternoon we paid a brief visit to the camp of the colored miners near Cleveland, and found the colored men perfectly happy and contented. There were originally 140 men, but a few of them were dissatisfied and left, while a few miners were found incompetent, and discharged, leaving present number about 115 or 120. The houses for their accommodation are being built as rapidly as possible, and as fast as completed are taken possession of by the families of married men. From a conversation with Mr. William Freeman and others, we learned ...."  (balance illegible.)


There were few clouds on the coal industry's horizon in Lucas County during the first years of the 1880s, but as the decade advanced Whitebreast No. 1 came near to being minded out and during August of 1887 it closed after a major "sqeeze."

The White Breast bed was mined using the room-and-pillar method. Coal was removed to form large rooms with substantial coal pillars left to support the slate roof. As areas were mined out, these pillars often were carefully removed and the chambers allowed to collapse. That apparently was going on below Cleveland when an unplanned chain-reaction "squeeze" commenced in the north part of the mine. Chambers began to collapse in domino-like sequence as pillars failed. Here's how The Chariton Herald of Aug. 25 reported "the squeeze" under a headline that read, "Good Bye to the Old Shaft."

"Last Sunday the northern part of shaft No. 1, at Cleveland, began to close up. The squeeze kept increasing so rapidly that the miners in that portion of the shaft had barely time to get out their tools before it was too late. On Monday, but five drivers out of the whole number employed could be given work. Tuesday evening shortly before dark, the squeeze again commenced, and the miners who had gone home from work were notified that if they wanted their tools they must make haste to get them out. A force of men was put to work to get out the cars and track as fast as possible, and at this writing (Wednesday morning) it is evident that the whole shaft will be closed up. Fortunately, all the miners secured their tools, as those in the mine Tuesday night took out all they could find, regardless of whether the owner was there or not.

The closing up of this shaft will be a serious loss, not only to the Whitebreast Company, but to the miners, and our town as well. There were about 200 men employed in the shaft, and while a large portion of them will probably begin work in No. 2 they will probably not have more than half time. The new shaft will not be ready for hoisting coal before Christmas, and while the miners have work enough to keep the wolf from the door, they will be obliged to use economy.

As mentioned, the "new shaft" --- for the White Breast No. 3 mine, located higher in the hills east of the No. 1 and 2 shafts --- was being readied for production as No. 1 closed itself down. This mine was highly touted, highly anticipated --- and quite likely its financing involved a bit of scamming of eastern investors by the remaining White Breast stockholders.

The town of Phllips was platted near the new shaft during June of 1887, and it was anticipated that it would develop as Cleveland had during the previous 10 years. The new shaft reached coal during October 1887.

Unfortunately, things did not work out as planned. Miners left underutilized by cutbacks at No. 1 and 2 went to work at No. 3, so there was no need for another town --- and Phillips died at birth. The coal taken out of No. 3 was not of the same high quality as that produced by No. 1 and No. 2. And the whole operation was plagued by accidents and other minor disasters.

By 1889, when No. 3 should have been the biggest producer had projections panned out, only 200 miners were working there. No. 2 remained larger, employing 300. No. 1 had been abandoned.

During May of 1890, White Breast officials directed that coal mined in No. 3 mine be brought out through No. 2 --- workings of the new mine had reached those of the old. That led to speculation that No. 3's days were numbered. 

The Lucas Ledger reported on May 29, 1890, that "quite a number of our miners are leaving Lucas and Cleveland. Some are going to Ottumwa, some to Centerville and others are going to Colorado; all are looking for a better locality for work."

White Breast No. 3 closed officially on July 12, 1890, and all of the equipment was removed to a new White Breast mine in Wapello County, Keb No. 2.

Almost immediately thereafter, the general offices of White Breast Coal & Mining were moved from Burlington to Chicago and a branch office was opened in Ottumwa. The manager of the Cleveland office was sent there to run it.

White Breast No. 2 was abandoned less than a year later, during May of 1891, and all equipment that could be salvaged and moved to other mine sites elsewhere in southern Iowa was. The White Breast Coal office in Cleveland was locked for the last time. Lucas County's first coal boom had gone bust.

A Patriot reporter visited the two Clevelands, one officially a village and the other, not, during 1894 and reported, "The Patriot representative, in his wanderings around the once busy town of Cleveland, unconsciously repeated the poetic story of Goldsmith, "deserted village." The great hive of industry, wherein toiled nearly two thousand men a few years ago, is now nearly silent .... The great coal deposits were practically worked out, capital pulled up stakes and the army of labor followed. The seven hills whereon the classic town of East Cleveland stood is now a common everyday corn field."

By 1900, Cleveland's population had declined to 202. Eighteen years later, after petition was filed in Lucas County District Court, the Cleveland plat was vacated and the little boom town officially vanished.

1 comment:

Blake Watson said...

Thanks so much! The Thomas Watson mentioned in this article is my great-grandfather. I have some clipped news articles about the Whitebreast Coal Company that I would be glad to share electronically. They are undated but should be around 1875-1886. I also have an interesting article, in Welsh, about Thomas Watson surviving an attack. -- Blake Watson, Dayton OH