Saturday, November 08, 2014

Farewell to old Olmitz

Although I made it out to Olmitz Hill this fall, didn't take the turn and drive on through the old Olmitz coal camp site to this marker commemorating a fascinating chapter in Lucas County history. So the photograph here is recycled from an earlier post.

What I did do the other day was find an article in The Chariton Leader of July 26, 1932, commemorating the end of the small village, written just after the last remaining public building at Olmitz had been sold for removal. The story, headlined "School House Sale Writes Finis For Olmitz Mine Camp," would have been written by Henry Gittinger, Leader editor and an interesting guy, although remarkably unconcerned some days about accuracy. So I've rewritten his second paragraph, my edits indicated by italics:


"With the sale of the school house for two-hundred dollars at auction last Saturday passed almost the last vestige of what once was the thriving village of Olmitz. H.A. Turbot, of Russell, purchased the building.

"Olmitz was born in 1915, a year after the sinking of a coal mine by the Central Iowa Fuel Company, Central Iowa Fuel Co. No. 2, known as Tipperary. Central Iowa Fuel Co. No. 3, known as the Olmitz mine, opened in 1916. The decline began in 1926 with the closing of the Olmitz mine; Tipperary closed a year later. The fall of this little coal empire is now complete, and the obituary can be written. The last remaining family, that of Charles Oswalt, has moved elsewhere. The school building, in which two grades of high school subjects were taught, will soon be dismantled.

"Olmitz at one time was home to almost five hundred people. The mine(s) employed 450 men. The fuel company alone built over one hundred homes for the workers. For eight years the payroll averaged $50,000 each month.

"Today, less than forty windowless, weather-beaten houses remain. It is a graveyard of memories.

"Olmitz has gone the way of many Iowa towns that existed by coal alone. The last black diamond had engraved upon it, for everyone and everything concerned in the town's existence, the word 'finis.' "


Then I happened upon this advertisement in a December, 1913, edition of The Chariton Herald-Patriot that reflects the optimism that opening of these two coal mines inspired. I could find nothing to tell me how the auction went and obviously, projections made by the town site company's owners, were overly optimistic.

Exploitation of vast coal reserves under northeast Lucas County did not commence until 1901, when the Inland Coal Co. sank the shaft northeast of Chariton known after 1913 when it was developed fully as Central Iowa Fuel Co. No. 1.  Arrival of the Rock Island Railroad line during 1913 allowed mine development and work on a spur to the projected site of the Tipperary mine (Central Iowa Fuel Co. No. 2) and the projected village of Olmitz commenced in 1914, when during March work sinking the Tipperary shaft began.

The Tipperary mine (also site of a coal camp) was just north of Olmitz and, during 1916, the Olmitz mine (Central Iowa Fuel Co. No. 3), just west of the village, opened. The Olmitz mine's coal reserves lasted only 10 years, however, and it closed in 1926, mined out. The Tipperary shaft, badly damaged by an explosion, closed a year later.

By that time, the town of Williamson had flowered as the heart of Lucas County's mining industry with the opening of Central Iowa Fuel Co. No. 4, Central Iowa Fuel Co. No. 5 and Consolidated Indiana No. 3. 

The coal camps of Olmitz and Tipperary then just faded away, allowing Gittinger to write --- during 1932 --- an obituary.

No comments: