Monday, October 23, 2017

Lucas 1877: Who needs water when beer's so cheap?

Lucas County's Jackson Township from the 1875 Andreas Atlas of Iowa.

Dan M. Baker, irascible editor of The Chariton Leader --- a gentleman whose tongue was lodged permanently in his cheek --- paid a visit to the village of Lucas, out west of Chariton in Jackson Township, during late February of 1877 and published an account of the trek under the headline "A Trip to Lucas" in his edition of March 3.

The first working coal mine in Lucas County had begun operations the previous year a mile east of town and the village, platted in 1868 alongside the new Burlington & Missouri River Railroad tracks pointed westward toward the Missouri River, was just beginning to thrive.

Today, Lucas has a population estimated at 212. The number of residents probably was double that in 1877. By 1890, when the coal industry in that section of the county was operating at peak capacity, the city had a population of 1,320. Its immediate neighbor to the east, a mining town called Cleveland, probably had about 500 residents; and East Cleveland, the unincorporated area closest to the mines, a couple of hundred more.

But all of that was in the future when Dan disembarked from a train at the Lucas depot on Feb. 26, 1877. Here's his report:

On Monday we visited Lucas for the first time since last fall. We were agreeably surprised to find the village very much improved since then. Quite  a large number of new houses have been built, and several of them for business purposes. Though a very dull day when we were there, yet everything appeared lively to us by way of contrast to Chariton.

The new hotel, opposite the depot, is nearly completed, and will be the finest building in the place.

The new school house, situated upon the hill west of Lucas, is a fine building and reflects credit upon the enterprise of the district. Miss Nora Mooney and Miss Minnie Stanton, of this city (Chariton), are engaged in teaching the young and give general satisfaction to the patrons of the school.

There are two dry goods stores, one church, two drug stores, and five saloons in the place, all flourishing, especially the saloons, though all work harmoniously together, which keeps up the reputation of Lucas as a lively village.

Mr. A.X. Smith, of this city (Chariton), owns one of the stores, and Walter Mooney, as genteel a boy as can be found anywhere, runs it for him.

The Baker brothers manager the other establishment, and continue to hold their share of the trade.

There are a couple of doctors there, but no lawyers. The people being peaceably disposed have no need of the latter. There is one drug store and another coming, yet the place is quite healthy.

In point of morals, Lucas ought to lead the county. She has three church organizations --- the Baptists, under the lead of Rev. W.S. Hughes, the Presbyterians, under the lead of no one, and the Mormons. The last is a branch of the Latter Day Saints, but does not accept old Brigham as the true prophet. They are spoken of as the best citizens in the locality, being honest, sober and industrious. As we didn't visit the place in the capacity of a missionary, we devoted our time to inquiring into the interests of the village.

We were informed that Mr. D. Eikenberry, also Messrs. A. Knotts & Co., are preparing to push their explorations for coal, with excellent prospects of reaching the great strata soon. Should those gentlemen succeed in their exertions, it will make Lucas a large town.

On our rounds through the main street we were tempted into the saloon of Mr. Thomas Beaty, where we sampled an excellent article of beer, which they say he always keeps. He is doing a thriving business, and says the demand for the necessaries of life is fair, considering the hard times. We were at a loss, however, to understand why the natives waste so much money in digging wells while beer is so cheap. We were answered by Thomas that Lucas used a great deal of water for mechanical purposes, such as making steam, &c., which probably accounts for the extravagance displayed by some digging wells.

Considerable grain and stock are shipped from that point to Chicago. Messrs. A.M. Hood, Jim Knotts and others dealing slightly in those commodities.

Trade comes from every point for miles away to Lucas, even Woodburn being fairly represented by persons who wish to trade where they can do best.

Alf Hood has laid out a number of lots on his place, below the depot, and has sold nearly all of them. He will be compelled to lay off a new addition soon. The town is stringing out along the railroad towards the coal pit, about a mile below (to the east). Ere long it will reach there and the two places be consolidated and connected with street cars.

The coal company are not taking out as much coal as formerly, the demand not being so heavy, but are filling all orders promptly.

Sunday is a dull day in Lucas, there being no excitement of any kind and no place of amusement to attend. The day is regarded as a dead letter in the calendar of time.

Our visit was short, but interesting, and in due time we hope to call again.

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