Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The evening and a morning at Olmitz

Snow --- just a little, not expected to last --- is in the overnight forecast, suggesting that our long, almost idyllic, autumn is going to move into a colder phase. If so, it’s been a great run.

I’m glad I made it out to Olmitz last week, when days were mild and fall colors, a little past their prime, but still beautiful.

I’ve been intending for a long time to take photos of the monument that now marks the location of the old Olmitz mining camp, but for some reason had never gotten around to it. Now I have.

The monument, erected by Donald Braida in memory of Domenico and Maria (Baiotto) Braida and John E. and Beulah (Brinton) Braida, whose family remained in Lucas County when the mines closed and were integrated into its fabric, stands at a bend in the road along Cedar Creek that was at the heart of Olmitz.

I actually visited twice, once in the late afternoon just as it was getting too dark for my camera to function well; then on the next sunny morning, two days later.

There's not a trace now of the little town where hundreds once lived, about a mile east of the Central Iowa Fuel Company's Olmitz No. 3 mine and two miles southwest of the the larger and more productive Tipperary No. 2 mine, where a much smaller mining camp was located. The Tipperary site was rough and hilly; the Olmitz site, flat to gently rolling, so mining families who worked in either mine tended to live here.

Tipperary had a reputation as a tough and rambunctious place, home at times to bootleggers and professional gamblers; Olmitz, as a family-oriented town.

Rose Marie Briggs has written and self-published two wonderfully detailed books about these little mining towns, "Tipperary, Gone but Not Forgotten" and "Memories of Olmitz." All the detail here about Olmitz is lifted from the latter. I'm not sure if copies still are available, but anyone interested in Lucas County's history should have both.

According to Rose Marie, there were 104 company houses in Olmitz (only 25 at Tiperarry), supplemented by some private dwellings; the company store, the Olmitz school, a substantial church operated by the the United Evangelical denomination (now after two mergers part of the United Methodist Church), a service station and ice house, a few private businesses and the Langloise (French Ladies) Dance Hall, operated by Helouise and Helena Langloise, who were headquartered at the legendary Buxton in Monroe County.

The Olmitz mine was developed beginning in 1915 and operated until 1924. The Tipperary mine closed during 1927. After that, much of the town was dismantled, and finally --- it vanished.

Although there were no black miners at Omitz and Tipperary, as there were at Buxton and at other Lucas County mines, the range of nationalities was broad, including (according to Rose Mary) Italian, Croat, Scots, English, Welsh, Austrian, French, Belgian, Hungarian, Polish, Swedish and Swiss.

This is the road parallel to Cedar Creek that runs west up the valley toward the old Olmitz mine. The highest point in the distance is Olmitz Hill.

This road ends at a "T." Turn left, and you'll twist up the steep incline to meander through the Cedar Creek Unit of Stephens State Forest.

Turn right and you'll pass the old Davis house and barn --- here before the mines were developed and now the only remaining buildings in this little valley.

This house, as I remember it from many years ago, fascinated me because the projection above the roof at that time was surrounded by windows --- my granddad always told me it was a "bat roost." So I always think of this as the bat roost house, even though the windows have long since been enclosed.

And here's the road leading north out of Olmitz toward Tipperary, Zion Cemetery (the Methodist church at Zion was torn down many years ago, but it also served Olmitz and Tipperary families and some of those who died in the mines or the mining camps are buried here), the original hilltop site of Olmitz before its post office was relocated to serve the mining camp of the same name and other landmarks.

After driving up into the hills, turning around and looking back it's virtually impossible to imagine a time when this quite place was quite so alive.

Everyone with connections to this part of the county had stories to tell. My great-uncle, Alpheus E. Love, for example, offered music lessons (fiddle, piano, coronet, anything that could generate music) to the children of Olmitz and Tiperrary, traveling by horseback or horse and buggy (sometimes on foot) from his home at Columbia, then stopping to spend the night with my grandparents on their English Township farm en route to Williamson, the biggest mining town of them all.

My mother spoke of Helena Langloise, sometimes known as "Big Ben," to my mother "the old French woman," roaring down the road in a Model-T, red hair flying in the wind, reportedly packing a pistol and carrying considerable cash.

Those days, however, are long gone and barely remembered --- other than in the pages of Rose Marie's books.


Tipperary and Olmitz Coal Mine Books said...

What a delightful "tour" of the Olmitz coal mine site, and the monument by the coal camp!!! Your article was so interesting, especially since I am the author of the Olmitz and Tipperary mine books. I wish I had known about your great-uncle, as that would have been included in my book. I ended up doing a genealogy to make connections "who was where" and would be so interested in knowing who your "mother and grandparents" are to "make the connection". Writing the history of the two towns was like treasure hunting; and finding the people who knew "someone" or lived close by was such a treat. I tried so hard to find a picture of the Langlois' establishment in Olmitz to no avail. Also tried locating their final resting place but never could find that either. Would love to visit with you and your folks and have them reminisce with me sometime!! Sincerely, Rose Marie Briggs

Ole said...

Thanks for this story, Frank.

If I recall correctly... please correct me...

The T you come to and take a left - after taking that left, the farm on the right side is what is left of the Maddy farmhouse. My cousin owns this land now. My cousin helped my grandfather farm this land and did chores for Grandpa his entire life.

In the photo where you are standing in the field taking the photo of the bridge and the road climbs up off to the left, I believe was the site of the old Zion School. My dad, Frank Maddy, came off that Winter hill when he was a child with a couple classmates riding on a horse drawn sled, but without the horses. The sled went out of control and the kids jumped off just before the sled slammed into the bridge. Dad said he thinks it would have killed them all had they not jumped.

My great Uncle James "Jim" Maddy worked at the mines as did my grandfather at times.

My grandmother, Ella (Casner-Mumford) Maddy, would make sandwiches for the workers for extra money. My dad, Frank Maddy, at the age of 9, would take the food to the workers every day.

My great grandfather, grandfather and dad are buried in Zion Cemetery.

Ricker Maddy

Anonymous said...

I lived in this house growing up. The barn in your picture was built in 1941 a few months before Pearl Harbor. The men that built it wrote the date one it. As far as bats go we didn't have any in the house but the barn had plenty.

Anonymous said...

I believe the "Anonymous" author above was my father's sister- Cleo Davis Holmes, who also slept in the upper SE bedroom while growing up. She recently passed in October of 2014. My father, Homer Evan Davis, purchased this house and 240 acre farm from his father, John Rees Davis, when dad returned from the war in 1945. I grew up in this beautiful house and on this lovely farm and have many memories of exploring every inch of it. Olmitz (or Olymitz) was only a memory by my time, but I walked the abandoned railroad tracks East, picking up spikes and other castaways, and played in the town and mine area that were on my uncle Clyde Davis' farm. I will write a longer comment at some time, and would be happy to answer any questions about the area. Steve Davis 8/30/15

Eric Simmerman said...

I believe I have 2-3 generations buried in Zion from my fathers side. My grandparents Donald Simmerman and Leona Shimp along with thier parents and siblings & families. Surnames including: Simmerman, Shimp, Waddle, Hubler, Buzzard, Moss, Poston, Maddy, Jones & Norris. I'm always looking to connect with other researching the same.