Thursday, January 18, 2018

Lucas County's mining Industry is launched (1876-77)

Whitebreast Coal & Mining Co. Mine No. 1, 1880

Back in January, 1877 --- 140 years ago --- a reporter for The Burlington Daily Hawk-Eye climbed aboard a westbound train at what then was the queen city of southeast Iowa to explore the latest industrial phenomenon in the region --- the Whitebreast Coal & Mining Company's brand new mine at Cleveland, the mining town that was being developed nearby to serve it, both in the Whitebreast Creek Valley some seven miles west of Chariton.

Prior to January, 1876, when coal was discovered along the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad tracks, this hadn't been an especially lively part of the county. The village of Lucas had been established just to the west in 1868, platted by railroad interests as the new line was being built west to the Missouri river, but not much was happening there even though the central post office serving the region had been moved to Lucas from Tallahoma a year or two later.

The discovery of coal at Cleveland and subsequent development of the Whitebreast mines, however, would spur other coal exploration and development and and the rapid grown of Lucas, which would soon outpace Cleveland in size and survive long after Cleveland, within 20 years, for the most part vanished.

The photo here, from the Lucas County Historical Society collection, is of that first Whitebreast mine, known as No. 1, and dated 1880. These are not the buildings described in the article, however. Most of those buildings burned during 1878 and were replaced by what you see here.

En route to and from Cleveland, the reporter stopped at Dave Wormley's Depot Hotel (and restaurant) in Chariton and gave it glowing reviews. It seems likely that Mr. Wormley slipped the reporter a little cash in return.

In any case, here's the long article from The Hawk-Eye of Jan. 9, 1877, headlined, "Cleveland: The Whitebreast Coal Mines. A Lively Young Town and Its Coal Mines an Offshoot of  Burlington Enterprise --- The Fuel of Coming Years, and How It Is Obtained."


It is a curious fact that many of the first settlers of the west, coming from the woodlands of the east, regarded our prairie lands as undesirable on account of the absence of timber. They selected lands near water courses where the scattering groves afforded fuel and timber for farm improvements. Here they built their log cabins and congratulated themselves that they were among the lucky number who located in the timber, while the later and less fortunate immigrants would be compelled to take up with prairie lands. But dimly did they comprehend the destiny of the great west. Its mysterious reservoirs had not then been unlocked. The shallow soils and the troublesome root and stump of our woodlands are now less prized, while the rich prairies are the first choice of the agricolist. The building of railway lines has entirely changed the condition of things in the west. Our own sparse forests and groves no longer feed the saw mills. Our lumber comes from the pineries of the north. But what are we to do for fuel? So queried our first settlers. Presto, change! We find it beneath the soil from which we derive our wealth. The


are practically inexhaustible. Our prairies may be populated in coming ages by prosperous millions, but they will not suffer for want of fuel. The consumption of coal is rapidly increasing, especially within the last ten years. Our railroads and manufactures consume immense quantities, while for household and heating purposes it is rapidly being substituted for wood as by far the cheapest fuel. Burlington imports large quantities of Iowa and Illinois coals, and we have several companies composed chiefly of our own citizens who are engaged in mining coals. It is our purpose in this article to notice one mine which we recently visited, known as


located on the B. & M. R. railroad, seven and a half miles west of Chariton, Lucas county, in the valley of Whitebreast creek. The Whitebreast Coal and Mining company is an offshoot of Burlington enterprise. Mr. J.C. Osgood, late cashier of the First National bank, is a large stockholder, and the secretary and treasurer of the company. the mines are under the personal supervision of Mr. Wm. Haven, formerly superintendent of the Ottumwa coal mines, and who has been a pioneer in the discovery and development of the rich coal deposits now being successfully worked by the Whitebreast Coal and Mining company. Both gentlemen are giving their personal attention to the work, which is a sufficient guarantee that it will be, in fact is, a triumphant success.


A prospecting company was organized in May, 1875, by parties who were familiar with the coal formations of Iowa and who believed that a superior vein of coal could be found in Lucas county. The coal bed of southern Iowa crops out in Wapello county, dipping down westward until it is 150 feet below the surface in Monroe county and 250 to 300 feet in Lucas. The prospectors selected the present site for the operations of the new company because it is the lowest ground and would consequently require less shaft excavation. They sank several shafts in close proximity to the Burlington & Missouri River track in the low lands of whitebreast valley, but encountered quick sands and other obstacles and did not meet with success until the present shaft was sunk on the south side of the track at the foot of a hill. Relays of men were worked night and day and on the 16th of January, 1876, they struck a rich vein of coal. The next day a permanent company was organized and the work pushed forward as rapidly as possible. The


is of the very highest classification of western coal; in fact no better coal is mined in Iowa, and so remarkably free from sulphur, rock, and other impurities that the proprietors have given it the special appellation of


It is a bituminous coal, is britle, breaks easily, burns freely, makes comparatively little ash, and few cinders. It burns well under a heavy blast, and for making steam and general domestic uses it has no superior in the state. For this reason it is not classed simply as "Iowa coal," and is far superior in quality to much of the Iowa coal that is mined. The vein is five or six feet thick and its area has not yet been discovered, but is known to be extensive.

The company exercises great care in preparing the coal for market, as it desires to build up a reputation for a very superior article. The coal is carefully cleaned and assorted. The miners are obliged to use rakes or riddles down in the mines before it is loaded in the tramways, and in loading it on the cars it passes over double screens, thoroughly separating the slack, the nut and the larger pieces of coal.


is worked from the principal shaft, which is 7x14 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 remarkably 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. As to his internal "dryness," that depends upon the commissariat and affects the visitor and the miner rather than the coal. 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


is something creditable to Iowa enterprise. Not only was the present site successfully located at the first inception of the enterprise but every successive step was marked with good management and gratifying success. The mistakes were few and the progress steady and rapid. During the past year the company has completed its shaft, which is heavily timbered and pronounced by miners the best in the state. 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 fifty car loads of coal per day, or more by working day and night. The equipments have cost altogether about $35,000, and are so complete and efficient as capital and modern invention can make them.


consist of engine and boiler house, tower and coal schutes, 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 to the hoisting shaft where it is raised to the surface and hauled on a car in the


of twelve tons in ten minutes as timed by the watch. Twelve tons make a car load, and at this rate the mine would turn out sixty cars a day, or one hundred cars working double time. The coal is weighed on a sixty thousand pound Fairbanks' track scale, thirty-two 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.


consists of two alternate platforms, each about seven feet square, suspended by a one and a half inch steel rope made by the Hazard manufacturing company of Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania. The cages or platforms are guarded against accidents by a safety-lock designed by Mr. Haven, which prevents their descent in case the cable or machinery gives way. The tops of the shafts also have guards and doors to prevent any one from taking a long plunge to the bottom and eternity. The company manifests a commendable desire to protect life and limb, and in many ways displays an honorable solicitude for the welfare of its employees. The machinery is worked by a


in charge of Matt Wright and John Angus, both of whom are experienced and careful engineers. The engine is of thirty-horse power and was made at the Des Moines Valley Iron works at Ottumwa. The steam is generated in two tubular boilers made by P. Hirchhauer, of Ottumwa. The repairs and general


is in charge of E.O. Thompson, who has a reputation as one of the best workmen on miner's tools in the state of Iowa.

All the mechanical equipment is thorough and complete, and we can see no reason why the Whitebreast mines should not develop into one of the largest and most productive coal interests in the state. The company has a


of $60,000, paid up, and in addition to the improvements mentioned, owns and has leased 640 acres of land. It is the aim of the company to build up a permanent settlement on its lands, and to that end it has laid out the


and already has an embryo city springing up as by magic. Some twenty-five or more buildings have been erected where a few months ago there were only  open fields. The town is located on a hillside, and is laid off in sixty feet streets, and lots 60x120 feet parallel and at right angles with the railroad track. Good water for domestic use is found by digging, and excellent surface drainage is obtained into the Whitebreast creek. The site is healthful and pleasant, and when a station house is built, with post, express and telegraph offices opened, as will be done the present year, there will be no good reason why the little town of Cleveland will not spring into rapid prosperity and wax and grow fat. A


with a switch at each end connects the mines with the main track of the B. & M. R. railroad. The siding is 3,200 feet long and has capacity for eighty cars at a time.


A country road crosses the railroad track at Cleveland, and the county surveyor is now engaged in laying out another road that will greatly increase the facilities of the surrounding country to communicate with the new town. One of the principal features of the place is


of Osgood & Co., presided over by the genial Ed. Jaqua, a Burlington boy, who sighs for the attractions and pleasures of the metropolis, but who, have taken Horace Greeley's advice and gone west, is determined to "grow up with the town," no matter how fast it grows. He is ably assisted in his duties by Mr. George S. Robinson. The "store" is "all that the term implies" in a country town; you can buy anything you want. the store supplies not only the families of the miners, but also does a large and profitable business with the surrounding country. Farmers come from a distance of fifteen and twenty miles to buy coal, and find it convenient to lay in a stock of domestic supplies at the same time, especially as they find a market for all they choose to take there to sell.

Some days as high as fifty to sixty wagons are loaded with coal. The retail coal trade is in charge of Peter Thompson, who also has charge of the supply store room, and in the performance of his compound duties is one of the busiest men about the place.


would pay well at this point and would add largely to the business done, as farmers could then load their wagons on both trips, and would this have a double motive in going to Cleveland to trade. There will be various


as the town grows. A doctor, a shoemaker, a tailor, a baker, and a great many other mechanics and professionals; in fact, all that goes to make up the complete town, are wanted at Cleveland. These doubtless will all rapidly come in, but the company is making no special effort in that direction, preferring to await a natural growth and acquire a population from only the better classes. In consonance with the wise and commendable policy the company employs only


men who desire to acquire homes and a competence for their families, and who are in sympathy with law and order, education and general culture and progress. There are now about 150 men employed by the company and the good character of the men can well be judged by the fact that they have already begun agitating the question of establishing a


It is also contemplated building a school house at an early day and establishing other institutions of both a public and private character that are considered indispensable in every American village, among which is


which is particularly desirable in a town like Cleveland where so many laboring men are employed on wage. Mr. Osgood's banking experience especially qualifies him to inaugurate this important feature of the business of the town, and which, when the time is ripe for its introduction, will be a decided convenience not only to the villagers, but also to the farmers for a wide range of country. Next, but last in the natural course of events, will be the publication of a newspaper, but for the present the Clevelanders content themselves with


which is within a few hours ride, and is the principal reliance of the new community for the news of the day.


of extensive proportions answers the purpose of a hotel, and accommodates not only employees of the company, but farmers and visitors, and is so well managed that when occasion requires can feed a multitude, and set a table that would do credit to a more pretentious establishment.


And speaking of hotels and good entertainment reminds us that in visiting the Whitebreast coal mines we had occasion both going and returning to stop off at Chariton, where we fared sumptuously and reposed in a palace, the depot hotel, kept by that prince of landlords, "Dave" Wormley, as his friends love to call him.

"Breathes there a man with soul so dead
Who ne'er to himself hath said,
I will stop at Wormley's?"

or words to that effect. The building is a magnificent structure, built by the railroad company. It was so imposing a bulding that it stood idle for some time, no Boniface having the hardihood to undertake such a wholesale venture as hotel keeping in a town of but three thousand inhabitants. Mr. Wormley, formerly of Cedar Rapids, a most successful landlord of wide reputation was at last prevailed upon to try it. If he hasn't grown rich at Chariton he has at least convinced the world that he knows how to keep a hotel --- and so the great traveling world makes it a point to breakfast, dine or sup at the depot hotel when passing through Chariton --- or, if they tarry in that enterprising town, they straightway go to Wormley and ask him to be as a father to them. And he takes them in, entreats them kindly and makes them loath to lelave. And the reason he does not get rich faster is that his bills are always modest and surprisingly moderate. Until Cleveland gets its station house built, Wormley is the key to the new town; the strategic point, from which, fortified by a good dinner, you advance on the new settlement and obtain a more roseate view of the situation, and encompass it about more satisfactorily than would be possible upon an empty stomach. If any of our citizens desire


we advise them to take a trip to Cleveland, visit the coal mines, and take the patronizing enjoyment which only a true Burlingtonian can do when contemplating Burlington's latest pet child.

Depot House Hotel, Chariton

1 comment:

Unknown said...

My great-grandfather, Thomas Watson, is the weighmaster mentioned in the article. I have a couple of other articles about him and Whitebreast Coal Co. that do not have dates are indicate their sources. Perhaps you could help identify them? I could send them to you. Blake Watson Dayton Ohio bwatson!