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Coal Mining Towns
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Iowa Public Television
Zook Spur, Muchakinock, Buxton. They were towns that grew up with the coal mining industry in Iowa, then faded to nonexistence when production was cut. Coal mining was also the life blood of places such as Oskaloosa, What Cheer and Albia. In Ottumwa coal was considered so important that the town built a monument in its honor-- the famous Ottumwa Coal Palace. Iowa coal towns stood over the vast supply of soft coal that lay beneath 21 counties in the south central part of the state. Coal was first discovered in Iowa in 1835, but it didn’t become an important industry of the state until the 1850s when railroad fever struck. Besides fueling Iowa’s industries and heating many of its homes, coal was the power that moved the trains and many of the railroads operated their own mines to feed the hungry engines. For Iowa was the last source of steady coal supply before the trains moved off across the western plains. Immigrants from England, Scotland and Wales were attracted to the Iowa coalfields, for here they found the same kind of work they had known in the ‘old country’—coal mining. It was familiar work, hard work and they lived in near poverty conditions in the mining camps. But the pay was still better than they received in the ‘old country.’
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