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During the years when mining was king in Appanoose County, there were over 400 mines that opened and closed.
The first one was near Mystic in 1857. Commercial mining began in 1863 and Appanoose became the third largest coal-producing county in Iowa. The peak year for the county coal was 1917. At that time, Sunshine No. 3 Mine alone was employing 130-150 miners.
Old timers tell of finishing the eighth grade and then going into the mines to work alongside their fathers. When boys reached the age of 14 years, they were usually already mining. About the time railroads switched to diesel engines the coal mines started shutting down, the last one the New Gladstone Mine in 1971.
Even before formal mining began, though, there were outcroppings of coal in low-lying areas and people would collect it to use for fuel. Mormons traveling through would dig large pits in their camps, fill them with coal from the outcroppings and warm their whole campground.
Accidents were frequent in the coal mines and many ex-miners tell of close calls during their daily work. The tunnels the miners worked in were about 28 inches tall. Eighteen inches was known as the top coal and other 10 inches were called bottom coal. Most of the miners worked on their hands and knees in the tunnels.
Although few who worked the mines ever got rich, the miners were able to make a decent living for their families.
From History and Tradition, in the booklet Appanoose County, 2002-2003 Visitors and Newcomers Guide, a publication produced by the Daily Iowegian, 105 N. Main, Centerville, IA 52544
© 1999-2003 MJH