Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

May 25, 2006

The Railroad Comes to Clarkdale

By Bill Heusinkveld - correspondent

In the last few weeks, I have told you about the Milwaukee Railroad coming from Moravia through Darby and then Rathbun in 1886. The next stop on the route as it went southwest was the coal town of Orrville, presently known as Clarkdale. The location is just south and east of the intersection of 477th St. and 200th Ave.

The early settlers would find chunks of rock on the ground that would burn and began to use it for their stoves. Then they began to dig into the sides of hills for more coal and soon a fledgling mine was born. The farmers would haul the coal with their wagons for local use until the railroads came along. Then they would get spur lines built right to the mines, making the industry much more profitable. The locomotives on the railroads became one of the big users of coal.

Soon after the railroad was built, the first coal mine in the Orrville area was started by Alex and Mary Clark, who came from Scotland in the 1880‚s. It was first known as the Clarkdale Coal Co. When William and George Clark arrived with their families in 1891 and began to take part in the operation, it became the Clark and Son Coal Co. No. 1. The parents and the two boys were naturalized in 1869. The mine was a small mine, located on the south side of the track, just west of 200th Ave. It had a 70-foot shaft and operated until 1914.

A post office was established at the railroad crossing in 1893 right near their mine with the name of Clarkdale Post Office. The Clarks all lived in the immediate area of the post office.

Alex and William Orr were brothers who also came to America from Scotland as young men. They were born in about 1841. They probably came to America together and may have spent some time in the mine fields of Pennsylvania. Alex Orr‚s wife, Harriet, came from Illinois and William Orr‚s wife, Emma, came from Pennsylvania. William was naturalized in 1860.

They first operated the Orr Bros. Mine No.1 in the southeast part of the town of Mystic for ten years in 1887. Then they decided to build their own town east of Mystic. They bought the 40 acres in the S.W. corner of Section 11 for a town site and called it Orrville. They had the land platted with about 40 lots in 1892. There must have been many more mine workers than originally anticipated because they added about 60 more lots to the east of the original plat in 1906. P.S. Holbrook was the surveyor.

The Orr Brothers Mine No. 2 was started in 1899 just west of their town on Orrville. The tipple was on the north side of the tracks, almost a half mile west of the Clark mine. Later it was known as the Inter-Ocean Mine. The mine operated until 1919. It was a large mine with a 73 foot shaft and a total area of 43 acres mined. It provided work for most of the miners living in Orrville. Frank Grinkel, a 35 year old man from Poland was killed by a fall of slate in 1904 in this mine.

Eventually the town platted as Orrville became know as Clarkdale, and the name Orrville disappeared entirely. The town was never a Company owned town such as many of the towns adjacent to the mines. The houses were probably better and larger with the result that some of them survived after the coal mining ended. There are still 16 houses today.

The High Test Mine was a later mine. It was along the tracks about a mile N.E. of the Clark mine. It operated from 1921 to 1938 with 12 acres mined There were two other large mines westerly from Clarksdale. The Winnifred Coal Co., Mine No. 30 was north of the tracks with 168 acres operated from 1908 to 1926.

The other large mine was Barrett and Voyce Coal Co. south of the tracks between Mystic and Clarksdale with a huge 224 acres mined. There was a mine fatality in 1926 when Hardin Elliott was caught under a fall of coal. The mine operated from 1921 to 1931.

There was also a rural school a mile west of the intersection with the name of Clarkdale School. It was a 3-room school serving grades k-1 through k-8. The youngsters went to either Rathbun or Centerville for high school. A Catholic church was under construction near the south edge of Orrville but was never completed. People went to the Catholic churches in Mystic and in Rathbun, both of which were about two miles distant. There was also a grocery store in the center of town.

Finally the post office was discontinued in 1920. With the end of the mining in 1938, all activity south of the railroad came to an end. Some of the homes in Clarkdale still survive for people who work elsewhere in the area. The population today is about 25.

One interesting feature of the Clarksdale area is the old stone house a mile south of the railroad tracks on the west side of the road on property originally owned by James Lepper. Built of blue limestone from a nearby quarry, this beautiful stone house was completed in 1870 by Nathan Bart Lepper. The walls of the house are two feet thick and the house remains cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Bart Lepper used to tell the story of the time that Jesse James and gang stopped and demanded a night’s lodging. This may have been about the time they robbed the bank in Corydon. The gang left their horses saddled in case they had to make a quick getaway. They caused Mr. Lepper no trouble and paid him very well.