Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

June 1, 2006

The railroad comes to Mystic

By Bill Heusinkveld - correspondent

In the last several weeks I have told you about the Milwaukee Railroad coming from Moravia through, Darby, Rathbun and Clarkdale in 1886. The next town along the route was Mystic. It is located mostly in Sections 16 and 17 of Walnut Twp. The town runs 2.0 miles east and west and 1.5 miles north and south covering an area of almost 3 square miles.

Before the coming of the railroad, the town of Walnut City was the commercial center of the area with a post office established in 1867. However, there was already some sporadic coal mining in the Mystic area where the vein of coal was plentiful and quite near the surface. A large mine was opened at Mystic by Isaac Fuller in 1858, and he furnished most of the coal for Centerville for a number of years.

Then in 1886, the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad built their line through the area. They placed the name “Mystic” on their new depot at the wishes of a railroad official who wanted the town named for his home town of Mystic, Conn. The postal department accepted the name, and a post office was established in 1887 with Dennis Van Dyke as the first postmaster. The site was surveyed by S.T. Stratton and the plat accepted on May 28, 1887.

The railroad created an immediate boom in coal mining in Mystic. A large number of mines were opened in Mystic and in all directions from it. The railroad built coal yards, coal chutes, stock yards, a turn table and a water tank south east of the station to handle the growing coal industry. There were at least four railroad spur lines built from the main line to accommodate the many coal mines in the area. One ran north to the northeast part of town. One ran southeast to the north side of Walnut Creek. One ran west to rural area west of Mystic. This spur railroad line had a branch southward to the southwest part of town as well as one to the northwest. Later, after the railroad was dismantled, the roadbed of the west spur became Low Street, leading west.

The influx of miners brought in commercial ventures, housing, schools and churches. Sam Johnson built the first storeroom and ran the first general store. John Mc Neff was next with a grocery and dry goods store. Jake Greenwell built the first hardware store. Mr. Darrah built a hotel. Joe and John Luse built the meat market, later to become the Forsyth Drug Store.

By 1888 business buildings and dwelling houses were being erected all over town. Carpenters and contractors worked from first daylight until midnight. These early business buildings all fronted the railroad. Later Main Street began to develop with additional stores and businesses.

Soon there was a general store, a meat market, a lumber company, a furniture store, a hardware store, a livery stable, a baker, a blacksmith and a barber. Dr. Griffith was the first physician. By 1889 there was a population of about 1000 people. A school was erected for the growing population.

There were two disastrous fires in 1910 and 1911 which destroyed practically all of the business district. The 1910 fire burned the east part of Main Street and the 1911 fire took the west end. The Fire Company from Centerville helped fight the 1911 fire. Owing to the long drought and scarcity of water, it was not possible to check the flames until two buildings in the path of the fire were first wrecked.

Frame buildings were replaced with substantial brick structures as the town began to recover from the fire. Eventually there were many new businesses, even including a Strand Theater at which Lawrence Welk once performed. There were many cafes, taverns and grocery stores, several newspapers, two banks, the Miners Hall, the Mystic Hotel, Dreamland Ballroom, a Masonic Lodge, an American Legion Hall, a gun shop, a funeral home, an ice company and many more. There were also a pickle factory and a button factory.

At one time, there were five churches in Mystic: the Methodist, Christian, United Brethren, Catholic and Second Baptist. The United Brethren had 200 in its congregation in the early part of the century and continued until 1950. The Methodist Church was built in 1886 and had membership of 224 in the 1930s. This dwindled to 50 by 1950 with the loss of the mining industry and closed in about 1990. The Christian Church, high on a hill on West Main St., continues in operation today.

The Highland Cemetery in the west part of Mystic was created in 1892. A Cemetery Assn. was created in 1909 and a cemetery beautification project done in 1939. This was the second cemetery for the area as the Elgin Cemetery, just north of Mystic, had been created by John Scott, founder of Walnut City, way back in 1853. There was an interurban railroad spur built into Mystic in 1910 by Centerville Light and Traction Co. It operated on an hourly schedule and people from Mystic could make frequent trips to Centerville in muddy times. Eventually the automobile took over and passenger service was discontinued in 1933. Population peaked in the 1920 census with 2796 people. As the mining industry fell off, the town went into a gradual decline. Many of the businesses are now gone and Mystic might be considered a bedroom community. Main Street is unique with its brick paving. There is a city hall, fire station and good first responders unit. There is a Masonic Lodge and the American Legion. The railroad depot is gone, but the railroad continues to operate with freight trains through the southern part of town. The railroad water tank is a museum piece, the only one remaining in Iowa. Present population has stabilized at about 500.