Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

November 9, 2006

Coal mining in the Hilltown area

By Bill Heusinkveld - correspondent

Last week I finished my discussion of coal mines along the Rock Island Railroad. Today I am jumping to Wells Township in the extreme southeast parat of the county where there were quite a large number of small coal mines, some of them located across the line in Missouri.

Colonel James Wells was one of the earliest pioneer settlers in the area, way back in 1841. He soon had a sawmill and a flouring mill in operation the east bank of the Chariton River. He built his town of Hilltown up on the hill to the east in 1851. In those early days, the Chariton River was very winding and the rich, fertile valley flooded easaily. Travelers could cross the river on rock at one point in the river. In 1851 a ferry was operating on the river.

Early settlers in the area found outcroppings of coal in nthe southeast corner of Appanoose County. They would pick up coal for heating their homes, and small hand-worked drift mines were established, one of the earliest and largest being the Guinn mine.

The opening of a drift mine was accomplished by simply tunneling into a bluff or hill. The angle was very carefully determined to be slightly uphill. This was so thata a string of cars (either slag or coal) would not be too great a load for the little mules to pull (usually just one mule for each string). The grade had to be shallow so the cars would not run away.

The Ira Guinn Mine (Ryate and Yaggy Coal Co) was a slope mine, located on the east bank of the old Chariton River before the river was straightened and relocated to the west. It was just down the hill to the west from the Hilltown Church and Cemetery. It was almost two miles south of Dean.

To get into the mine, one used a tunnel that went into the side of the hill. There was a hole partway back, drilled from the top, that acted as a chimney to remove the dangerous funes that accumulated in the mine. Even so, the fumes would sometimes make the miners sick. Water would also accumulated in the mine and tranches were dug around the outside to form a gutter to drain the water back down the entrance tunnel.

Apparently Ira and Haradin Guinn were brothers as Ira was born in 1870 and Hardin in 1879. Hardin was the superintendent of the mine in later years. Both were listed as farmers in the census books so it may have been a dual occupation. They farmed their land for coal.

In the summer of 1936, the Guinn Mine was closed temporarily because of high water. It took some time to pump the water out. There was a general store near the mine, operated by Irene Ferguson in the early 1940’s. She then started a gas station and restaurant with Lyle Marshall acating as station attendant.

The mine was closed in July 1947 after 120 acres were mined out. Much of the machinery was removed. It was re-opened for a short time after pumping out the water, but the mine was soon closed permanently. Hardin Guinn died in 1946 at age 67. Ira died in 1949 at age 80. They are buried in the Hilltown Cemetery.

Another significant mine was the Dan Bradshaw Mine. It was located in Section 16, just across the Hilltown road dto the south from the Ira Guinn Minne. Daniel Bradshaw was born in 1878.

In 1941, at age 62, Bradshaw died from injuries from falling down the shaft. Bradshaw and George Hendon had been working alone in the mine where they were blasting. A car had been loaded and shoved innto the cage. Since they were short of hlep, Bradshaw had started to climb to the ground level to raise the cage. He had made but 40 feet of the trip when he lost his ffooting and fell. Hendon was injured when he was struck by Bradshaw’s falling body. Although badly injured, Hendon managed to crawl up the shaft and go for help. Bradshaw’s battered body was rushed to Centerville hospital where he died. Hendon was badly bruised but was not in ncritical condition.

There were several other mines in the immediate area near the Missouri line. There were the Thompson Mine (Troublesome Mine), Coal City Coal Co. and the Heim Mine. They were quite small and little is known about them.

There were also mines in Missouri very close to the Iowa border. One of these was the Ball Mine. George Ball, 35, and Frank Ball, 65, were killed in a mine cave-in accident. They were working on a new tunnel in a slope mine when a section of batt gave way, crushing Frank Ball to death. His son George was working several feet away and rushed to help his dad only to be caught when another section gave way, and he too was killed immediately. Help was rushed from the Guinn and Moore mines and the bodies were extricated from the mass of fallen rock, earth and slate.

Other Missouri mines were the Moore Mine and the Raven Mine. The Raven Mine was often called the Snake Pit Mine because of the many snakes that moved along the ledges in the entry in the winter.