Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

November 24, 2006

The railroad from Moravia to Centerville

By Bill Heusinkveld - correspondent

In the past several months I have written about the towns and coal mines in Appanoose County that were brought to fruition by the many railroads that were built in the 1870’s and 1880’s. The Centerville, Moravia and Albia Railroad was built in 1880 with stops at Main Station, Rosebrook, Dennis and Forbush before tying in to the Burlington Railroad at a switching station at the west edge of Centerville. It was leased to the Wabash system in October of the same year. In 1889 the line was leased to Iowa Central.

The first village along the railroad, proceeding south from Moravia, was Main Station, two miles south and two miles west of Moravia. It was named for the pioneer Daniel Main, from Germany, who came to Appanoose County as a young man of 25. Lewis Main Sr. and John W. Main were also early pioneer farmers in the area. The Main families each had many children resulting in Main being a very common name in the area.

In 1887, the name of the Main Station post office was changed to Ray. The village began to develop, and there was a large cheese factory there. There was a Methodist Episcopal congregation called Pleasant Plain since about 1852 who met in a log cabin near where the boat marina is today. The church was discontinued in that location and land was acquired west of Main Station for a new Fairview Church and cemetery. The church was recently moved to the Moravia Museum. There was a terrible tornado through the Main Station in 1894 in which Mrs. Wm. McDanel and her grand daughter, Stella Robinson were whirled about in the air, holding hands. Mrs. Mc Danel lost her life from her injuries. I will relate the story of the tornado in a future article.

Main Station had a general store, cheese factory and post office. There was never any coal mined near the town of Main Station and the town eventually withered away. The Ray post office was discontinued in 1906. Railroad operation was discontinued in 1958 and the tracks removed. All that remains of the former village is the railroad embankment on the abandoned right of way, about half a mile west of the Milwaukee underpass.

The railroad served four mines in the days before the line was electrified in 1910. I will discuss these mines in approximately the order they were built, first Centerville Block No. 9, built in 1895, Whitebreast Fuel Co. No. 9 (Forbush) in 1891, Rosebrook in 1908 and McConville No. 1 (North Hill) in 1913.

Centerville Block Coal Co. was one of several mining outfits that operated as many as 10 mines in Appanoose County. Others were Carbon Block Coal Co., Diamond Block Coal Co. and Appanoose Coal and Fuel Co. The Centerville Block Co. mines, No. 1 through No. 10, were mostly in fringe areas east and west of Centerville and south of Brazil. They included the Relay Mine (No. 3), the Hawkeye Mine (No. 5) and the Raven mine (No. 10). Centerville Block had the custom of painting the mine number on most of their tipples, and “No. 9” is clearly visible in the picture.

The mine was located along the railroad, in Section 26 of Vermilion Twp., about half way between the Country Club and Highway No. 2. It is fairly inaccessible today, but was somewhat north of the location of the present concrete mixing plant. The tipple was on the west side of the track. There was a pond on the east side, used for making steam to power the hoist. The pond was generally used for swimming as well.

In 1906 Charley Ellis was killed when caught under a fall of black batt in this mine. His back was broken and his chest was crushed and ribs broken but he lived for three months. He was the son of George Ellis who worked in the Relay Mine.

The mine operated until 1914 and removed the coal from much of Section 26. The Superintendent was Alex Dargavel. It was 72 feet deep and undermined 140 acres using both longwall and room and pillar operation.