Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

Correspondents

November 30, 2006

The Whitebreast Mine at Forbush

Soon after the railroad was built from Moravia to Centerville in 1880, the Whitebreast Fuel Co., an eastern concern, bought land in the area and began coal mining exploration.  They sent Silas Augustus Forbush from Chicago to Ottumwa to serve as sales manager.  Joseph P. Schenck (1853-1926) was a bookkeeper for the mine at Forbush and was a brother to Mrs. Forbush.

Forbush became an ambitious coal mining village.  It was platted and given the name of Forbush in honor of Silas Forbush.  It was bordered by Highway Ave. on the south and had Brazil, Central, Mystic and Timber Streets running east and west.  North to south streets were Summit, Main, Relay and Lake.   The 1896 plat map shows 65 homes a hotel and a public school.  A post office was established in 1890.

The Whitebreast Fuel Co. dug their  Forbush Mine No. 19 on the west side of the railroad in 1891.  It was a vertical shaft mine 65 feet deep and eventually 83 acres were mined.  In 1895 John Steemer, a miner originally from Austria, was killed in the mine when crushed by a fall of top slate.

There were abuses of labor in the early days of mining and these abuses brought the need for a union of the workers to bargain and to have an authoritative voice for theirdemands.  It was in 1891 that unionism came into the mines in this area.  There were two organizations at that time, one being the forerunner of the UMW and another known as Iowa miners’ Assn. in the more northern counties of the district.  John Reynolds, an attorney at Albia was president of the newly formed United Mine Workers.  UMW was literally cradled here.                        

John L. Lewis, the future national president, was born in 1880 in Lucas, Iowa, the son of a Welsh coal miner.  At the age of 17, he went to work in the coal mines.  For a time, he was digging coal in Appanoose County and worked in the mines in Forbush and in Rathbun.   At 26, he was elected delegate to the UMW National Convention ad eventually became one of the greatest coal mining union powers in the world.              

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