Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

November 30, 2006

The Whitebreast Mine at Forbush

By Bill Heusinkveld - correspondent

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.              

After the coal mining operation was discontinued in 1901, the shale piles were eventually loaded onto railroad cars and spread along the railroad bed by opening the bottom of the cars.  Some of the shale was spread over the county roads by truck. 

The store was owned by Whitebreast Fuel Co. and most of the miners’ wages was in the form of orders on the store for whatever provisions the miner and his family needed.  Thus the mine not only profited from the work of the miners, but also on the goods consumed by them.           


A Rock Island engine is being used to load shale onto a railroad car at the shale pile of the Whitebreast Mine.  The rail car opened to spread shale along the railroad bed.  The shale dropped between the ties.  Shale was used in this way on the Southern Iowa Railway between Centerville and Albia.

The post office was discontinued in 1905.  The Company owned town eventually disappeared and none of the houses of the company town remain.  There are still a few scattered houses along the main road, now re-named 490th St.   

Jack Fox, son of former miner, Charlie Fox,  once told me, tongue in cheek, that he was now the self-appointed mayor of the city of Forbush.  Only one lonely grave remains in the 100-foot square cemetery, now overgrown with trees and overrun with livestock.  A ghost town monument has been placed at the location to remember the once-thriving town.


Picture caption:  Loading shale at the Whitebreast Mine in Forbush