Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

December 7, 2006

An examination of the McConville Rosebrook and North Hill Mines

By Bill Heusinkveld - correspondent

The next mine serviced by the Centerville, Moravia and Albia Railroad was the Rosebrook Mine. It was opened in 1908 by the McConvilles and was the only mine between Main Station and Forbush. It operated from 1908 to 1922. It covered 56 acres. It was about a mile southeast of Darby. In 1926, Andrew Ragona, age 34 was killed in the mine. A trip rope had broken and the car ran down the slope and crushed him.

Virginia Koestner took me across the fields to the west of the J&K; barn in her pickup to try to find evidence of the mine. The railroad ran a short distance west of her house and the right of way was quite evident in some spots. The slag pile was once in the middle of what is now a soybean field. The mine had been located a little to the north, but nothing remains. We saw a two-foot depression in the field where an air shaft had been.

In 1918, the McConvilles opened their large McConville Coal Co. No. 1 (North Mine). It was located on the west side of 215th Ave., about 0.4mile south of 490th St., just north of where ISU Co. used to have their cabin and pond. It was south of the track and had a short rail spur. This mine was capable of turning out 300 tons per day and gave employment to approximately 200 men.

In 1922 there was a fatal accident in the North Mine when Nels Murphy was electrocuted while working with Bill Jones and Jim Kelly behind a mining machine. Kelly was back of the machine when he noticed that the chain was loose. Thinking that it might be caught, he whistled for Murphy to shut off the machine. Murphy started for the controls to cut off the current. However the machine kept on running. Kelly then saw Murphy lying face down with his arms forward on the front of the machine.

Kelly called to Jones, who had been shoveling behind the machine, to shut off the current and then risked his own life in an attempt to pull the electrocuted man from the machine. According to Kelly the machine and the ground around it were both charged with electricity, and as he worked his way forward to Murphy he received several severe shocks. As last he managed to grab Murphy’s foot and pull him clear. The doctor arrived and pronounced him dead. The only marks on the dead man were a blue mark on his lower lip where it touched the machine and a spot on his shoulder. Then, in 1930 Calvin Stevens was killed by a fall of bat after he removed a prop in front of a mining machine.

In 1929 there was a serious fire of unknown origin in the McConville north mine. This mine, which was one of the largest producers in this field was being cleaned up at this time preparatory to going to work on July orders. There was no intimation of the disaster at 11 p.m. when the last Centerville to Albia interurban came past. At approximately that time Marshall Strode called one of the McConville brothers notifying him of the fire. The Centerville fire department was called, and a quick trip was made to the shaft. However when reached at about 12:20 the tipple was in flames and the engine house was on fire. However this building was saved with the use of chemicals, and it was believed that the shaft had not been burned very deeply.

It seems there were some new ponies being used in the mine, and one of the small animals became frightened at closing time and refused to get on the cage to be brought up out of the shaft. The men left the mine without it, deciding to leave it on the bottom. However, after they had started away, they thought that the air in the mine might not be good, as the shaft was just being opened up. They went back, forced the pony on the cage and brought it up. Otherwise it might have suffered during or after the fire.

The mine was insured and the coal company officials began to rebuild it at once, adding some new and late equipment to facilitate the operations. It. took two months to rebuild the mine to re-open it. 250 acres were mined before it was finally shut down in 1945. The remains of the slag pile are now a large grassy knoll.

For the McConvilles, coal mining was a family business dating all the way back to Ireland. The McConvilles were originally ironstone miners in the mountains of Mourne in County Down and County Armagh in Northern Ireland. The great potato famine in the 1840’s destroyed the main Irish crop, and millions were starving or emigrating. Edward McConville and his wife Isabelle faced starvation. It was at this time that their son John left Ireland to find work in Scotland.

John McConville (1835-1900) found work mining coal near Lanarkshire, Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1859 he married Ann Hynd and they had two sons and six daughters, one of which was Edward McConville.

Edward was born in Braidwood, Carluke, Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1860. In 1879 Edward married an Irish lass named Nancy Ann McCormack in Portobello, Scotland and they were to have seven sons and one daughter born between 1882 and 1891. The children were, in order of birth date, John, Edward, Owen, Nora, James, Hugh (died in childhood), Benedict and Joseph.

In 1887, the four older children (all under the age of six) traveled with their parents, Edward and Nancy McConville) to America. Others in the family followed. They all lived in Alton, Pennsylvania and then in Youngstown, Ohio and finally arrived in Iowa. They all lived Keb Coal Camp near Ottumwa, Iowa followed by Cleveland Camp near Lucas before they finally arrived at Mystic, Iowa in 1888.

I will continue the McConville story and their further contribution to coal mining in Appanoose County when I write the article about the McConville Midway Mine located on the Interurban line to Mystic.