Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Recalls Hey Days of Coal Mining
Ad-Express/Iowegian Progress Edition
25 February 1994
Big 4 Railroad Mine Turned Jerome
into Growing, Lively Town in Late 1800s
by Mildred Cathcart, Correspondent
Before the end of the nineteenth century many families were moving into the Jerome area, many settling on farms that had been land grants from the government for war time services. The street past the Methodist Church was named Main Street because the things important to the settlers were in that west portion of the town. Along with the church was a log cabin school and a cemetery on land purchased from Mr. Stoner. Later the cemetery was enlarged with a land purchase from Benjamin Sedgwick.
The post office was in the Wilson home and since there was no railroad at that time, there was not much mail. It is said that Mr. Wilson had a drawer in a chest of drawers and it served as the "post office." When mail arrived, recipients of news gladly shared it with the willing listeners. That was the early town.
In 1886 the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad line was laid through Jerome. Following that a company sunk the Big 4 railroad mine along the tracks just east of the Jerome north road. So, in the beginning of the twentieth century, Jerome changed from a quiet rural area into a growing, thriving, lively town.
Families began moving in from surrounding areas, from eastern states and from various foreign countries. One could almost conduct a geography lesson from the names of the new residents. Many of the descendants from these families are still represented in our locality.
Italians - Massa, Goffee, Ponsetto, Cassassa, Noble
Croations - Yonavich, Starcevich, Blozevich, Buyan
Polish - Vruble, Matelski, Rotisky, Vizer
Russian - John Stefano
Scottish - Ross, Allan, Cathcart, Gillespie, Hunter
English - Hardy
Irish - Dooley
Many of the men who came to seek employment in the Big 4 Mine sponsored other miners from their homelands. One such family came from Scotland but when the man arrived with his wife and child, he was very ill and his sponsor refused to help him. My grandfather, Frank Dooley, with his eight children to support, took them in. Grandma had raised chickens and there was a big garden and a cow. The man could scarcely eat so Grandma made him egg nogs and as much nourishing food as possible.
In spite of all the care, the man died of what was thought to be tuberculosis. The miners took up a collection for a funeral but he was buried in the Potter's field. Later money was raised to send the wife and small daughter back to Scotland.
During all the years the mine was in operation, the lives of the miners and their families was almost controlled by the mine's shrill whistle. An early morning whistle awakened any who might have rolled over and gone back to sleep after their alarm clock was shut off. Another whistle announced starting time for the day's work. A noon day whistle announced it was time for miners to have lunch. (That was the whistle the school kids loved to hear.) A three o'clock whistle announced that the eight hour shift had ended.
Smoke began pouring from the chimneys as wives tossed on more coal and began the evening meal for men and children. It was an eerie feeling if the whistle awakened sleeping people at night. It could announce a fire or the approaching of a bad storm. The whistle could be announcing good news, too, like the day word was received that World War I had ended. Also, the whistle was sounded at year's end to welcome in the new year.
The town grew so rapidly that new houses could not be completed fast enough. Two boarding houses helped that problem. Until a man could find housing for his family, he might board in town as transportation was not often available. Too, a husband might come to find work and make enough money to send to the "Old Country" for his family. They, too, found rooms at the boarding house. It was no easy task for the proprietors to pack dinner buckets each day.
The Big 4 Company built company houses to provide shelter and the Big 4 store to furnish food and many other provisions for the miners. If illness or some other misfortune drained the miners' finances, credit could be obtained at the company store. Sometimes the first few paychecks would go to pay off a debt at the store.
Most of the families were fairly independent as far as food was concerned with only a few staples having to be purchased. Almost all families raised chickens and most often a cow for milk and butter and pigs for butchering. Large gardens, orchards and vineyards supplied most of the food. Housewives canned hundreds of quarts of fruit and vegetables for winter use, cured and cold packed meat and had jars of jelly and pickles. Families did not have luxuries but they had food, shelter and clothes that were for warmth - not for the latest style. If the children were poor, they did not realize it.
Quite often many of the grapes found their way into wine jugs. One man made a batch of wine, then threw all the pulp out for his pigs. Of course, the pigs found the treat delectable - and intoxicating. They ran around so wild that the poor man had to be late for work, afraid to leave the animals for fear they would burst out of their pen.
The store hired a driver with a team of mules and would deliver groceries around town. Hundred pound bags of flour and a few other items were too heavy to be carried home.
Later other stores, which we will discuss later, began operating and stayed open on Saturday nights. The hitching posts were filled as farm ladies came to town, often bring fresh eggs and home churned butter. A couple Norris ladies brought fresh vegetables, too. The whole family went to town, not only to shop, but to visit. The kids saved pennies all week because huge barrel packed with ice had a freezer full of ice cream. It was a momentous decision - should the five pennies buy a cone, some candy or a bottle of pop. There was money for only one.
To see how fast the new town was growing at the beginning of the 1900's, it might be enlightening to take an imaginary tour of a couple blocks of Jerome. As one approaches the town from the north road, the big mine looms large just east down the railroad tracks. A few new homes and several company houses are built close to the railroad crossing.
Not too far distant from the crossing is a fine depot with the name JEROME in large bold letters. The town had been named for a blind boy that the citizens admired. The depot is a two story structure so the depot agent and his family have comfortable quarters upstairs.
Back east down the crossing are the stockyards. When farmers on horseback drove the cattle to the stockyards, the kids knew it was dangerous and far more exciting than the big western cattle drives. One always headed straight for any nearby house to avoid being trampled by the big animals.
As one crossed the tracks, still going south, one could see a lumber yard on the west side of the road. It was a thriving business with the many homes being built as quickly as possible. Just across the road to the east was Clyde Dooley's blacksmith shop.
Still proceeding south, one could see more buildings on the west side of the road. There was a miner's hall and the Big 4 Coal Company's office. Also nearby was a small building where Mr. Allan had a store where it seems he sold mostly "treat
s." It is said among other things he sold popcorn, candy and doughnuts.
Now one comes to the place where the north road and Grand Street intersect. On the southeast corner is the Big 4 Store managed by Mr. Gabel. Next door to the east is the big boarding house.
The Big 4 Company built this Big 4 Store
to furnish groceries and other items for the miners.
If the miners met with hardships,
credit was available at the store.
Now just across the street to the west is the old Methodist Church building that was sold when the new church was erected. This building functioned as an ice cream parlor, store, post office and is now housing the road equipment of the Appanoose County Road Maintenance Department.
The old Methodist Church building around 1950 housed
the Hawkins General Store and the post office.
Just north across the street from the ice cream parlor, a band stand was built which could serve many purposes.
The bandstand in the center of Jerome around 1950.
Going up Grand Street to the west was a post office and also a very fine brick grocery store. It was built by Mr. Frogge and occupied when he moved his store from the downstairs of the K of P Hall. Later the store was purchased and operated by Herbert Warnick for many years. Next to the store was a pool hall which later burned. Next to it sitting farther back was the small home of Mr. Hardy who had a small shoe repair shop in the front of his home.
Times were getting so prosperous that across from the store, on the north side of the street, a nice brick bank was built. It failed during the depression era but depositors were fortunate to be paid 75 percent of their accounts.
Behind the bank was a very large K of P building where the Odd Fellows and the Rebekahs held meetings but allowed the upstairs to serve many public functions. Saturday night dances were popular for a number of years.
One amusing story is told of the days of prohibition. Often men brought their liquor and hid the bottles in the tall grass in a dark area near the hall. A group of enterprising young men, including my Uncle Grover Dooley, saw a way to make a little money for a bottle of pop and a candy bar. They found sand and small rock along the railroad tracks and tossing them gently into the tall grass could hear the sound when a bottle was hit. When the men came down during intermission, they could not locate their bottles. When the youths offered them for a small fee (for finding them), the men could not do other than pay for their illegal goods.
After Mr. Frogge moved his store from the bottom of the K of P Hall, the Kings opened a restaurant there and in later years, another restaurant and tavern were located there.
On the north side of Grand Street and farther to the west were a variety of businesses which at one time included a furniture store and funeral parlor, a pool hall, a hotel and a cleaning establishment. Behind one of the business places during the prohibition days was a blind tiger. It was given such a name because a person went to the back, knocked on a window which opened and a man inside heard and delivered the order, took the cash and no others were exchanged.
On the west side of the hotel was a dry cleaning establishment. Farther west was a livery stable and across on the south side of the street my grandfather, Frank Dooley, owned his small broom factory. At the corner where Grand Street curved to the south stood the Cassassa boarding house.
Thus in just a few prosperous years all these businesses sprang up. The hotel building was sold later and Frank Thomas purchased it and it was the Thomas General Store for many years and also home to the growing family.
As the population increased so did the educational and religious needs of the community. Before there was really a town, a Methodist Church had been built. The old one was sold and a nice new church was erected and with a few additions and improvements. It still serves the community today. For many years its bell called people to worship on Sunday mornings and evenings. In the east part of town a Gospel Chapel and a Catholic Church were built.
As early as 1858 a log school was build west of the cemetery. Later Mr. Hagen, a carpenter, was contacted about building a nice two-story wooden structure. For part of the pay, he was given a log structure and moved it to town where it became the kitchen of the Hawkins home. It was so well concealed that many doubted this until the Zemos tore down the home and found the log walls held together with wooden pegs instead of nails.
Pictured are teachers and students
at the Jerome school around 1915.
They are Mary Cathcart, Elsie White, Pete Sidles,
Mildred Graham, Pricilla Clark, Mr. Farrington,
Martha Sidles and Janet Gillespie.
The new two-story building was located just east of the cemetery and served the community until it burned about 1919-1920. Classes were held in churches, K of P Hall and the old boarding house until a fine new brick structure was ready. A convenient feature of this building was sliding double doors between the two east rooms making space for audiences who attended school programs and other community functions.
Unfortunately, this school, too, burned but strong, brick outer walls remained intact and could be used for the new building. This new building had some very desirable new features including indoor restrooms, a band room and a large gymnasium all downstairs. A raised stage, velvet curtains and a dressing room made it much more convenient to give programs. This building was used until reorganization when it was closed and the students were bused to Seymour or Promise City.
Beginning early, the school board added a two year high school curriculum and students from rural schools and nearby towns attended Jerome High School. Many did not go beyond these years but several completed the other two years in towns offering the four year degree. In the earlier days many of the boys completed just the eighth grade and then went to the mine to work with their fathers until they were old enough to have a place of their own. Most of the time the fathers got the paychecks and the young miners only an allowance.
Although the miners and their families worked hard, they found time for fun, too. In the summer, ponds and creeks provided places for swimming and fishing. The band stand was used almost every summer evening. There was a local band to provide a weekly concert and many revival meetings were held there. On other evenings the men congregated there to discuss the day's happening or engage in a friendly, but deadly serious game of cards. Women gathered on some front porches and the children played games until darkness drove them in.
A small circus with an elephant, trained ponies and dogs, a magician and clown and cotton candy was always a big attraction. Young men would rent a horse and buggy from the livery stable and take their girlfriends to Centerville to a carnival or circus. In winter frozen ponds and creeks made ideal skating rinks and many hills made good sledding.
There were very few automobiles but passenger trains ran from four o'clock in the morning until very late at night. Train schedules were such that one could leave from Jerome, go to Mystic and catch the Interurban to Centerville, and tend to any business - or pleasure - such as shopping. When they returned to Mystic, another train came back through Jerome. Train service also made it possible to go and return from Seymour easily.
On Saturday nights a variety of stores stayed open and after shopping, many people went to the movie. If the shows were long, one almost had to race to the station to catch the ten o'clock.
It was a big blow to the town when the Big 4 Mine, apparently worked out, shut down. Many families moved away and the men who stayed, found employment in some other mines. A number of them went to Elmira, Mo., to a big mine operating there.
Not too many years later, Ernest Dooley, Arch Hawkins, Davey Workman and Andrew Gillespie leased land from Sidleses along Walnut Creek just west of Jerome and sunk a shaft mine appropriately named The Walnut Creek Coal Co. A number of men in Jerome and surrounding areas worked there until it shut down.
On Highway 2 about eight miles west of Centerville, Wayne Arbogast and other men operated the New Gladstone Mine, and Ernest Dooley and John Cathcart sunk a slope mine called the D. C. Coal Co. These mines operated until the late '60s. The gas line went through and the highway took the land by the mines so they closed. The new Gladstone stayed open a year or two longer, making it known as the Last Pony Mine.
By then most of the miners who had stayed were getting too old to do mining and many of the young men were inducted into the army. When they returned home they chose to seek employment in the cities.
Many of the business places and many of the dwellings were razed and rebuilt elsewhere. A number of the homes were moved to new locations. A few of the oldtimers chose to stay.
Although Jerome reverted back to a rural status, memories stayed fresh and people who had lived here began inquiring about a reunion. In 1988, a committee planned a Jerome reunion to be held at the United Methodist Church on Labor Day weekend. We were all pleasantly surprised to have almost 300 guests arrive from all over the United States. They came from Florida, Virginia, New Jersey, Texas, Arizona and many states in between. It was such a wonderful day for visiting and remembering that another successful reunion was held the next year and again in 1991.
Before friends departed, many walked up past the school house to the cemetery to visit graves of friends and relatives. Many searched out the oldest grave in the cemetery. It is the grave of Willie Moore, brother of Mrs. George Wales, who lived east of Jerome for many years. Willie was buried in 1850. While the town declined, the cemetery continued to grow. It is not uncommon for early Jerome resident to request they be brought back "home" for their final resting place.
Often at the reunions, conversation would turn to the early 1900's when there was such a difference in nationalities, languages, ethnic backgrounds and religion, but somehow the people could understand their neighbors so there was always a sharing and caring bond to hold the town together.