This week’s post is by author Rachelle Chase. Even before moving to Iowa, the history of Buxton, Iowa, and its former residents fascinated Rachelle, and now that she has become an Iowa resident, she is determined to help share their story. Rachelle is the author of multiple fiction books and the non-fiction book, Lost Buxton.
Though the town itself was different from most other coal mining towns, Buxton is renowned for its large African American population. For the first 10 years, African Americans made up 55% of the population and remained the largest ethnic group until 1914.
A Planned Town
According the September 18, 1903 edition of the Iowa State Bystander, Superintendent Ben C. Buxton “designed and superintended the laying out of the town, the plans and construction of the buildings, the location and equipment of the mines, the water supply, the drainage and all the many interesting details ...”
A Prosperous Town
There was no shortage of ways residents in Buxton could spend money. They could shop at more than 40 independent businesses, plus the company store. “You could buy anything in that company store, from a diaper pin to a coffin,” said Kietzman. “The company had its own morticians and own mortuary. They had a shoe department, shoe repair department, furniture, hardware, groceries, cooking ware, clothing, and yard goods. The company store had a bank in it, the company office, a soda fountain where they served lunches.”
A Racially Integrated Town
Residents also remembered interracial marriages. “There were a lot of interracial marriages down there...” said Oliver Burkett, an African American resident. “There was Charlie King, he was a black man, he married a white woman. Hobe Armstrong, he was a black man and he married a white woman. George Morrison, he was married to a white woman.” Carl Kietzman, previously quoted, was married to an African American woman.
African Americans Thrived
Black-owned businesses included hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, confectionaries, a bakery, drug stores, pool halls, dance halls, a music store, a photography and printing business, a meat market or two, millinery shops, and at least four newspapers.
The End of Buxton
Miners and their families had moved to other cities in Iowa and beyond in search of work or had moved to the company’s new towns. But by 1927, the continuing decline in coal demand and the negative perception of Iowa coal, plus labor problems, resulted in the shutdown of remaining mines. Consol and Bucknell/Haydock, like Buxton, were gone.
For many African American residents, leaving Buxton was like stepping back in time. Jim Crow laws, segregation, extreme racism, and menial jobs awaited them, leaving many feeling like Susie Robinson. “There’s no place that’s ever going to be like Buxton,” said Robinson. “That’s the best place that I’ve ever been, Buxton.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed our mining series as much as I have, and many thanks to our guest authors Darcy and Rachelle!