Lost Buxton: Inclusion and Equality in a Southern Iowa Mining Town

Feb 23, 2017

The history of Buxton, Iowa, is unique for its times.  Racial integration and harmony existed there at a time when racial tolerance was the exception and not the rule.  Buxton coal mine number 18 lasted only 20 years, 1900-1920, but its impact on Iowa and American remains through books, essays and historical accounts.  This hour, Ottumwa author Rachelle Chase tells us how she has contributed to the history of this fascinating former southern Iowa town, with her new book, "Lost Buxton" (The History Press, Images of America series).

Chase, living in San Francisco at the time, first heard of Buxton while visiting her writing instructor in Iowa in 2008. They went to see what little is left of the early 20th century town in Monroe County.  She told us: "I can't believe what I found in the middle of the Iowa farmland--the remnants of a once vibrant city of 8,000 and what is left is a crumbling stone warehouse and the company vault."  She became determined to learn more about Buxton, and headed to the State Historical Society to listen to interviews on old audio tape of former Buxton residents.  Nine years later, her lavishly illustrated book is available for us to enjoy.

Chase told Charity that Consolidation Coal Company (CCC), which founded the town, recruited miners of all races to work there.  "Buxton was the first such town to integrate everyone on a large scale.  CCC made sure the majority African-American workers were on an equal basis with the other workers--it's really amazing the black workers were getting the same salary as everyone else," she explained.

And what about what we can learn today from this unusual chapter in Iowa history?  Chase told us: "The legacy of Buxton are the principles of inclusion and equality and the huge difference that makes for the success of a town and the ability of people to get along.  It let the residents focus on their own lives and goals.  The town, even though short-lived, was very successful."

Eventually the mine closed,  the company shut down and the citizens dispersed.  Chase said some moved to other Iowa cities, and some found work in mining towns across the U.S.  By 1919, only 400 Buxton residents remained.  The incredible journey of racial equity was over.