My relationship with Facebook is a little off and on. Sometimes I find it interesting to see what people are posting and some days I can do without knowing where people are and what they’re into. A lot of times it’s the interesting articles and stories that people link to that interest me on Facebook. Such was the case last week when a Facebook “friend” put up a link to something titled, “12 Quirky Iowa Summer Road Trips.” I had to pull this up and read it.
One of the 12 places the article mentioned in Iowa intrigued me more than the others. Perhaps it’s because my one of my favorite episodes of “The Brady Bunch” was the one where they go on a vacation and end up trapped in a jail in a ghost town, or maybe it’s because I have the same love of history that my father did. Whatever the reason, quirky trip #2 on the list — to Buxton Ghost Town — seemed quite intriguing to me.
Buxton, it said, was once the largest coal mining town west of the Mississippi River. It was also a place where blacks and whites lived together in what was described as “cordial harmony” at a time when most of the country was experiencing the woes of segregation. So where was Buxton, Iowa, and when was it in existence?
Buxton was in a place that I used to travel through quite often — Monroe County, the county just above Appanoose County, where I had my first reporter job after college. When heading north, I’d often go right through Albia and Monroe County, so there’s a chance I might have passed by the site of this Iowa Ghost Town without even knowing it. Buxton was located along Bluff Creek and came into existence around 1900-1901. It was named after J.E. Buxton by his son, Ben C. Buxton, who ended up ruling Buxton, which wasn’t a town run on democratic principles. It was run by Buxton and his Consolidated Coal Company (CCC).
According to the Iowa Pathways page of the Iowa Public Television website, white laborers were scarce around 1900, as many had gone on strike at this time, so Buxton recruited black workers from the South. By 1905, Buxton’s population consisted of 2,700 blacks and 1,991 whites. By 1910, at the town’s peak population of 8,000-10,000 people, the CCC had built 2,000 homes, and the thriving business and professional community became an opportunity for many blacks to start and own businesses, as well as become educated. At its height, Buxton had black doctors, lawyers, teachers, ministers, undertakers and pharmacists.
The CCC built Buxton Island Park in 1902 and a YMCA with an indoor swimming pool in 1903. The town also boasted its own Buxton Wonders baseball team, which defeated opponents across the state of Iowa. Records show that a post office operated at Buxton from 1901-1923. According to a pamphlet called “Coal Mining In Iowa,” Buxton was unique as coal mining towns go, because of its many businesses, including the Monroe Mercantile Company, and public buildings, such as the YMCA, a school, churches, a library and more. It was known to be “highly developed.”
For 20 years Buxton was a thriving metropolis, and then from the years 1923 to 1938. after the coal dried up, the town was abandoned and now all that really remains of Buxton is the Buxton Cemetery, accessible via a dirt road.
A RootsWeb history website page, dedicated to Ghost Towns of the United States, lists a number of Iowa Ghost Towns, all named as such because they share the commonality of having an economy that thrived for a time and then totally failed. Three major economy failures in the early 1900s were agriculture, mining and railroads.
The closest ghost towns on the RootsWeb site to Story County would be several that are noted in Jasper County. My thoughts were that maybe a few of our one-time thriving little communities around this county and area would be on the list, but they are not.
Nevertheless, I find ghost towns and history in general interesting. I know that if my dad were still alive, he’d probably find hours of interesting material to read online. I doubt, however, that he’d be spending much of his time searching for it on Facebook.
(Marlys Barker is editor of the Nevada Journal and Tri-County Times.)