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Sun, 12.28.1873

Buxton, Iowa, a story

*Buxton, Iowa, is celebrated on this date in 1873.  This was a predominately Black town in Monroe County, Iowa, founded in the 19th century.  This Historic Townsite is a historical site located east of Lovilia, Iowa, the United States, in the rural middle of the state.

The Chicago and Northwestern Railway founded and developed the unincorporated community as a coal mining company town to supply the railroad. It was a racially integrated community in 1905 consisting of welsh immigrants and a freed Black population that was developed in the midst of southern Iowa coalfields.   J.E. Buxton came to Iowa in the mid-1880s as an agent for the Consolidation Coal Company. Consolidation was a division of the Chicago and Northwestern Railway, and it mined coal in Iowa to fuel the company's trains. His son Ben succeeded him, and he was faced with a lack of workers, strikes, and the increased demand for workers from his competitors.  

The company sent a Black man, Hobart A. Armstrong, to the Southern United States to recruit Black and white workers from nearby coal mines as strikebreakers and cheap labor.  As the mines in Muchakinock in adjacent Mahaska County started to decline, the railroad extended its line to Monroe County. Ben Buxton, who became president of Consolidation Coal, founded his namesake town in 1895. All the coal mined there was bought by the railroad, which resulted in steady work for the miners and relatively high wages.  Ackers Coal Company and the Regal Coal Company opened mines near Buxton in the early 20th century. By that time, Buxton had grown to be the largest coal town west of the Mississippi River and one of the largest unincorporated communities in the United States.  

In 1905 there were 2,700 blacks and 1,991 whites. The Blacks were newly freed slaves and Welsh American immigrants. Even though Buxton had a mix of races and ethnic groups, there was no overt segregation and little racial or ethnic discrimination.  Buxton was a company town. Consolidation Coal's headquarters were located there. They built houses, schools, parks, a YMCA, and other establishments. The company's security guards acted as a police force. A department store, the Monroe Mercantile Company, was established in 1901. It employed 100 people until it burned down in 1911. The department store opened the same year as the post office.  The town also had its baseball team, known as the Buxton Wonders.  

The residents developed a strong community, and Blacks made good lives for their families. It was a place served by Black doctors and lawyers, and teachers. Several black citizens from Buxton rose to state and national prominence. E.A. Carter was the first black graduate from the University of Iowa College of Medicine. He returned to Buxton in 1907 to become an assistant chief surgeon for Consolidation Coal; he was promoted to chief surgeon in 1915. Attorney George H. Woodson co-founded the Niagara Movement in 1905. It became the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. Woodson and fellow Buxton attorney Samuel Joe Brown later were co-founders, along with three other attorneys, of the National Bar Association.  Coal production reached its peak in 1914.

Blacks had started to leave the town in 1911, and by 1915 European Americans were in the majority.  More residents left after large fires destroyed parts of the town in 1916. By 1919 only about 400 people remained in Buxton. Most of the nearby mines were closed in the early 1920s because of decreased demand for coal to power locomotives.  In 1923 Consolidation's headquarters were moved to Haydock in western Monroe County. The same year the Buxton post office closed.  The company dissolved in 1925 and sold all its stock to Superior Coal Company of Gillespie, Illinois.  With changes in the industry and the conversion of locomotives to electric or diesel operations in the early 20th century, mining declined. A large fire in 1916 added to the exodus of the population.

By 1927 the community had lost all of its residents. Buxton mine No. 18 was closed in 1927, and the rest of the town was vacated.  The last mine in the Buxton area was closed in 1932.  The Chicago and Northwestern Railway ceased operations in the area in 1935, and the tracks were removed the following year. Subsequently, most of the remaining buildings in the town were torn down, and much of the land is either forested or farmed. A few structures from the town remain in ruins.  

The townsite was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.  The Buxton cemetery remains, and African American Registry® visited the site on Memorial Day 2009.  We recorded some interviews with descendants and neighbors.  We chose this date to acknowledge Iowa’s 1846 statehood.

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