by Dave Baker
Crickets… the most common sound heard today on what was once owned by the Smoky Hollow Coal Company. Unless it’s evening, in which case the silence is punctuated by the hum of late-season cicadas. The sounds of William Burt’s restaurant are no longer heard, having faded in the past, much like the conversations once held at Anderson’s grocery store. Popper’s Drug Store was demolished over a century ago; and Cook’s livery…well, the smells may seem to linger, but they’re now generated by nearby cattle grazing. Welcome to Hynes, Iowa, a ghost town that once had a population of nearly 500, many of whom had ties to the many coal companies that once powered the mighty engines of the vast railroad network.
Almost nothing remains of Hynes today, although traces of the town are still visible, at least on paper. Over the years, the roads of the township of Mantua have been resurveyed, altering or destroying the evidence of the community. Little Avery Creek, which has since flooded several times, has further altered the surrounding landscape. The company houses that once stood on JZ Evans’ land no longer exist, demolished, dilapidated or moved elsewhere. But there are hints of the city; for example, two surveyed lots on 172nd Place, easily overlooked, are the same as they were when miners roamed the company-owned city dirt roads. Hynes’s fate is not unique; its disintegration is similar to that of hundreds of other western and midwestern communities.
Why did Eddyville survive when Hynes didn’t? Was it the management? Finance? Community pride? It turns out that all of these are critical factors, but luck is just as important. Eddyville, a much older community, was better established when the coal mines came into play. Although indeed home to miners, Eddyville was not a company town and had a strong agricultural and industrial base for a decade. Across the river is Bridgeport, a failed community that might have been just as successful under other circumstances. Other flooded towns have come and gone, but Eddyville has also suffered natural disasters. Polifantasmology – the study of abandoned towns or “ghost towns” doesn’t explain why some towns thrive and others don’t – but it does offer some clues.
Straddling three counties, Eddyville has many ghost towns in its vicinity. Mahaska County alone has more than eighty formerly named sites, if you count all the post offices and railroad stations that appear on maps and timetables as ghost towns. Most of them had at least some semblance of a settlement, but there were some, like Tower Station located west of Albia, that were little more than an outpost. Add the ghost towns of Monroe and Wapello County, and the number easily tops one hundred. Some of them are names that still live on in our collective memory, like Buxton and Foster, while others lent their names to nearby landmarks: Tyrone, LaHart and Miami were all names associated with small communities. before being attached to natural spaces. Yet there are dozens of others that are little remembered. In some cases, these places are completely forgotten: Hagerty, Arkel, Keb, Comstock and Chisholm.
On September 20, I will bring a program to the Eddyville Historical Society to examine some of these ghost towns. We’ll examine their stories, what made them successful, even if only for a short time, and learn what their fate ultimately was. After studying existing and non-existing communities in Iowa for over a decade, I’m excited to share some stories from Wapello, Monroe, and Mahaska counties. Although time constraints only allow us to look at a fraction of these places, the stories that emerge will not only inform, but could also help keep our communities healthy. So please plan to join me for this interactive, fun, and informative program next Tuesday evening at 6:00 p.m. at the Eddyville Historical Museum.
Oskaloosa News is proud to bring another Dave Baker program to the area. We hope you will join us for what promises to be an interesting evening.