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Des Moines Historical Society “Digs” Coal Mines

Posted October 09, 2012 in Web Exclusives

DES MOINES—The Des Moines Historical Society (DMHS) will shed light on one of the dirtiest parts of Des Moines history when it explores the topic of coal mines at its quarterly meeting next week.

“Coal Mines of Des Moines” will be presented by historian and civil engineer Nancy Suby-Bohn Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, at 6 p.m. at the Franklin Avenue Library, 5000 Franklin Avenue, Des Moines. The DMHS quarterly business meeting will follow from 7-7:45 p.m. The program and meeting are free and open to the public.

Little evidence of the once thriving coal industry in Des Moines remains visible today, though underground openings left by mining operations continue to cause problems long after mining ceased. Suby-Bohn has lived in the Highland Park neighborhood since 1986, but it wasn’t until after the floods of 1993 that she started to become interested in the history of her neighborhood, specifically Riverview Amusement Park.

In 2007, Suby-Bohn graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in civil engineering. During the 2008 flooding, she recalled much of the information she had gathered from 1993, noting that the 2008 flood did not “behave” as a normal flood would have. She quickly discovered why: because of the abandoned coal mines along the Des Moines River between I-235 and 2nd Avenue. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, a total of 222 coal mines operated in the Des Moines area during the period of active coal production, 1865 until 1917, when coal production reached its peak as Polk County mines produced more than 1.8 million tons of coal and employed nearly 3,000 mine workers. The last underground coal mine in Polk County (Central Service Mine No. 6) closed in 1947.

Suby-Bohn will share her encounters of the mines and how her research unfolded; starting with the first sink hole she discovered by North High School (6th Ave/Holcomb) in 1986; to the 1993 flood when a sinkhole started in her own yard (near 4th/Corning) to eventually building a new house just across the street unknowingly over a former coal mine. She will provide a fascinating glimpse into Des Moines’ industrial past, and what these coal mines may still hold in store for the future.

A map showing the Des Moines coal mines will be available prior to the program for viewing. DMHS welcomes members with annual dues starting at $15. See <> for more information.

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