By Dena Angaran Forret
In the 1920’s, two coal mines opened outside of Waukee and changed the community forever. Coal-mining memories remain in the minds and hearts of many and have been historically preserved at the Waukee Library and Shuler Elementary School.
The Harris Mine was the first coal mine in town and was located 2.5 miles from Waukee with 100 families who lived south of the mine. The mine closed in 1928. In 1921, the Shuler Company opened a mine one mile east of the Harris Mine. It employed 500 men including my father, grandparent and uncles. Young men, 14 years of age or older, dropped out of school to work in the mine and support their families including my father, Jake Angaran. He set the dynamite charges that blasted through the mine walls so coal could be removed. Up to 32 mules assisted in this dangerous work.
During the years of 1928 to 1948, twenty miners lost their lives in the Shuler Mine. Americo Nizzi, 31 year old husband of Olga Nizzi, a deceased member of St. Boniface, was one of those miners. Over 400 injuries were suffered during the years the mine was operational. When an accident occurred, the mine whistle blared to alert the community.
Coal mining took a toll on the miners and their families. Safety and black lung disease were constant dangers. Desiderio Andreini once commented that ‘they breathed a lot of coal dust’. His brother, Battista Andreini, quickly noted that ‘they didn’t breathe the dust, they ate it’.
Shuler Mine had a 387-foot shaft with tunnels that were three to four miles long. Shuler was one of the deepest coal mines in Iowa mining history and was the largest producer of coal in the state of Iowa. The mine operated for 28 years, mining out over seven million tons of coal. The mine closed in 1949 when it became too expensive to transport the coal from the underground tunnels to the top.
Shuler Mining Camp was comprised of three camp communities – North Camp, Middle Camp, and South Camp – that housed miners in homes built by Shuler Company. Italians, Croations, African-Americans, Swedes and others lived, worked and played together in these camps. A general store and tavern were built by the Shuler Company for the mining families and children. The Italians had a strong presence in the camp with names like Andreini, Nizzi, Angaran, Barbieri, Laudirini, Pedretti, Nerini, Ceretti, and Ori. Other mining names are Clarkson, Dluhos, Luke, Corbett, Phillips, Winfield, Martin, Wilson, Shoeman, and Ostring. Names sound familiar? Many of these families were part of the St. Boniface Parish and some descendants remain there yet today. Families were raised with tradition, faith and a sense of community.
Images of America Waukee
Living in Waukee Past and Present
Eric Forret Resource Paper, The Shuler Coal Mines
Photos courtesy of Waukee Area Historical Society