John Jacobs, an avid collector of Iowa history memorabilia, shared an article from an unidentified newspaper that lists the twelve things that no other town in Iowa – and in some instances, “the world” – had. While I have not been able to verify that these items existed only in Buxton, here’s what I know:
WHAT BUXTON HAS.
- The only colored postmaster in Iowa.
Research shows: In 1901, an African American woman named Anna Willis is mentioned as the “postmistress” of Buxton. In 1907, the Iowa State Bystander states that Reverend C.H. Mendenhall, pastor of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Buxton, is Buxton’s “postmaster.” Others were mentioned in different years, as well.
- The only public school taught entirely by colored teachers in Iowa.
Research shows: African American and Caucasian teachers in Buxton taught black and white children in integrated classes. There were three schools in Buxton (discounting the high school that burned down in 1907) and each school employed 12 teachers. On October 20, 1905, the Iowa State Bystander mentioned there were 11 teachers in a new school building and that 10 were black. Interestingly, it noted that the classrooms were already overcrowded, with 520 students attending and more on the way.
- The only Young Men’s Christian Association for colored men in Iowa.
Research shows: The YMCA, a 3-story structure that the company spent $20,000 to construct, was run and managed by African American men. According to Minnie B. London, an African American teacher and principal in Buxton, it was “[built] expressly for the colored miners.” Other newspapers, such as the Oskaloosa Saturday Herald, said the same thing.
- The only colored newspaper with complete plant for printing their own paper and the only official county paper published by colored men in Iowa.
Research shows: The Albia Republican reported on January 20, 1910, “The Buxton Weekly Gazette has discontinued its publication and the complete plant, Including six column cylinder press and job presses with complete equipment is for sale.” The Buxton Gazette was an African American paper.
- The only two colored justices of the peace in any town in Iowa.
Research shows: There were, indeed, two black justices of the peace in Buxton.
- The only colored deputy sheriff in Iowa.
Research shows: Since the date of this article is unknown, I don’t know which African American deputy sheriff is being referenced. In 1905, the Iowa State Bystander mentions Anderson Perkins, who also owned a large hotel in Buxton, is the deputy sheriff. In 1907, the Des Moines Register mentions E.W. Lee and around 1929, the Albia Union Republican stated Tom Romans had been a deputy sheriff in Buxton.
- More colored store clerks in any other city.
Research shows: The company store employed 85 workers (50 men and 35 women). Eighteen of them were African American and one, E.C. Strong, had been with the company for 21 years.
- The only steam laundry owned and managed by colored people in Iowa.
Research shows: The Buxton Laundry and Bakery Company was owned by 15 black miners. The laundry had a manager and six workers. Like the laundry, the bakery was a successful operation, reputedly capable of baking 300 loaves of bread in a day.
- The only colored physician regularly employed at a salary by the company and colony of any mining community in Iowa.
Research shows: Dr. E.A. Carter was an African American doctor employed by the company. He also graduated top of his class and was the first African American to get a medical degree from the University of Iowa.
- More colored men employed at better wages and given more regular work than any other place of its size in the world.
Research shows: Since Buxton supplied coal to the railroad, which needed a constant supply of coal, men worked year round. Within months after its inception, Buxton was unionized and black and white miners received equal pay.
- More freedom of speech and more freedom of the press than our wisest statesmen bargained for when they made the Constitution.
Research shows: So far, I’ve found mention of five African American newspapers – The Buxton Gazette (1903-1909), The Buxton Eagle (1903), Buxton Breeze, The Buxton Leader, and The Buxton Advocate which could account for the journalist’s opinion. I think there is at least one more.
- Less destitution, fewer paupers, fewer beggars and fewer homeless people than about any other city of its size in the country–Buxton Gazette.
Research shows: The year round work, the availability of work – as resident Earl Smith noted, “Anybody that wanted to work could work in Buxton” – and the affordable company housing, coupled with the impression that “money flowed” in Buxton, could all contribute to this statement.