Sneed’s Dewmaine History

Dewmaine was located a mile north of Carterville on the Carterville—Colp Road. It began when Samuel T. Brush, of Carbondale sank a coal mine a mile north of Carterville, under the name of St. Louis and Big Muddy Coal Company, in 1893. Brush named the town he built around his mine Dewmaine. The Dew is for Admiral Dewey and the maine is for the Battleship Maine.

The panic of 1893 threw the company in bankruptcy and in the hands of the receivership. Brush stayed on as general manager of the mine.

The United Mine Workers of America was organized in 1890 but the low price of coal, the vast unemployment and the weaknesses of the new labor union, made it impossible to demand a full scale. Coal sold for $1.63 a ton before the panic but it dropped to 82 ½ cents a ton. Mine operators dropped wages even proportionally lower than the price of coal.

Brush survived the strike of 1894 and of 1897. The United Mine Workers grew from a union of 25,000 members to over 50,000. It was then that the union was organized at the Dewmaine Mine, without Samuel Brush’s knowledge.

Early in 1898 the Illinois Operators agreed on 36 cents a ton for mining coal. Brush declared he was not represented and the agreement was not binding on him. He said his offer of 30 cents a ton was just and the miners could take it or leave it. A strike began April 1st. Brush demanded that the strikers move out of the company houses. When they did not comply right away their furniture was set out on the public road.

On May 20th a train brought 178 Negro miners from Tennessee and the Negroes moved into the houses. The Union provided tents and the evacuated miners set up camp in Carterville City Park. Brush, fearing trouble from the strikers, brought in guards armed with rifles and Gatling guns, the nearest thing to a machine gun to that date.

On June 30, Brush attempted to bring in more Negro families. Two cars of the Illinois Central train carried them. The train stopped at Lauder {Cambria) for a regular station stop. It was met by 250 armed union men who demanded it go no farther. The train moved and when it did a volley of shots were fired into the coach. One Negro woman was killed.

At 5:30 on the morning of July 1, about 250 armed union men appeared along the road leading to the mine and turned back every miner going to work, leaving only the guards and Negro families who lived in the company houses at the mine. Later that morning the guards and union men clashed, leaving nine union men and ten guards dead.

On another occasion a group of Negroes came to Carterville to catch a train. White men ran them out of town. A fight followed and five Negroes were killed. As autumn approached, the need for coal increased and Brush brought in more Negro miners.

The trial for the shooting at the train was held in Vienna for it was thought that a fair trial could not be held in Williamson County. No one was ever found guilty of these crimes. In spite of this, Brush vowed never to recognize the union.

In 1897, the Dewmaine Mine became top coal producing mine in the state of Illinois. After that, production dropped and continued to do so. In 1906, the mine was sold to the Madison Coal Company. Then the new company recognized the union. The Negroes were told they could keep their jobs but they must join the union, most complied.

Most of the original houses in Dewmaine were box type; with the outside boards running vertically Dewmaine had a population of 1400 in its hay day. They were almost exclusively Negro.

During the non-union period of the Brush Mine its miners were all black. Because of fear of confrontation and a feeling of contempt for nonunion miners, some of the surrounding communities passed ordinances forbidding Negroes within the city limits after sundown and before sunup. This prohibition was a sore spot for a lengthy period. However, time did heal the wounds and Dewmaine was respected by the other communities.

One of the most notable residents of Dewmaine was Dr. A.W. Springs. He proved himself a fearless humanitarian in the Royalton Mine explosion of 1906. There was smoke and gas belching out of the shaft and there were bleeding and dying men below in that inferno. Dr. Springs went down into the mine and gave medical care to injured men. For his bravery he received two gold medals from the United States Bureau of Mines.

Dr. Springs was an excellent physician and had patients all over Franklin and Williamson Counties. Almost as many of his patients were white as were black. He was also a great promoter of Boy Scouts, church and school.

Dr. Springs claimed to be part Negro and part American Indian. In celebration of the Indian blood, he ran to Carterville on the morning of his birthday. This ceremony was carried on until he was far into his sixties.

The reverend C.C. Phillips was the first Baptist minister. He organized the Dewmaine Baptist Church.

The Dewmaine Post Office was established in a corner of the Company Store March 6, 1901, with Marshel E. Balson as postmaster. It was closed July 31, 1931.

The Dewmaine School was a frame building having four rooms. It was full of pupils at one time. Today it is consolidated with Carterville. The building has been torn down. The church stands behind a yard full of junk cars. There is but one house left in Dewmaine. The Boy Scout Cabin is in ruins. Dr. Springs’ house is gone. Only a ghost of the village of heroism, strife and bloodshed remains.

Back to the top

(Ghost Towns of Southern Illinois, by Glenn J. Sneed, published 1977)