On May 18, 1898, a train in Sweetwater, Tenn., pulled out of the station with nearly 200 African-American miners and their families. Among those traveling north were Sam and Nicie Adkins and their two year old daughter, Virginia.
Southern Illinois was their final destination, in a corner of northwest Williamson County. Samuel Brush, a founder of Carbondale and owner of the St. Louis and Big Muddy Coal Company, recruited the Adkins couple and fellow Tennesseans to fulfill a promise to his newly unionized, striking white miners. He vowed to replace and evict them from his camp.
The train arrived May 20, 1898, in Carterville. Tensions were high and violence seemed likely. But, the new arrivals, already familiar with mine shafts, mules and dangers underground, marched north to the recently emptied mining camp, which was dubbed Dewmaine by Brush.
In a short time, the mine again produced at full capacity. The new camp grew in numbers and a real community began to form.
Brush continued to fill the strikers' jobs with African-American replacements. Threats continued from union sympathizers. On June 30, 1899, a train from Pana, carrying 40 black miners and their families, stopped at Cambria. As the train came to a rest, shots rang out.
Anna Bush Karr died instantly in the gunfire. Twenty more miners were injured. A sensational trial later occurred in Vienna, but ended without convictions of the nine accused men. Mining-related violence continued periodically.
By 1906, Brush had sold his mine to the New Jersey-based Madison Coal Company. The coal mine became known as No. 8. Most of the African-American coal miners eventually unionized, and their wages continued to rise.
From camp to town
In 1901, a U.S. Post Office opened in Dewmaine. A small school house, segregated for the few white and majority of blacks, offered education to the coal miners' children. A company store, owned by the mining company, soon had competition. A grocery store, a drug store and a dairy owned by the Dantzler family, made trips to Carterville less necessary.
Two churches, the Mount Zion Baptist Church and an African Methodist Episcopalian church, Wayman Chapel, were organized. Residents developed a nickname for Dewmaine, "Greenville," named so because the company homes were uniformly painted green with white trim.
The formation of a thriving community did not go unnoticed. Fisk University business students, visiting the area to assess opportunities for southern blacks, reported back to Tennessee of Dewmaine's potential.
Ned Goodin, traveling by bicycle and train, became an informal ambassador for the community as he lobbied for new residents from the northern counties of Alabama.
The Rev. C. C. Phillips, a superintendent with the Baptist Church, encouraged newcomers. He persuaded a newly graduated physician, Andrew Springs and his wife, Birdie McLean Springs, also a doctor, to set up a practice in Dewmaine. With their arrival in 1908, offering access to modern medicine, the community thrived.
Education and health
Dewmaine residents placed a high value on the education of their children. Most miners possessed little formal education and wanted more options for the next generation.
A two-story building was built east of the Springs' medical office. The lower floor held the grade school, and the second floor housed the high school. A female teacher, Wardell Jones, who taught and supervised the first eight grades, firmly asserted her students would be prepared to go to "anybody's college."
Jones missed almost an entire academic year while receiving medical treatment at Mayo Clinic. Upon her return, fearing the students would advance unprepared, she announced all the students would be held back, except the graduating class. The community agreed with the highly respected educator's decision.
From the earliest days of his practice, Springs devoted himself to skilled care and prevention. He lectured his patients on personal hygiene, proper nutrition, and the most current advancements in child care. He and his wife, Birdie, established a small hospital, along with their clinic.
Springs hosted first-aid meetings every Friday evening for miners and their families. His work with them led him to in-depth studies of miners' health concerns and mine-safety issues. He published many of his findings in the Journal of the National Medical Association, an organization still serving the interests of African-American physicians. In 1914, Springs brought national attention to his work and by association, the community of Dewmaine.
On Oct. 27 a mine explosion occurred in Royalton. Hundreds of family members, as well as 40 or 50 local doctors, stood at the entrance to the mine. Springs insisted in going below with the rescue team, armed with a pulmotor, an early version of a resuscitator. Deep in the burning mine, he worked to resuscitate man after man, many believed dead by fellow rescuers. For the lives that he saved that day, he was eventually awarded a gold medal from the Joseph Holmes Safety Association. He also received a special Papal Blessing for his work. In 1915, Springs became the official physician for the Madison Coal Corporation.
Amanda Kirby, 92, was brought to Dewmaine when she was 8 months old. Her father mined in No. 8 and later turned to farming. Although money was tight, Kirby remembers having plenty of food on the table, with enough to share with neighbors. The girls in the family cut corners by using Vaseline as a hair treatment, rather than the store-bought products by Madam C.J. Walker.
She also recalled walking to Carterville with her mother to shop. "A parrot, perched on a front porch, was trained to call out (the n-word) as we walked by. We spent our money there and that was it," Kirby said.
Caterville, like Herrin, was a "sunset town," which legally prohibited blacks from remaining in those communities after dark. The practice was not uncommon.
Former Dewmaine resident, 96-year-old Harrison Baker, came to the community in 1918. Baker's great-grandmother, a slave mistress from Virginia, bought freedom for her herself, her children and her slave husband in Alabama.
The family farmed and worked in mines. However, they became convinced that Illinois was the "land of milk and honey," known for its higher wages and better farm land. Baker's parents followed his maternal grandparents to the area to become miners. In his early years, Baker became a friend of Andrew Springs Jr., the only son of the local physicians.
Baker, along with 10 other youngster, joined one of the first African-American Boy Scout troops. Springs, who had a deep interest in education and Native American lore, established a Boy Scout camp by his home.
Because the Boy Scouts organization did not practice segregation, the troop could travel to nearby towns for scouting activities. Baker recalls that, at camp, they practiced drill team maneuvers with wooden rifles and learned rope skills and first-aid techniques.
At one point, the troop visited Alton and laid a wreath at the tomb of the town's well-known abolitionist and newspaper publisher Elijah Lovejoy, who was murdered by an opposition mob that attacked his warehouse to destroy the press of his newspaper - which regularly condemned slavery.
Another high point for the troop was a stay in the Hippodrome in Herrin to serve as guides for a Lion's Club convention. Baker believes that the black troop could have gone almost anywhere in Southern Illinois, provided they carried the American flag. "Strong feelings of patriotism, left from World War I, negated racism as Dr. Springs introduced us to different towns and civic organizations," noted Baker.
Slowly, Dewmaine began to experience setbacks that chipped away its identity as a community.
The Madison Company No. 8 coal mine ceased operation in 1923. The post office closed in 1931. The last high school class, under the direction of Professor Penn, graduated in 1930.
The grade school remained for a number of years until it was closed, and the children were transferred to Attucks School in Colp. By the mid-1960's, one woman inhabited a home in what was once Dewmaine. Today, it is listed as a ghost town in articles and books.
To anyone other than historians and longtime residents of the Carterville area, Dewmaine might as well never have existed. Its location is not easily found, nor readily identified. The name of the once-promising community does not get mentioned in casual conversation.
Yet, for former residents of Dewmaine, especially those who were raised in the mining town, Dewmaine still is home.
It is the final resting place for the denizens of a town that no longer exists, but is not forgotten. The well-kept Dewmaine Cemetery offers proof of a community honoring its past. The buildings and people are gone, but the sense of place, history and family ties remain.