Letters to the Editor
Albia Union-Republican Newspaper, September 4, 2008
by Gordon Peterson
Hobe Armstrong was one of the most influential individuals in Monroe County, Iowa during the coal mining era of the late 1800 and early 1900s. He owned vast amounts of land that he used to farm and raise cattle. He, being colored (as African Americans were respectfully called in that era) recruited large contingencies of fellow African Americans from Kentucky and the Virginia area to work in the coal mines in Iowa’s Monroe and Mahaska Counties. They were recruited to replace the miners who had gone out on strike.
Hobe felt very strongly about integrating blacks and whites and as the story goes offered money to any white male who would marry one of his daughters. One of Hobe’s daughters was named Stella Armstrong Ferguson.
In the late 1940 and 1950 my grandparents David and Emma Peterson lived in what was known as the Bloom house in Buxton’s East Swede Town – now the home of Mark and Lisa Keeton. Each summer as a young boy I would stay with my grandparents on that farm. The one person I remember vividly during those visits was Stella Armstrong Ferguson. She always seemed to be wearing a big hat, driving a big car and talking loudly. She lived in a big house on the east side of the “K” road (650th Avenue). Click to connect story on East Swede Town.
This past week I journeyed down to Monroe County from Minneapolis to explore Buxton, Consol and Haydock. As I was driving north on 650th Avenue (T31) and just a ½ mile beyond “Taits Corner” (650th Avenue & 110th Street) I noticed a yard gate on the east side of the road. I recognized it as the front yard gate to Stella Armstrong Ferguson’s home. John Blomgren from Lovilia who died recently was the first to remind me that the gate was to Stella’s yard. I believe it is setting on the land currently farmed by Dave and Liz Larson. Click to read John Blomgren’s obituary.
Apparently the Larson family also know the history of the gate and have chosen not to destroy the gate since it sits along the road as it did over 100 years ago. In my opinion Monroe County hasn’t preserved much of rich history of the coal mining era of the early 1900s. However, my thanks to whomever recognized Stella’s gate and its connection to the history of Buxton and to the family of Hobe Armstrong. Now maybe when others are driving on the K road (650th Avenue) and see the gate they will be reminded of Monroe County’s coal mining history a century ago.
Update to the story: Shortly after the article appeared in the Albia Newspaper, the gate was removed. It is unfortunate, but I am pleased my story sparked interest in the gate and is a valued treasure to whomever took it, possibly a relative of Stella’s and the Armstrong family. As a consolation to me, the person who took the gate left the gate’s post.
by Betty Blomgren Johnston
Stella Ferguson was always a mystery to my sister Carol and me. We visited her often when we were at my grandparents, Tekla and Richard Olson, in Buxton’s East Swede Town. She asked us to come for supper one day. We were astonished that she served us Betty Crocker Chicken and Noodle Soup. We thought that was the thinnest soup we had ever seen. She had such interesting pieces in her house, but I retain no memory of any of them except the beautiful organ. We were never invited to view the upstair in her house which further added to her mystery. I know she had nice jewelry and was always decked out in her best. She was a Methodist among all of us Lutherans. Stella and her friend, Mrs. McDougal, would visit us on Sunday afternoon in Albia after they had been to church and out to eat. Stella was a terrible driver, but always had a nice car. Stella dubbed her friend, Mrs. Mac. I know Stella was a great friend to my grandma, Tekla Nylander Olson. I believe they were all in a Ladies Aid group, regardless of religious preference.