“Together Once, Together Again” by Brian Chambers
The Albia Union-Republican, January 17, 2008
Most everybody has a worn, faded, black and white family photograph that stands as a testament either to a previous generation either displayed in a frame, laying between the pages of an old album, or tucked nearly into a drawer. It is an image that captures a moment in time and when looked upon, transports the viewer to the past, rarely the future.
Over the years family members in the portrait age and as time progresses they disappear, mot from the memory or from the paper, but from existence. They die. It is the way of life. And when one looks at the photograph after the last person in it has been committed to the ground, sadness might be the overriding emotion, unless, of course, a more pragmatic view is taken. If so, then a nod to acceptance and Ecclesiastes would be in order. For everything there is a season and a time…a time to be born and a time to die.
This is what happened on the first day of December in 2007 when Linnea Dorothy (Peterson) Colgan passed away in Minneapolis at the age of 94. She was the last surviving member of the Peterson/Nylander generation that was born and raised in the coal mining towns of Buxton, Consol and Bucknell during the heyday of Monroe County coal mining in the early 20th century. And the last one in the photograph.
Linnea (Lynn to her family) was the fourth child of David Alexius Peterson and emma Louise Nylander and was born on Feb. 27, 1913 in Buxton. She joined three older brothers and there would be six more siblings join the family over the years, 10 in all. Six would be born in Buxton, three in Consol and one in Bucknell. Two would die in the same year, one at age 14, the other, two months. But that is much too compact to do the photograph — and the family — justice. A story must be told.
It was probably a cold day when Emma was born to Adolph and Anna Nylander in the coal-mining town of Muchakinock north of Eddyville, on Jan. 20, 1887 were they had emigrated to from Sweden in 1884. At her birth, half a world away from Sweden, David, the fifth child born to Peter Jonasson and Elisabeth Larsdotter, had turned three the previous summer.
Years passed and Emma grew up first in Muchakinock, then Buxton while her dad mined coal. Most likely she lived in sections of those communities amongst other Swedes, as was the custom of the times. Both towns had a section referred to as “Swedetown” and there were two in Buxton, East and West.
During the early years David lived on farms in Sweden and eventually landed in the steel mills. In 1903 with $300 in his pocket he sailed to America, disembarked Ellis Island, and proceeded to Buxton to meet up with his brothers, Oscar and John, who were coal miners. David followed suit.
It turned out that mining was to be a short career as he was permanently injured in a coal mining accident not long after arriving in Iowa. Along with many other miners in that time, he was sent into the mines with little or no training. Other young miners, as well as older ones, suffered the same fate. Since mining was no longer an option, he took a position with J.E. Larsen as a grocer.
Larson owned a store in East Swedetown adjacent to Buxton. In early 1907 he met and married Emma and before the year was out the first of their children, Irving, was born on Nov. 15. In 1909, Reynold (Ray) was born, David Ivan followed in 1911, Lynn in 1913, Elizabeth in 1914 and Wilma in 1916, all born in East Swedetown, an early-day suburb to the legendary town of Buxton.
According to accounts from former residents, East Swedetown was a town in itself with a school, blacksmith shop, Larson’s grocery store and the Ebenezer Lutheran Church were the Petersons and Nylanders worshipped. The town was made up, in part, from houses moved from Muchakinock, which was the custom when mining companies moved. The houses were transported by rail or wagon to the new community and with the move to Buxton, Adolph was instrumental in transporting Ebenezer Lutheran Church to the new location. The church would stand until a fire destroyed it in 1954.
David worked at Larson’s store for a number of years and then a store owned by Albert Hagglund in nearby Cooperstown, another suburb of buxton. By the time Wilma was born Buxton was in its last throes as a thriving community. As the miners left so did the customers at the grocery store and many moved southwest to the new mines opened by Consolidation Coal Company. Around the mines new towns by the name of Consol, Haydock and Bucknell sprung up and David and Emma, along with their young family, also moved and opened another store in Consol. Since the post office was located in the same building, David served double duty as postmaster. It was 1916.
Over the next six years, Grace, Bernard and Ruth were born. With the birth of Ruth, the family would no longer suffer one tragedy, but two.
Ruth was born on June 12, 1922. From the start she had trouble keeping her food down. Two days later, after fighting earlier injuries that left him with blood poisoning, Irving died. He was 14. The funeral was held in the house where Emma was confined to bed rest after the birth of Ruth. On June 16, Ruth was baptized at home with her maternal grandparents, Adolph and Anna Nylander, as witnesses. By Aug. 15 she too had passed away.
With little else to do but pick up and move on, in 1923 David built a new store in nearby Bucknell and by January of the next year their last child, Roy, was born.
In Bucknell, the Peterson’s lived in a two-story stucco house that had six bedrooms — five up and one down — with two porches. The house also featured a living room, dining room, kitchen and pantry. In addition, the basement had a Delco generator that provided electricity for the house and store located next door, something almost unheard of in rural areas in the 1920s.
Years later three of the sisters, Elizabeth, Naomi and Lynn wrote of what life was like moving to and living in Bucknell.
“There was excitement moving into a new town and new home. Our house was on a hill and our dad’s store was next door with a sidewalk between the house and the store. Roy and his friends played many hours in the area. The store was a general store with two large front windows on each side. One side had groceries and the other side dry goods. For cooling there was a large icebox. Farms brought in the cream and Dad tested for butterfat.
“Our dad took grocery orders at the homes and Ray and Ivan delivered the groceries. No telephone was available at this time. Dad had an office in the store. He always wore his hat in the office and people didn’t realize he was bald headed.”
The sisters also wrote about how their father’s early coal mining injury haunted him through these years. “Dad was crippled from the mines, cranking to start his car took some effort. One times he broke his arm.”
His arm wasn’t the only problem, the cold and long trips to Chariton for supplies over dirt roads in bad weather where he at times would get stuck exacerbated his condition.
“Very often after the stress of being out in the cold and rainy weather, he suffered dreadfully with his knees. It was so bad, sometimes he had to have medication for the pain.”
But it didn’t appear from their recollections — other than describing the hardships suffered by their father — there was anything other than a happy childhood. They wrote of how the store had plenty of candy on hand and Lambini’s ice cream parlor was close by.
The town had a movie theater and a place called Charlie Armstrong hall allowed residents to dance and roller skate. Nearby, there was a drugstore with a foundation. Their maternal grandparents lived in another part of town — in a house moved from Buxton — and visits were frequent. The high school was on Baxter Street and basketball games were held at Armstrong Hall. Then the mines closed. It was 1927.
Consolisation Coal Company may have given up, but the town — and David Peterson — did not readily give in. The high school stayed open long enough for most of the children to graduate and people in the area did the best they could to hang on, but it was only a matter of time without the mines in operation. David kept the store open and at times sat on the front stoop, watching the residents leave, many still owing him money.
In order to make ends meet, Emma looked over the day-to-day operations and David opened combination grocery store and gas stations in Melrose and Georgetwon, a precursor to modern-day convenience stores. His children were employed through the years both as delivery help and mechanics at the gas station. The older sons, Ray and Ivan, both picked up the mechanic trade but knew that it could not sustain a living, at least not in the area at the time.
In 1936 Ray left to work at Oliver Farm Equipment Company in Charles City and later married Iva Lutz. Likewise with Ivan, as he followed a year later and joined his brother at Oliver and met and married Ruth Smith. But it was Lynn who left first.
After graduation Bucknell High school in 1931 she worked as a waitress for a time at the Imperial restaurant in Albia. Henry Nylander, Emma’s brother and Lynn’s uncle, owned the restaurant along with John Watson. She met Russ Colgan of Lovilia and on Christmas day in 1935 they married at the home of a pastor in York, Neb. As Russ was employed with the Gamble Company the two were transferred various places but finally made Dennison, Iowa their home where they lived for 21 years. Later, in retirement, the couple moved to Minnesota.
As the years passed, the other children left. Elizabeth married Lyle Lund in 1939 and moved to Minnesota after the war. Wilma left but later returned and moved with her parents and her sisters, Naomi and Elizabeth, to Richmond, Calif. in 1941 when, looking for work, David found employment in the shipyards during the war years. Ivan moved to the San Diego area, found work, stayed and after his first wife, Ruth, died he married Florine, some years later. Roy moved to Charles City where he graduated from high school in 1941.
After the war ended, David and Emma came back to where it all began — Buxton. It was 1946.
The same year Wilma moved to Minneapolis, married Richard Esperson and joined her sister, Naomi and her husband, Lowell Culmer. Naomi had left Richmond in 1942 and she and Lowell married and moved to Minneapolis that year.
After a stint in the Coast Guard during the war, Bernard bounced around the country first in Ohio and later Michigan. Roy, the youngest of the family, spent a hitch in the service and married Betty Schrader. They settled in Plainfield, Ill.
For the most part, by this time the siblings had moved miles away from the Albia area and Illinois, California, Minnesota and Charles City, Iowa were all homes to the Peterson siblings. But Buxton drew them back year after year.
David and Emma moved into a house located directly behind the Ebenezer Lutheran Church, their church, where their children attended services when they were young. Now, the children and their families would gather in Sunday afternoons or weekends in the spacious yard of their parent’s home and once — in 1947 — all posed for a photograph. It was a moment frozen in time — a moment that would survive the years.
Over the next decade the brothers and sisters — and their children — would visit. Gordon Peterson, son of Ray and Iva, spent summers at the house where he would hear stories about old Buxton, Consol and Bucknell. He and his dad would canvas the area where Ray would point out old landmarks of Buxton, foundations where buildings stood, how he delivered groceries and ran errands for his dad. With Grandpa and Grandma on hand it was a living history lesson for Gordon and his cousins until 1958 when his grandfather, David, passed away. The first in the photograph to fade.
One year later Emma died and joined her husband, and town of their children, Irving and Ruth, at Oakview Cemetery in Albia. Gordon’s trips back to the area didn’t cease, but after the death of the family matriarch, the activities changed somewhat.
Gordon, a young man of 20 when his grandmother died, kept coming back with his dad over the years and spent time maintaining the graves of his grandparents, aunt, uncle and great-grandparents, Adolph and Anna Nylander, who were buried at Bethel Cemetery north of Albia. And throughout these years Ray would continue with the stories of his youth ensuring the legacy of the Peterson name and their heritage and ties to the coal mining centers were not forgotten. To keep the picture — at least in the mind — alive.
Wilma was the third in the photograph. She died in 1973 in Minneapolis after succumbing to the ravages of cancer. She was buried at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis. Next was Bernard in 1981. He too was buried at Ft. Snelling.
Twelve years later it was Ray, Gordon’s dad, 20 years of heart problems finally caught up with him. Gordon would now have to carry on the work of passing stories and tending the graves without his dad at his side.
Two years later, in 1995, Roy fell into silence after battling Parkinson’s disease for many years. He and Ray were both buried at Charles City. Next was Ivan in 1998, three days later Florin, his wife of 46 years, also died. Both were buried in his adopted state if California at San Diego.
With the death of Ivan all the brothers were now gone and all that remained were three sisters, the ones there remembered growing up in Bucknell — Elizabeth, Naomi and Linnea. All were living in Minneapolis were they remained active and in touch. It did not last long.
In April of 2002, Naomi left the photograph and Elizabeth followed in December of the same year. Only one remained, Lynn.
According to Gordon, during her final years she suffered from dementia but could well remember the years of growing up in and around Buxton, Consol and Bucknell. As he lived close by to Lynn in Minneapolis he was able to hold on to the past for a few more years. Maybe pick up a story he had not heard before or listen again to a favorite when his aunt was having a good day.
It all ended in the first day of December of 2007 when Linnea joined her husband and daughter, as well as her siblings. The last of the Petersons in the photograph.
She was interred at the Ft. Snelling Cemetery in Minneapolis where others of her family — five in all — were waiting.
The memorial folder at Lynn’s funeral told that she outlived her husband of 52 years and her daughter, Linda Hughes. As far as survivors there was one sister-in-law and many nieces and nephews.
But one survivor was not mentioned, one that will live and tell a story for as long as there is someone to keep it and care for it — the photograph.