The demise of the cattle industry signaled the forthcoming economic downturn in Baxter Springs. Coupled with the economic woes of the town, the future seemed bleak. As an inducement to bring the M. R., Ft. Scott, & Gulf R.R. to the city, bonds had been sold in the amount of $150,000 in a scheme to lure the railroad to Baxter Springs. The alternative location was Chetopa. Additionally, bonds were floated by the city in the amount of $25,000 to construct a new school along with the proposed court house.
These factors all contributed to a climate that pushed the city into a critical economic dilemma. A very bleak economic condition arose. Dwindling population occurred as residents departed the city seeking a better financial climate. Many residents razed their homes and reconstructed them in Galena and other area towns.
The discovery of lead in large veins in the tri-state area revived the area towns from the economnic doldrums, Baxter Springs and Galena in particular.
Lead had been found in small quantities and of poor quality in the early days of Baxter Springs along Spring Branch. It was suspected that higher grade ore could be found, but only at deeper depths. Deep shafts would necessarily have to be sunk in order to effectively extract the high grade ore. Two shafts were dug in Baxter Springs it is believed, both along Spring Branch. One was drilled north of present-day Lincoln School. The other was bored on property immediately east of the Baxter Springs Heritage Center & Museum.
The Baxter Springs City Council by Ordinance No. 42 enacted provisions which greatly limited any mining within the corporate city limits. The size of any claim was limited to only 50 feet by 40 feet on property facing a street. On an alley, the size was to be only 50 feet by 8 feet. Such a limited area for a mining claim made it virtually impossible for any successful mining activity. A profitable mining operation would have required mills, settling ponds, and of course the unsightly and land wasting chat piles.
Thus, the city fathers, by their action, prevented mining within the city limits of Baxter Springs. But by their actions, they prevented the desecration of the land that is so pervasive in nearby towns. Those towns that allowed extensive mining within and around their limits have suffered irreparable damages. There are no chat piles to be found in Baxter Springs, nor is there the danger of lead contamination and underground instability.
Baxter Springs did, however, greatly benefit from mining activity. Many of the mine owners and operators chose Baxter Springs for their residences. Many mining executives maintained their offices within Baxter Springs. Much of the appearance of the businesses on Military Avenue can be attributed to the growth of the mining industry. The medallions on many buildings bear dates from the early 1900's.
Many of the oldest and finest residences were also built by affluent families whose wealth was obtained through their connections to the mining industry.
Although Baxter Springs was not the center of the actual mining distict, several of the more productive mines bore names which are readily recognizeable. The Brewster, the Hartley, the Swalley, and the largest of the local mines, the Ballard located west on nineteenth street all produced substantial quantities of lead and zinc during their years of operation, contributing significantly to the local affluence.
The Estes mine was significant, not that it was among the largest or the most productive. It was owned by the Estes family one of the pioneering black families who had taken up a homestead southwest of Baxter Springs. There were reports of good strikes at times. But the Estes was important in that it provided work for nearly 25 black workers. Very few blacks were employed in any of the other mines at the time. In a very labor intensive industry, mining required many workers and different job descriptions. The local black workers were able to exercise their skills.
For many years, the miners worked in extremely harsh and difficult conditions. It was not until the latter years of the mining boom that the industry became more mechanized, employing state of the art machinery designed particularly for the industry.
Many dangers always confronted the miners. The accounts are numerous in the local papers of the mining accidents that were frequent. Many injuries and fatalities occurred. Silicosis of the lungs was a disease incurred by countless numbers of miners resulting from the persistent inhalation of rock dust.
The decline in the mining activity resulted as the amounts of lead and zinc being extracted became lower in grade. The price of these valued minerals began to fall. The costs of operations became oppressive. The war years had provided a ready market for lead and zinc. The post war years of the late 40's saw a decline in demand. The decline of the mining industry which had so greatly impacted the economy of the entire tri-state region for so many years, was now inevitable.
The mining industry brought so much wealth into the region while it was active. After its' decline, inumerable problems ensued. The towns of Hockerville, Lincolnville, Douthit, Zincville and others disappeared. The residue from mine areas created pollution that has permanently scarred the landscape and damaged the environment. The land over the massive underground drifts is unstable and unpreictable.
The mountains of chat above the ground were mute evidence of the massive caverns below the surface. Most of the chat piles are now gone. Restoration efforts around Baxter Springs have relaimed much of the land that was marred by the mining activity years ago.
For well over fifty years, the mining indutry greatly impacted the economy of Baxter Springs and the lifestyles of so many of its residents.