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Iowa Coal Mining Illuminated in Museum of Over 1,000 Dolls
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Iowa Coal Mining Illuminated in Museum of Over 1,000 Dolls

The highlight of our trip to Boone County—and maybe its best-kept secret—was a stop at the Madrid Historical Society Museum. Hats off to the folks of this small community for their work creating and maintaining this little gem.

It boasts one of the largest doll collections in Iowa—over 1,000 of them donated by local resident Margaret Keigley. Some she collected and others she made. Some are even displayed in intricately detailed dollhouses—one of them six feet tall.

Coal mining was a major industry in Boone County and elsewhere in Iowa from the early 1900s until about WWII and, in stark contrast to the dainty doll collection, a fascinating exhibit gives a glimpse into the hardscrabble life of an Iowa coal miner.

Fittingly, it’s in the basement of the museum, so you almost feel like you’re entering a mine. Tools, artifacts and old photos tell the story of just how tough it was working in the mines—often beginning as a teenager.

There were two types of mines—the traditional shaft mines 200 to 300 feet deep and slope mines, which were cut horizontally into hillsides.

A scale model of a slope mine showed how miners had to lie on their sides and break up the shale rock with a pickax in order to get at the vein of coal. And we think we have tough jobs nowadays!

Most remarkable of all was a pay stub from 1949. For all of his hard work, a miner earned $23 a week, but after deductions for supplies like blasting powder and fuses—he even had to buy the coal he mined to heat his own house—a miner’s take-home pay for a week’s work was a mere $9.65! Learn more, at the exhibit!

This content previously appeared in the popular “Road Trip” series in Our Iowa Magazine. Learn more about the publication at

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  1. Travel Iowa Team
    Travel Iowa Team
    Fascinating stuff! Thanks for contributing to the Travel Iowa blog!
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