M. R. Howes, M.A. Culp, and H. Greenburg

Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Geological Survey Bureau
Technical Paper No. 8, 1989, 92 p.


Des Moines, Iowa, the state's capital city, is situated within a portion of the state underlain by abundant coal resources. Early in the city's history, local deposits of coal were a readily available source of fuel for homes, industries, and railroads. Eventually, an underground mining industry arose in the Des Moines area and persisted for over 100 years (1840 to 1947). Recorded production totalled 50,965,427 tons from original reserves estimated at 750 million tons in Polk County (Landis and Van Eck, 1965).

Little direct evidence of the once thriving coal industry is visible in the present-day Des Moines area. However, the underground openings left by mining operations continue to cause problems long after mining ceased. Undermined areas remain subject to subsidence (collapse) of the land surface until the mining opening has become stable. Subsidence in an urban area poses varying degrees of risk to people and property affected by the collapse. Incidents of mine-related subsidence have occurred in the Des Moines area and will probably persist.

Documentation of the coal industry survives in the form of surveyed mine maps, published records, and files accumulated by agencies responsible for monitoring and regulating the industry. Although these records are incomplete, partial delineation of the undermined areas and inferences about the local geology can be made from them.

The purpose of this study is to compile information on past coal-mining activity in the city of Des Moines and the surrounding urbanized area. Greatest emphasis is placed on delineating undermined areas and summarizing the documentation from the available records. The limits of the study area encompass the most densely populated portion of the Des Moines area affected by undermining and includes all known underground mines in Polk County. Surface mines, not included in the study area, were developed in the southeastern part of the county and produced a small amount of coal during the mid-1950s.

This report consists of five sections: 1) a discussion of coal mines and mining in the Des Moines area; 2) a map which shows locations and extents of identified mines superimposed on a map of Des Moines-area streets; 3) a discussion of local geology; 4) a glossary which explains geologic and mining terminology; 5) appendices which list data for each mine and describe sources and compilation of data.

This report comprises the best currently available information on underground coal mines in the Des Moines area. It includes numerous revisions and additions to the report issued by the Iowa Geological Survey (IGS) in 1979. These refinements were achieved by careful study of a large number of restored mine maps including many which were not previously available. Additionally, use of computer-aided design techniques to prepare the map allowed more accurate transfer of information from mine maps. Caution is advised, however, in using the current report because part of the undermined area cannot yet be delineated due to incomplete or conflicting information.

Documentation of abandoned underground mines, especially in urban areas, is essential for evaluation of potential and existing mine subsidence problems. This report is meant to serve as a reference to known abandoned coal mines, but does not replace mine maps and detailed subsurface geologic data where more specific information is needed. This report serves, secondarily, as a historical reference for what was once an important industry in Des Moines.


Landis, E.R., and Van Eck, O.J., 1965, Coal resources of Iowa: Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Geological Survey Bureau Technical Paper No. 4, 141 p.