From the 1936 WPA Writer's Project
Carbon, Iowa is located in Adams County about eight and one half miles northwest of Corning, the county seat. Carbon received its name from the carbon or coal deposits in its immediate vicinity. The population is about 400, most of whom are drifters, interested in working only long enough to get money to "move on." There are no railroad or bus connections at Carbon, the nearest stations being at Corning. To reach Carbon, one must drive four and one-half miles north from Corning on graveled highway Number 148, then west on highway Number 95, which has crushed rock surfacing. It is also possible to drive south from Carbon to paved highway Number 34, a distance of about four miles. This road is now being paved with crushed rock. There are no hotel or tourist camp accommodations in Carbon.
No one living in Carbon now, seems to know why it was started but one of the oldest residents came there in 1868, when the settlement was actually west of the townsite and the land on which the present town stands was covered with forest. The village was started along the river near a saw mill which later was converted into a grist mill and was finally torn down in 1880 because of decrease in business. Coal was mined as early as 1860 and there were small mines all along the river. (Nodaway runs north of the town). In 1878 the residents began to move east and the town started to grow into its present plan. In 1903 the town was incorporated. At present there are two stores, two garages, a barber shop, post office, two soft drink parlors, school, telephone office, and two small churches. The dwellings are numerous, but many of them are small shacks, hardly fit for habitation.
The only industry of note is the coal mining in the six or eight active mines in the vicinity of Carbon. Some of the miners do farm work during the summer. Ben Gibson, former attorney-general of Iowa (1921-1926) was born and reared at Carbon and is the town's only "famous son." There is a grade school at Carbon with additional work equivalent to the ninth and tenth grades offered.
1984 Adams County History Book
Elijah Walters was the first white man to settle in Adams County, in the year 1849. With his son Isaac, he built a saw mill on the Middle Nodaway River near the present site of Carbon. In June of 1853, he obtained the deed to this 40 acres from the land office in Kanesville (present day Cuncil Bluffs). On May 2, 1855, John Barnett became the first owner of the 40 acres adjacent on the east.
Adam Poor and Morgan Warren were early settlers coming shortly after the Walters, so, with three houses, the settlement was called Walter's Mill. In a few years they built a gristmill close to the saw mill to make meal. It was made of hewn oak timber. Samuel Hardisty helped in building the mill. In 1862, Thomas Nelson, by adding another story, turned it into a "flower mill" with the help of Sam Smith of Milford.
The mill was the first Post Office with William Cormack the first Postmaster. Sunday services and Sunday school were held in the mill, with Rev. Gaskel, Rev. Smith, and Rev. Hope the first pastors. Next to the mill was a stone building, one part used as a store and the other used as a school, with Miss Bell as teacher.
With the discovery of coal, more settlers located here and in 1870 a village sprang up named Carbon with the old mill as a background. In 1873 the plat of Carbon was made from land secured from John and Elizabeth Barnett and Thomas and Rebecca Nelson. Carbon was incorporated in 1904 with Knute Knudson as first Mayor.