Coketon, West Virginia, located mid-way between Thomas and Douglas, was the central mining facility of the Davis Coal & Coke Company along the North Fork Blackwater River and the West Virginia Central & Pittsburg Railway.
Coketon’s heart was a 1.5-mile coking facility that began with two experimental “beehive” ovens in 1887. The company converted coal into coke, the purest form of carbon and a byproduct of coal that was used to smelt iron ore into steel through the Bessemer process. Coke was produced by baking coal in brick ovens until the impurities were burned, regulated by the amount of oxygen allowed into the oven via exterior steel doors.1 The process produced one ton of coke per two tons of coal.
Coketon contained 600 ovens, employing 150 men with an operation that ran 250 days per year. By the turn of the 20th century, Coketon was the third largest coking facility in West Virginia, producing 200,000 tons of coke by 1904. For each year between 1915 and 1921, 15 coal mines near Coketon shipped over one million tons of coal, making it the sixth most productive operation in the state.1
A new type of mining technology introduced in 1915 allowed the need for coking ovens at the mine site and by 1919, all coking operations at Coalton were abandoned. Coal mining continued; between 1920 and 1940, the Davis Coal & Coke Company operated the vast underground mines until they were exhausted. By 1950, after some restarts, only two mines were in operation: No. 36 and No. 40, with production falling to just 100,000 tons per year by 1954.1 All underground mining had stopped by 1956, although a few small surface mines continued until 1965.