The New Boston Coke Corporation, once part of the Portsmouth Steel complex in New Boston, Ohio, employed nearly 5,000 during its height in the mid-20th century. Due to foreign competition and outdated technology, the integrated mill was closed in 1980 while the coke plant remained, becoming an independent operation before closing in 2002 due to massive pollution emission violations.

The beginnings of the steel industry in New Boston began with the plotting of Portsmouth in 1803.6 Subsequent discoveries of iron ore in the foothills of southern Ohio, along with vast virgin forest tracts, and the availability of two major rivers, led to the construction of numerous blast furnaces in the Hanging Rock region. It was not long until the region became a major producer of iron products.

In 1831, Glover, Noel and Company operated the Portsmouth Iron Works, which consisted of a rolling and slitting mill in Portsmouth.2 6 18 The company was purchased by Thomas G. Gaylord in 1834, who within a few years had disposed his interests to Benjamin B. Gaylord, John P. Gould and Abram Morrell under the management of the Thomas G. Gaylord and Company.6 18 The plant produced boiler plates, sheet iron, bar iron, rivets, cut nails and castings, and a crucible steel facility and open hearth furnace was added soon after the renaming.

In 1869, the property was leased to the Portsmouth Iron and Steel Company for nine years.6 Three years later, Gaylord was reorganized into a stock company known as the Gaylord Rolling Mill Company.18 Ben Gaylord was named president and general manager, which continued until 1878. Owing to the financial depression and the retirement of Gaylord, the plant was closed for several months and then leased to the Portsmouth Iron & Steel Company (otherwise referred to as the Portsmouth Steel Company) in 1881 that was headed by John P. Terry.

Another mill, the Burgess Steel and Iron Works, was established in 1871 at Third and Madison in Portsmouth with a capital stock of $150,000,17 and named after Charles Burgess, one of its incorporators.18 The plant had a capacity of 3,500 tons annually before rising to 50,000 tons by the end of the century. On June 7,17 1898,9 Burgess’ plant burned, causing $250,000 in capital losses to the plant and approximately $300,000 in unfilled contract losses. Nearly 500 were left unemployed.

After the fire destroyed the Burgess plant in Portsmouth, Levi D. York, president of the company, contemplated options on whether to rebuild the mill on-site or move it to New Boston where he owned land.9 19 A decision came very quickly to rebuild in the Yorktown addition to New Boston.2 6 19 Much of the equipment was salvageable, although the new facility included four 30-ton open hearth furnaces, two 4-hole soaking pits, a 28-inch bloomer, two plate mills, twelve gas producers, twelve 100-HP dynamos, two 250-HP steam engines, and an 18-inch bar mill.2 6 9 The massive steam engines were constructed by the Portsmouth Foundry and Machine Company.9 By November 24, 1898, the rebuilt mill was rolling steel,9 with the plant going into full operation in the spring of 1899.9 19

The upgraded steel mill soon produced 50,000 tons annually with a monthly payroll of $25,000, employing approximately 700 workers.9 The new location featured more space, improved layouts and a larger capacity. The new buildings were constructed of steel and were fire proof. In addition, for the first time in the history of steel making, overhead electrical cranes were used to handle the hot metal and heavy machinery, saving extensive backbreaking labor and preventing injuries and deaths. Locomotives to transport the material within the plant were not used as this was still regulated to mules.

The plant soon passed to the Crucible Steel Company of America on July 15, 1900 9 which operated until December 8 when the company folded.20 Cruicible was having difficulties with the railroad and in obtaining raw materials.

Levi York, who was President of Burgess Steel and Iron Works, heavily criticized the sale of the plant to Crucible Steel. As a result of the criticism, two business men contracted two small steel companies, the Whitaker Iron Works and the Laughlin Nail Works, to assume operations of the closed facility. The plant was purchased in January 1902 9 20 and soon after, the city of Portsmouth contributed $20,000 and secured and option for 24 adjoining acres to the east of the industrial plant. In June 1902, the plant was reopened as the Portsmouth Steel Company.2 6 9 and shipped its first carload of product to the Cleveland Rolling Mills on June 18, 1902. A plate mill was added in 1905, and between 1909 and 1910, a blooming mill where ingots were heated and rolled into bars, five sheet mills and three jobbing mills were constructed.21 The plant also saw the installation of modern sheet-galvanizing equipment.21

The Portsmouth Steel Company was in dire need of funds and a major overhaul. The Whitaker Iron Works and the Laughlin Nail Works joined with Portsmouth Steel in a major reorganization that was voted upon on Feburary 2, 1915,21 which resulted in a unified company named Whitaker-Glessner 9 with W.L. Glessner president.20 During the reign of the Whitaker-Glessner Company, seven 60-ton open hearth furnaces with a capacity of 200,000 tons a year were constructed, along with a blooming department, where ingots were heated and rolled into bars, a large machine shop, gas producing plant to supply heat to the furnaces, and electric light and power plants.21 In early 1914, a steel bar mill was built, followed by the dismantling of the plate mill in December. A coke plant was completed in 1916 followed by the “Old Susie” blast furnace in 1917 which had a capacity of 800 tons daily.8 With the completion of the blast furnace, integration of the steel mill was complete.6 On June 21, 1920,9 the Whitaker-Glessner Company, LaBelle Iron Works, and the Wheeling Steel and Iron Company combined to form the Wheeling Steel Corporation.

Rod and wire mill divisions were added in 1921, the first expansion under the Wheeling Steel Corporation.9 Wire drawing equipment was installed two years later, followed by additional sheet mills in 1924. A coke plant was constructed six years later. By 1937, the steel mill was outputting 500,000 tons annually with a monthly payroll of $500,250 and employed a considerable amount of the residents in New Boston.

New Boston was considered an ammunitions mecca during World War II 7. The Wheeling Steel Corporation manufactured some of the army’s largest orders of 250- and 500-lb. bombs, becoming the largest center of production for 500-lb. bombs. After the fall of Germany, veterans of the war visited the plant to encourage the employees and to discourage absenteeism — after all, the Pacific Theater was still ongoing.

In July 1946 9, the steel mill was sold to a group of Ohio financiers who operated the plant was a fully integrated steel mill. It was renamed the Portsmouth Steel Corporation and proved to be a successful venture. One year after the purchase, the corporation conducted an ‘open house’ of the facility, drawing in 8,000 visitors who toured the plant and its seven new departments that were added after the purchase. Improvements to the plant, such as a remodeled sheet mill in May 1948 at a cost of $5.75 million, modernized the facility 9. By the end of the year, the plant was producing $49 million worth of steel annually and was also considered the most modern wire mill in the United States. The industrial giant employed over 3,800 at that time.

In 1950, Wheeling Steel’s Portsmouth Works was sold to the Detroit Steel Corporation.2 6 9 During Detroit Steel’s hold, $150 millon worth of major expansions and modernizations to the plant were completed. In 1951, the facility produced 800,000 tons of steel annually and employed 4,800 with the monthly payroll exceeding $1.25 million. The coke plant was rebuilt and modernized in 1965 and was considered the “most modern and complete” in the industry. A new $5 million steam plant was also completed, which combined the numerous boilers for the works. The steam-generating plant utilized waste by-product gas from the adjacent coke plant and blast furnace as a primary fuel, with natural gas and fuel oil being available as supplemental fuels.10

By the late 1960’s, the steel industry was in a rut. Foreign overseas competition had cut into Detroit Steel’s profits 9 and in 1969, Detroit Steel sold the business to Cyclops Corporation, a Pittsburgh specialty steel producer. The sale of the business was thought to be a smart investment that would keep the plant operating in the face of intense competition, but gradual shutdowns of Cyclops began in 1972.9 On February 22, 1980, it was announced that Cyclops would close its New Boston works by May 31, leaving 1,200 out of work. The coke plant was not affected by the job losses, however, Cyclops Corporation was intending to sell it to another company to offset the steel mill’s losses.

“We anticipate the sale of the coke plant as a going operation, but do not foreclose the possibility of selling the entire facility. Proposals from all interested parties will be considered.”
–Cyclops Corporation’s president, W.H. Knoell

The steel mill and coke plant was sold in November 1980 to the McClouth Steel Corporation out of Detroit 9 and became known as the New Boston Coke Corporation, a unit of McClouth Steel. By November 1981, however, McClouth faced intense competition for its steel products from intense competition and went into bankruptcy. New Boston Coke Corporation removed itself from the company and became an independent coke supplier based upon contracts. Its success was heightened when it landed a contract with the River Rouge Steel Corporation, a subsidiary of the Ford Motor Corporation.

In 1989, most of the former steel making facilities of Detroit Steel were demolished for a new strip-mall commercial development anchored by a Wal-Mart and a Buy-For-Less grocery store.2

In 1997, the Southern Ohio Port Authority (SOPA) removed approximately 26,000 cubic yards of soil and waste materials that were contaminated with PCBs, asbestos, and petroleum from the former Detroit Steel Company site. An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report noted that it had issued a covenant not to sue the SOPA for land that was remedied; the convenant was vital to the sale of the property to OSCO Industries, which had intended to construct a new plant to produce castings for the appliance and automotive industries.

In June 1999, at the request of the Ohio EPA and the Portsmouth Local Air Agency, New Boston Coke tested the coke oven gas being emitted from the plant.4 The request was made because the company disclosed emissions information for a particular source in 1998 that previously had not been reported.

The test results showed unacceptably high levels of benzene, and the Ohio EPA expedited the completion of an outdoor air toxics study for the area. Data collected from a monitor on the roof of the nearby Portsmouth water treatment plant between 1993 and 1999 also showed high levels of benzene and butadiene, both carcinogens, in the outdoor air.

On December 2, a two-count lawsuit was filed against New Boston Coke for violations of nuisance statutes for creating unhealthy air pollution.4 It also alleged that New Boston Coke was violating air permits issued to it by the Ohio EPA.4 According to the state EPA, the air pollution in New Boston was considered worse than some of the largest industrial sites in the United States.12  In relation, the company was ordered to clean up thousands of gallons of ammonia liquor and dispose of barrels of chemical waste.

As a result, an injunction against New Boston Coke was filed which required a long-term solution, the installation of a permanent flare to incinerate all coke oven gas from the previously unreported source that was to be in place by December 24, 1999. Failure to install the flare by December 24 would have resulted in penalties of $15,000 per day of violation.

In 2000, New Boston Coke Corporation sold the remaining coke facilities to a startup company, however, the plant was closed in April 2002.12 Approximately 200 jobs were eliminated.13 On September 28, 2004, a settlement was reached on contempt charges filed in December of 2002.5

The Ohio Attorney General, on behalf of Ohio EPA, obtained an order from the Scioto County Court of Common Pleas that resolved the contempt charges against former New Boston Coke Corporation (NBCC) CEO Fred Dery and former NBCC consultant Gil Mains for failure to clean up the site as stipulated in a December 2002 Scioto County Court order. Dery and Mains, who agreed to resolve the contempt charges, were required to pay $75,000 each.

In a separate action, also on behalf of the Ohio EPA, the Attorney General obtained an order through the Scioto County Court that required DLD One, LLC, a development company in Columbus, to clean up three parcels that were part of NBCC’s operation on US 52 in New Boston. DLD One obtained title to the parcels in November 2003, as a part of the NBCC bankruptcy. DLD One was required to clean up the parcels before any development takes place. The parcels included a surface gravel parking lot, old boiler-house and an electrical substation containing electrical transformers.

Redevelopment of the former New Boston Coke site and the Detroit Steel mill that occupied the frontage along US 52 would not come easy. In the spring of 2004, Wal-Mart announced its intention to abandoned the strip mall that was part of the former Detroit Steel mill for property in front of the New Boston Coke Corporation one-fourth mile southeast. Work did not progress due to the hazardous contaminants that remained in the soil that would need to be removed and the various buildings that still remained on site.

In early 2006, the city of New Boston attempted to purchase redevelop 17 acres west of the proposed Wal-Mart property for Conley Trucking.13 15 Conley wanted to construct a storage and packaging plant for the boat dock along the Ohio River; the dock would allow barges to drop off cargo which would then be shipped via railroad or highway 14. The cleanup for the plant, however, was muddled in debate between the city of New Boston and the Ohio EPA regarding contamination and cleanup costs.13 The city wanted to originally purchase 17 acres of land that were “lightly contaminated,” however, the Ohio EPA stated that there was an unknown level of contaminant on the site. The cost of cleaning the land was estimated to cost $560,000 to $1 million.

An agreement was made shortly after so that the Port Authority could purchase the land and apply for Clean Ohio funding.16 Nearly $1.1 million was spent on cleaning the Wal-Mart property and an additional $1.9 million was spent on the 17-acres west of the Wal-Mart site where Conley Trucking had proposed the storage and packaging plant that at that point was reserved for “an industrial site.”

On August 28, 2006,16 Wal-Mart broke ground for construction of the new super-center. The 210,000 sq. ft. retail store was opened in June 2007,12 along with a Bob Evan’s, Staples and Murphy’s Oil. In March 2007, Total Safety Inc. of South Point, Ohio, was awarded a contract for oversight of structural demolition of the coke plant.11 Demolition work begin in April and was completed later in the year.

[stag_toggle style=”normal” title=”Sources” state=”closed”]
  1. “Inside Detroit Steel.” Detroit Steel Corp., Portsmouth Division Nov 1961 (V.11 #11 pp 7-8).
  2. Blackburn, Lori. Article.
  3. “Ohio Voluntary Action Program Annual Report.” Environmental Protection Agency. June 1997, Article.
  4. “State Takes Action.” Environmental Protection Agency. 2 December 1999, Article.
  5. “Settlement Reached.” Environmental Protection Agency. 28 September 2004, Article.
  6. New Boston Centennial Celebration 2006. Waverly: K&M Printing, 2006.
  7. McHelly, Lori. “New Boston was a munitions mecca during World War II.” New Boston Centennial Celebration 2006. pg. 18.
  8. “The Blast Furnace.” New Boston Centennial Celebration 2006. pg. 19.
  9. Jenkins, Steve. “Iron and Steel Industry in New Boston, Ohio.”
  10. “Portsmouth’s $5 Million Steam Plant Is Now Nearing Completion.”
  11. “Coke plant contract awarded.” Lawrence Herald (Huntington), March 15, 2007. March 17, 2007.
  12. Ottney, Ryan Scott. “New Boston Coke to be razed.” Portsmouth Daily Times, March 13, 2007. March 17, 2007 Article.
  13. Barron, Jeff. “Cleanup costs not known.” Portsmouth Daily Times, July 28, 2006. March 17, 2007 Article.
  14. Barron, Jeff. “Commission considers river port.” Portsmouth Daily Times, March 21, 2006. March 17, 2007 Article.
  15. Barron, Jeff. “City may buy coke plant land.” Portsmouth Daily Times, July 11, 2006. March 17, 2007 Article.
  16. Lewis, Frank. “Building phase nears.” Portsmouth Daily Times, August 29, 2006. March 17, 2007 Article.
  17. “Banks and Business: Burgess Steel and Iron Works.” A Standard History of the Hanging Rock Iron Region of Ohio. Ed. Eugene B. Willard et al. Vol. 1. 1916. Marceline, MO: Walsworth,, n.d. 219. Print.
  18. “Banks and Business: Gaylord Rolling Mill.” A Standard History of the Hanging Rock Iron Region of Ohio. Ed. Eugene B. Willard et al. Vol. 1. 1916. Marceline, MO: Walsworth,, n.d. 216-217. Print.
  19. “Banks and Business: Works Rebuilt at New Boston.” A Standard History of the Hanging Rock Iron Region of Ohio. Ed. Eugene B. Willard et al. Vol. 1. 1916. Marceline, MO: Walsworth,, n.d. 219-220. Print.
  20. “Banks and Business: Portsmouth Steel Company.” A Standard History of the Hanging Rock Iron Region of Ohio. Ed. Eugene B. Willard et al. Vol. 1. 1916. Marceline, MO: Walsworth,, n.d. 220. Print.
  21. “Banks and Business: Whittaker-Glesner Company.” A Standard History of the Hanging Rock Iron Region of Ohio. Ed. Eugene B. Willard et al. Vol. 1. 1916. Marceline, MO: Walsworth,, n.d. 220-221. Print.