Coketon’s Coke Ovens

Many of the abandoned “beehive” coke ovens of the Davis Coal & Coke Company are still visible today in the company town of Coketon, West Virginia.

Coketon, West Virginia, was a company town established by the Davis Coal & Coke Company and comprised a power plant, coal tipple, headframes for underground mines, shop buildings, and 600 beehive coke ovens that extended over 1½ miles. The company’s coking facility commenced with two experimental “beehive” ovens in 1887, taking advantage of the soft, low-sulfur coal found in the region, which was ideal for processing into coke.

To convert two tons of coal into one ton of coke, a team of 150 men operated the heavy, brick-lined ovens, and subjected the coal to a 48-hour baking process which allowed the impurities of the coal to burn off. The coke produced was then utilized in the Bessemer process to smelt iron ore into steel.

The introduction of coking facilities capable of recovering by-products during the early 1900s led to the obsolescence of the “beehive” coke ovens. By 1919, all the original “beehive” ovens in Coalton were abandoned. By the 1940s, most of the original coal mines near Coketon had been exhausted, with only the No. 36 and No. 40 remaining open by 1950. All underground mining ceased by 1956, with only a few small surface mines operating until 1965.

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The quality and implicit emotion in these photographs make lummoxes like me simply weep. I’ve always been impressed since you began publishing these; perhaps there’s some reason that this latest effort got to me. While your work is probably best appreciated in electronic form, it seems to me that much of it deserves to be in galleries or museums.

I live not far from these old coal fields–Lancaster, Ohio and Athens OH prior to that. There’s so much poverty amid so much natural glory, and it’s difficult to see how matters could be much different.

In any case, thank you.

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