Coketon, West Virginia, is a former company town and coal mining facility of the Davis Coal & Coke Company.
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. 2 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. 3 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, going through four distinct stages of chemical transformation: sweating, gassing, striking, and igniting. During this process, smoke emanated from the oven, initially a pale blue, then white, dark brownish-yellow, and ultimately a deep black, with the impurities of the coal being burned off, and transformed into red-hot coke. The coke produced was then utilized in the Bessemer process to smelt iron ore into steel.
The workforce was divided into different categories for the efficient operation of the coke ovens. The charger lit the fire, the leveler leveled the coal inside the oven, and the dauber bricked up the oven door, leaving only a crack for air at the top. Upon the completion of the coking process, a quencher sprayed water on the fire, and a drawer or puller scraped the coke out of the oven and onto the ground. 3 The coke ovens at Coketon were the third-largest facility of its kind in the state, producing 200,000 tons of coke by 1904. 1 The team of 150 men worked for 250 days per year. 1 3
The North Fork Blackwater River valley witnessed a significant growth in mining activity during the early 20th century. By 1906, the mines employed approximately 1,300 individuals, operating 12 active mines, 1,235 coke ovens, and accommodating 2,500 residents in the area. 3 The mining industry continued to flourish, and between 1915-21, the 15 coal mines located near Coketon shipped over one million tons of coal annually, making it the sixth most productive operation in the state.
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. 3 Despite this, continuous underground coal mining persisted until 1940 when the reserves were almost completely depleted. By 1950, only two mines, No. 36 and No. 40, were still in operation, producing just 100,000 tons of coal per year by 1954. 1 Ultimately, all underground mining ceased by 1956, with only a few small surface mines remaining active until 1965.
In 1995, the No. 29 portal was closed using a wet seal, and a passive water treatment system was implemented to mitigate the impact of acidified water on the North Fork Blackwater River. 3