We are currently in Coke Oven Post Season. This will certainly be the last coke oven post until the leaves have fallen off the trees again. Today was an event that was put together a couple months ago. I have posted about the Hester Coke Works in a previous post, these are not some recent set of rediscovered coke ovens. What is new about these ovens, is the appreciation of what these ovens represent through various groups of people. The owners of the land, the Sewickley Creek Watershed Association are well aware of what they're sitting on. The group of people that I do this research with are also aware. Hester Coke Works are the most intact set of coke ovens in Westmoreland County. They are also the most accessible. The county itself is the only party that does not seem interested. These ovens are located on the old Sewickley Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad. This is east of the current terminus of the Five Star Trail. It is hoped that someday the trail will be completed from Lynch Field to Mammoth Park and these ovens will be the centerpiece.
Coke production and coal mining were once the largest industries in Westmoreland County, yet there is nothing to honor this heritage other than a few signs placed in some nondescript locations that weren't even installed by the county. Local historical societies do all they can with little acknowledgement for all their work. Most residents of the county don't even realize that the largest mining disaster in Pennsylvania history occurred right here. Greensburg is concentrating all its efforts in destroying its history to build new apartments for college students that will leave as soon as they graduate, while creating additional hurdles for entrepreneurs to occupy the storefronts downtown. The county once had a perfectly intact set of coke ovens at Mammoth Park but chose the bulldozer over maintenance. Fortunately, a group of us got together today and decided to let the county catch up with us.
The Hester Coke Works are a historic set of coke ovens that were constructed in 1900 by the partnership of Painter and Fogg. Morris Lobingier Painter (1846-1923) and Charles Henry Fogg (1861-1944) were both residents of Greensburg and were involved in various other interests before partnering up and entering the coal and coke business. Coincidentally, the coke ovens (Clare, named after Painter's daughter) that were destroyed at Mammoth Park were also constructed by Painter and Fogg. Hester Coke Works were named after Charles Fogg's daughter Hester Barclay Fogg (1889-1964).
Painter and Fogg would only operate these ovens for two years. In 1902 the Penn Coke Company are listed as owners. Penn Coke Co. would operate the plant until 1906 when it was sold to the Clare Coke Company. Clare Coke Co. wouldn't even last a year. In 1907 Hester Coke Company were the owners and they would be the operators until 1909 when Sunshine Coal and Coke Company took control and would run the plant until the end of 1912 when it was closed.
Off and on these ovens would be operated by different people, using imported coal, until 1972 when they were shut down for good by the DEP.
This is a very brief history of these ovens. I have hard copies of an extensive history of this coke plant available for $10.00 (plus shipping). You can obtain these by contacting me at email@example.com.
The following photos are of today's event. The video following the photos is by John Qualley (Stuff That's Gone).
This is the mess we pulled up to.
This is how it looked after lunch.
And this is how it looked at the end of the day.
The brush and trees that were cut were saved for wildlife habitat.
For years I have been looking for the sleeper stones that held the rails for the larry cars on top of the ovens. Today we found them used as part of an improvised wall in later use of the ovens.
One of the sleeper stones.