Friday, October 11, 2019

Rubino/Dean No. 9 Coke Works

Last weekend we took a wonderful camping trip to Prince Gallitzin State Park. While we were there, we took a walk down the tracks south of Frugality to check out some coke ovens I had seen on an old mine map.  I spent the better part of this week trying to figure out what we had. Initially, I mistakenly had them pegged as the Amsbury Coke Works, but I located those several miles to the south. That will be a nice winter trip!  



It turns out my Dean's ran together. Last year Lou and me took a trip out to the Dean No. 8 Coke Works on State Game Lands near Fallentimber. The history I traced for Dean No. 8, pre-1897, is actually the history of Dean No. 9. There is one map showing the ovens at Dean No. 9.  It clearly identifies 88 ovens in two "single blocks of ovens".  One "block" contained 38, the other contained 50. The bank of 38 ovens is gone. These ovens were most likely decimated when Route 53 was put in. The remaining ovens, toward the middle, run almost directly below Route 53. The ovens themselves are in pretty bad condition. None of the fronts are extent, but there are some large blocks and stones remaining onsite. The ovens most likely collapsed on their own, burying themselves in their own rubble. This would make a unique industrial archaeology site. What remains are typical of the countless other coke plant sites scattered around Southwestern and Central Pennsylvania. 

Initially, my confusion started simply as a result of the numbering of the coke plants. Dean No. 9 came before Dean No. 8. Had I been there, I would have said "number these different, you're going to drive somebody insane in 130 years", but I wasn't. It took a couple years, but I think I have it now. 

Dean No. 9  Mine and Coke Works began operating in 1887 under the name Rubino Coke Works. The first year that they are listed in the mining reports (1887) they are labeled as Rubus, but this was most likely a misprint. They are listed as having 88 ovens and being operated by the Cresson and Clearfield Coal and Coke Company. Cresson and Clearfield would operate these ovens for pretty much the extent of their existence. The coke plant would be known as Rubino until 1891, and that's when the Dean label would be attached.



In 1892, the plant was renamed Dean No. 4 (this irons out the numbering confusion). This plant was known as Dean No. 4 until 1898, when it was named Frugality No. 4, operated by the Frugality Coke Company.  This name change would only last one year however. From 1899, until it simply disappears in 1911, it would be Dean No. 9, operated by the Cresson and Clearfield Coal and Coke Company. 

Simply disappearing is putting it rather bluntly. This mine and coke works was gasping for life for seven years. In 1903, it was listed as abandoned, but it continued to list 88 ovens. In 1904, it was reopened. 




1904 report of the Department of Mines of Pennsylvania, showing the status of Dean No. 9.

From 1905-1907 all 88 ovens would be listed, but the coal output of the mine was very minimal (27,212 tons in 1907, vs. 82,395 in 1895). 1908 would see Dean No. 9 employing 9 men and using 16 ovens. In 1909, they were down to 12 ovens, and after that there would be no mention of Dean No. 9 until 1912 when it was listed as idle. That would be the end of it. 






The extent of what remains at Dean No. 9.

Off of the spur from the tracks, there are excellent examples of the loading piers still remaining.  Another reason this would make an interesting archaeological site.

The end of the 50 oven bank.

A great example of how a coke oven gradually gets torn apart.

The tracks heading south from Frugality have not been used in a while.

A view of Glendale Lake from Headache Hill in Prince Gallitzin State Park.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Allegheny (Alleghany) Furnace and the Baker Mansion

Over the weekend, we had a great opportunity to explore the Allegheny Furnace, as well as the mansion of one of its iron masters. 



Allegheny Furnace was constructed by Robert Allison and Andrew Henderson in 1811. This was the second iron furnace built in Blair County. Allison and Henderson would operate the furnace until 1818, when it went out of blast. 18 years later, in 1836, the furnace was purchased by Elias Baker and Roland Diller and re-fired. In 1867, the furnace was adjusted to be fueled by coke instead of charcoal. Eventually Baker would buy out his partner and become sole operator of the furnace. Baker employed around 20 men, and produced from 50 to 80 tons of iron per week. The furnace was abandoned in 1884. 



Allegheny Furnace.

This is the former store of the furnace complex. This structure was built around 1837, and is thought to be the oldest building in Altoona. The building served as a tea house in the 1920's and 1930's. In 1940 the Altoona Women's Club purchased the house and has used it ever since.

There is a large pipe (?) on the back of the furnace, and behind this fence. Possibly used for the blast.

The old store building has this 1811 plaque on it.

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission sign outside of the stone building. Interesting is the fact that the Baker family spelled the furnace as Alleghany.


I found this photo online, and it claims to be the furnace before it was reconstructed. Whether this is accurate or not is unclear. The arch matches up. 



The Baker Mansion




The Baker Mansion was built between 1844 and 1848. Elias Baker chose the site for his homestead in 1844. The site contained everything that was necessary for the operation of an iron furnace. Farmland, mill, stable, carriage house, barn, and log houses for the iron furnace workers. Of course, it contained a mansion befitting an iron master and his family. The mansion would remain a private residence until 1914, when Anna Baker died in December of that year. 

On February 10, 1922, the Baker heirs agreed to allow the Blair County Historical Society (chartered in 1906) to lease the mansion for use as a museum. In 1941, the Historical Society was able to purchase the mansion outright. They have operated it ever since, offering tours and changing exhibits. The current exhibit is based on World War II in relation to Blair County.


The following photos are only a few items of what is available to explore at the mansion. I highly recommend a visit of your own!

These are two views, ca. 1900-1910, from the front porch of the mansion. The view is very different today. Photos courtesy of Blair County Historical Society.


The rear of the Baker Mansion.

First floor hallway.

Family portraits.

The dining room. Toward the right of the photo is a dumbwaiter, which went to the kitchen in the basement.

The dumbwaiter.

The basement kitchen.

Subbasement, and refrigeration room. at the back is a troth for a freshwater spring.

Fireplace in the basement.

More portraits. The coal furnace in the back was created at Elizabeth Furnace.

The World War II exhibit on the second floor.

Backtracking a little bit. This is going back to the Elizabeth Furnace coal stove.

One side of the mansion.

Front of the mansion.

The outlet for the spring in the refrigeration room.

The other side of the mansion. 




Blair Limestone Company Kilns




After this, we headed up to Canoe Creek State Park to explore the ruins of the Blair Limestone Company's kilns located inside the park. 


These kilns operated in the early 1900's and used limestone quarried nearby. Blair Limestone Company was a subsidiary of the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company of Pittsburgh. Limestone was used in the steel making process, along with coke and iron. 


The finished lime was transported along the Petersburg Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad, to the mainline, and on to J&L's mills in Pittsburgh and Alliquipa.  


The Blair Limestone Company was formed in 1891, with John King McLanahan, of Hollidaysburg, as President. The name of the organization was changed to the Blair Supply Company around 1907.  According to the National Park Service-America's Industrial Heritage Project (1990), the kilns operated until ca. 1916, employing mainly Hungarian and Italian labor, some of whose descendants still live in the area. Each kiln measures 23 square feet and 30 feet in height. This is a very unique and easily accessible site. 



Approaching the kilns.

There are interpretive signs, but they are pretty weathered. They're still possible to read, but they have seen better days.

The kiln in the foreground, that is gated off; this is the only one that contains a brick bosh in the center. I'm not sure if the others had them and they're gone.

Between the kilns and the back wall which would have supported the plant. Apparently there is a scale model of the facility at the visitors center in the park.

Brick bosh.

Inside one of the concrete lined kilns.

Behind the kilns.

The top of the kilns.






Coke Oven Season will be here before you know it. I'm trying to work on stuff now for the season, so I'm ready to go. In the meantime, go check out these sites on this post. There wasn't even any trespassing involved!