Sunday, May 6, 2018

Cleaning Up Hester

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


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.



Sunday, March 25, 2018

Lime Kiln - Nottingham Township, Washington County

Last week I posted some photos of the lime kilns in Germany, PA on my Facebook page. Somebody on the page told me about this other lime kiln in Washington County and we decided to head out yesterday and get a look at it. The situation is the same as the lime kilns in Indiana County, there is nothing that I can locate concerning the history of these things. 


This one is only a single kiln and is smaller than the one in Germany. There are other discernible differences here however. Part of the stone on the inside of the kiln has been replaced with street paver brick. This leads me to believe that this may have seen some later usage. Also, the little bit of knowledge we had acquired since coming across the first kiln led to us searching this site a little better.  Now that we actually know what these things are, we started searching for an old limestone quarry. We didn't find one. There is small working path carved into the hillside leading to the charging area of the kiln. All along this path is an outcrop of limestone. We believe that this kiln was fired on an as needed basis and when limestone was needed, it was simply taken from the outcrop. We found a few pieces of coal scattered about but they could have been washed down the creek during floods. Coal may have been brought in to fuel the kiln or they may have used wood. 



Nevertheless, it's great looking kiln and it's a great, quiet location.



Looking in at the stoke hole and furnace.

Steel grate.

Great stonework.

Looking down at the charging hole. Still too much snow....

Notice that side is still stone.....

.... while this side has been replaced with brick.

This is part of a concrete slab that we believe was used as a bridge to cross the creek.


Tucker Mine - Liggett Spring and Axle Company

Yesterday we made a trip over to Washington County to check out some locations. While we were in the area, we crossed the river into Allegheny County to check out some mine features I had noticed along the road. The mine was the Tucker Mine which turned out to be a captive mine of the Liggett Spring and Axle Company, whose factory was located right at the mine's entrance. 



Tucker Mine noted on the map. The entrance is on the factory side and crosses underneath the road into the mine. The shaft on the map is an air shaft that still contains its fan.



Naturally the next thing to do was look up Liggett Spring and Axle. Thankfully, the website Lost Monongahela had done a full history of the company a few years ago.  The following is a simple cut and paste from that website. This account was written by Tom Headley and verifies a lot of the information we read on the walls (literally) of an old pump house on the property. That's coming up in a minute.


 In 1903 the Liggett Spring & Axle Company moved from Pittsburgh’s North Side and built a factory to manufacture buggy springs and axles. To provide raw material for this plant, the owners also constructed an adjoining foundry to supply castings.  Business boomed during World War I from the manufacture of springs and axles for army vehicles.  At this time the plant was reported to be the largest spring factory in the country. In 1916 the company built two rows of identical brick houses (still standing) to house their employees which became known as Axleton. With the shift to automobiles, the axle plant was separated from the foundry and began doing business as the Coshocton Iron Works engaged in the manufacture of parts for stoker furnaces.  This plant later combined with others to form the Combustion Engineering Company which continued to operate the plant until the 1980’s. (From the History of Forward Township, Tom Headley).



So that is as in depth as I'm getting into the history of this place. I would certainly recommend perusing the Lost Monongahela website. It's very interesting and does a great job of covering the history around Monongahela. 



As I mentioned earlier, there is a nice old pump house at this site as well as some interesting huge water tanks. Our interpretation is the water was pumped from the river and sent to the storage tanks. The mill was then gravity fed from the tanks allowing a consistent water pressure. Again, that's our theory and it could be completely wrong. 



This is looking inside the entrance to the Tucker Mine.

There's still track but who knows how deep this mud is.

Looking up toward the road. The mine entrance is below the road toward the center of the photo. The shaft noted on the map, as well as an additional shaft, are visible on the other side of the road.

One of the shafts.

This hopper is just sitting along the road. Perhaps on top of a third shaft.

Looking down into the one shaft. The bottom tapered back and appeared to be open.

Fan in the air shaft.

The ground collapsed behind the air shaft leaving this big hole.

Side of the air shaft.

Heading over to the water tanks.

Underneath the first tank.


Inside the water tank. There's a big cut out in the side.

The first tank is supported on standard gauge rail.

Side of the tank.

A closer look at what supports this tank.

There is some faint writing on the side of the tank. Ghost lettering from old paint.

Some more ghost lettering. It definitely left us with more questions than answers.


At this point we still had no idea what these tanks were for. Still, we only have a working theory. Next up is the pump house and things start falling into place.

We were pretty confident the power had been shut off long ago.

And now the writing on the wall.

Whoever started this was an absolute genius. 12/31/56 was a cold day. Lest we forget. Todd was cleaning slop on New Years Eve.

Winch that lowered things in the pit below it.

More writing. This time with hand prints. The pump house was still functioning in November 1977.

A memorial to Chas E. Dexter.

Pa. Flood June 24, 1972. Record cold July 6, 1972 only 47 degrees. Also Liggett sold on November 13, 1972.

Liggett had a fire 3/24/72 and 7 inches of snow.

More hand prints and hangers for 4.6 and 5.0 tools.

Looking out at the river.

Spring buds on the trees.

Looking down the pits.

Brickwork and winch.

Side of the pump house.

Piers from the river tipple at Catsburg.

River side of the pump house. This shows you how deep those pits go.

Looking across at the miners houses in Catsburg.