Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Germany Lime Kilns - Germany, West Wheatfield Township, Indiana County

These lime kilns were something we noticed the other day. I have driven this road many times in the summer and never noticed them due to the foliage. Lime Kilns are very new to me. From the information I researched, I found out these were called Draw Kilns. I also found that they're rare to find in this condition and almost impossible to date. This style of kiln has been used for thousands of years. They don't appear on old maps like coke ovens or iron furnaces and they weren't really considered a heavy industry. These kilns could be used on an as needed basis and were worked to produce quicklime for agricultural or construction needs. They could also be used on a consecutive basis, being recharged while one charge was being finished. 



As far as these particular kilns, there is next to nothing written about them. The 1993 HAER Indiana County Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites casually mentions them, stating only that "Old timers in the neighborhood do not remember the kilns in operation, but had heard of their existence". None of the Indiana County history books I have access to mention them. So this leads me to believe that these were used locally by area farmers and masonry workers. It does not appear to be a large scale industrial operation because certainly there would have been some record. The quicklime produced by these kilns may have been the work of a local farmer with access to a coal vein and a small limestone quarry. Now that we know what they are, we probably need to head back out and look for evidence of a mine and quarry. We did find raw coal on the hillside behind the kilns and on top of the kilns themselves. 



How these kilns operated was extremely simple but definitely required a skilled worker to do it properly. Fuel (wood or charcoal was used early on but gradually shifted to coal or coke) was laid first, followed by limestone, followed by another layer of fuel, then limestone etc. 

Chart showing how Draw Kilns were charged. Photo courtesy of University College London.


The charge is lit from the bottom where the finished quicklime is also removed from.  A charge would bake for around 36 hours or until the worker determined it was ready to draw. When the kiln was ready to draw, the load would sink and another charge of fuel and limestone could be added to the top. I'm sure there was more to it than this, but these are the basics. As I said I'm still learning about lime kilns. What I don't understand is, the kiln was also made of limestone, wouldn't the kiln itself calcify? 



Another thing, apparently these are rare to find in this condition. There have been parks built up around them in places like Wisconsin, Washington, California, and the UK. Another gem we have right here in Southwestern Pennsylvania!


This is what we saw from the road.

The grate is still intact from where the charge was lit and the calcified lime would come through.

The other side.

Hand stacked stone. Just amazing.

This is looking down into where the charge was placed. It's a big pit.

Both sides.

Other side of the kiln.

The front again. The work "holes" were supported by steel rail. The grates were made of rail as well.





Anybody with information on these kilns, or corrections to this post, please contact me.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Bolivar Coal And Coke Company and Lockport, PA

Today we decided to head up to Lockport to look at the ruins of the Bolivar Coal & Coke Company's coke plant along the river. This turned out to be one of my favorite sites yet. Not only is the isolated area very appealing to me, but this place was more like a coke oven graveyard. The isolation and general inaccessibility of the site has allowed it to remain largely free from people dumping trash, and also has resulted in huge pieces of coke ovens remaining  that would have been pilfered from a more well trodden area. The ovens are far from intact but this place offers a unique look at the whole operation of a coke plant. A switchback in the side of the hill leads you up to five mine entrances. The fill used to seal the mines is extremely loose and steep and it is quite a challenge getting to the top to examine them. It was worth it though! The general topography, like most of the Conemaugh Valley is extremely steep and high. We took the old railroad grade in from Lockport, but when it came time to leave, we realized we had already climbed 3/4 of the way to the road and finished climbing the mountain to get out of there. It was such a fun day!


After looking at the mine maps, it appears we were looking at the entrances of two different mines. The Bolivar Mine and the Fairfield Mine. The LaColle Mine is a little further east, closer to Bolivar and was not part of today's trip.



The Bolivar Coal and Coke Company's mine and coke works dates back to 1887 and as far as I can find consisted of 53 ovens throughout its existence. The village of Lockport is considerably older. Lockport owes its existence largely to the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal. Founded in 1829, Lockport was the site of canal locks 13 and 14 on the Western Division, as well as an aqueduct crossing the Conemaugh. The canal prism is still intact just east of the village. We were not able to get to it today. 



A couple views of the Lockport aqueduct. Photos courtesy of Doug Bosley.



Lockport being described in the October 16, 1907 Indiana County Gazette.


Indian Democrat August 25, 1887 announcing the beginning of the coke plant.



Less than a month after they started building the coke plant, the town of Lockport suffered a "black plague".




Indiana Democrat September 8, 1887


The summer of 1887 was not a good year for Lockport. On July 15, the Pennsylvania Railroad came in during the dead of night and blew up the old canal aqueduct. This left the residents effectively landlocked, as there was no other exit from town other than the railroad. I am guessing the road that now leads to Lockport was not yet carved in the hillside. 



Connellsville Keystone Courier July 22, 1887.


By February 1888 forty of the ovens were finished and thirty two were burning.


Tyrone Daily Herald February 18, 1888



Forward to 1891. Apparently the black plague worked itself out and we can assume the coke ovens were burning bright.  Some bad things did happen that year. In February a victim of the Johnstown Flood washed up in Lockport. This story is just bizarre.


Connellsville Courier February 27, 1891


And on November 17, a 14 year old Bolivar girl was hit and killed by a train.



Indiana County Gazette November 25, 1891



Back to the coke ovens. In 1892 Bolivar Coal and Coke Company had $300,000 in capital and had 53 ovens burning. A Scottdale man, Nathaniel Miles had been elected as general manager of the company.


Indiana County Gazette July 13, 1892.


In 1898 more tragedy hit Lockport. This is a very sad story.



Indiana Weekly Messenger May 18, 1898



Two years late Bolivar Coal and Coke Company was looking for a few good men.


Indiana County Gazette January 9, 1901


This is fast forwarding pretty far before we get into today's photos. In (or around) 1916 Bolivar Coal and Coke Company had gotten rid of their property. I have been unable to find a definite closing date of these mines or the coke works. I really don't see them going much further than the 1920's due to the condition of the site but the mines may have been picked at later than that.


Indiana Weekly Messenger April 26, 1916



Those were a few things I picked out of old newspapers. This is what it looks like today. Due to the residents of Lockport's privacy, I didn't take any photos in the village.



Approaching the oven site. Some really nice retaining walls but no intact ovens.

This is what I mean by coke oven junkyard. If you need a spare part for your oven this is where you should go.

Oven bricks everywhere.

These retaining walls have stood the test of time.

A large assortment of coke oven block.

More spare parts.

Look at this block!

This is the greatest! Nice No. 1 block!

Finally we started hitting intact ovens.

Another field of block. This place is incredible!

Toward the center of the photo. We started finding these laying around. We believe they may have been from the poles that held the wires for the electric larry cars which charged the ovens.

Another great block.

Another potential pole.


Most of these ovens were too buried to get into. I climbed down inside this one. It was completely cooked.

The bricks of this oven are completely gone. All that remains is baked clay and dirt.

An upper ring of remaining bricks.

Looking out at Lou.

This is the elevation compared to the river. After this we started working our way up.

A bisected oven.

Looking out across the top of the ovens. We were hoping to find some sleeper blocks for the larry car rails but had no luck.

Intact trunnel hole.

Above the ovens we started finding some nice chunks of coal. This is what sent us up the hill. Follow the coal.

Following the coal led us to the first mine entrance of the day.

Looking down inside.

An old mining timber holding up the rock.

It looks like most of this is collapsed. Hang on, we found a much better one.

Back to the switchback. Behind Lou is the ramp that brought us up this level. In front of him is the ramp to the next level. The coke ovens are off the hill behind him. It was also around this time that we realized this was turning into a real life Super Mario Bros. game.

The next mine entrance. This one wasn't all that impressive.

That mine entrance.

Another look at the switchback. Notice the river elevation.

Up at the top of this awful loose dirt lies today's prize. This was one hell of an excursion.

Looking down into the double entry mine. The warm air pouring out of this thing fogged up Lou's glasses and the camera lenses. These photos don't give it justice at all. This entrance was huge.

This side is still buried. There is water pouring out of these rocks and we think the erosion pushed back the dirt that was used to seal this.

If a bear doesn't live here it probably should.

Elevation check.

The next mine entrance.

Not as impressive.

This is the last mine entrance. It was the hardest to get to and it was also the biggest letdown.

Elevation check.

Top of the hill.