Saturday, December 28, 2013

Return to Wilpen, PA- Wilpen Mine and Coke Works

The Shenango Furnace Company was incorporated on January 23, 1906. The Company was founded by William Penn Snyder, who was familiar with the coal and coke industry through serving as Vice President of The McClure Coke Company of Pittsburgh. 

The Shenango Furnace Company owned three blast furnaces in Sharpsville (Mercer County), PA and also controlled two shipping companies. The Shenango Steamship Company operated the steamers W.P Snyder and the Wilpen. The Shenango Steamship And Transportation Co. operated the Shenango, the Col. James M. Schoonmaker (once the largest steamer on the Great Lakes, currently docked in Toledo and available to tour in 2014), and the William P. Snyder Jr. The steamship companies operated on the Great Lakes shipping limestone and ore from the companies extensive properties in the Marquette (Michigan) and Mesabi (Minnesota) regions. Also included in the inventory were 1,300 acres of coal lands in the Ligonier region as well as the coke plant at Wilpen. All the coke produced at Wilpen was shipped to their Sharpsville blast furnaces. 

The coke works were served by the Ligonier Valley Railroad on the Wilpen Branch, sometimes referred to as the Mill Creek Branch. The mine was listed as new in 1906 and the coke works contained 167 beehive ovens. During World War I, the company opened another drift mine near Wilpen. The Lytle Mine did not include a coke plant and it's coal was sent to the Wilpen works.

In 1925, The Baton Coal Company acquired the Lytle Mine and the Wilpen Mine and Coke Works. In 1930 the Lytle Mine was shut down followed by the Wilpen Mine in 1945. Sixty two coke ovens remained in operation until at least 1951 using strip mined coal.

The majority of the ovens remain intact today as well as mine ruins including foundations, pier walls and supports for the tipple and bridges. The bridge piers leading to the coke ovens can be followed from two separate directions. I'm assuming one was from the Wilpen Mine and the other was from the Lytle Mine. It is extremely grown in back there though and sometimes the only way through was crossing and recrossing a stream that runs down the middle.

The pier wall where the coke was loaded on the trains.

The old rail line siding for the coke yard.

Ovens. Sun was out today.

Trunnel hole.

The fire brick tile floor is very intact in this oven.


The local kids are having fun in the ovens.

This one's even carpeted.

I'm thinking the ovens with the newer brick fronts were part of the sixty two used until the 1950's.

Older block arch.

This block is falling out.

Pier wall.

A couple arch blocks. These are huge.

A big steel screw used to tie something down.

Ladder rungs.

A couple pieces of stamped brick. It's hard to make out what they say.

These are the bridge piers that lead across the stream.

This is one of the tipple piers leading to the bank of ovens.

The end (or beginning) of the bank of ovens.

This wall going up the side of the hill looks like part of an old foundation.

There are a row on supports at the top of the hill. The sun was really working against me here.

Bridge abutment.

More track piers.

This old piece of track is sticking out of the side of the bridge pier.

Bridge piers.

Looking between two old bridge piers leading to the other side of the valley. They are huge.

The great steamship Col. James M. Schoonmaker today.

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The William P. Snyder Jr. This great steamship was scrapped in 1987.

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The steamship Shenango.

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The St. Mary Challenger. This was the William P. Snyder and was the oldest steamship operating on the lakes until 2013 when it was converted to an articulated barge.

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The Wilpen. Renamed the Joseph S. Young after it was sold to The American Steamship Company in 1969.

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The entire Shenango Furnace Company fleet.

(Left to right) Col. James M. Schoonmaker, William P. Snyder Jr., Shenango, William P. Snyder and Wilpen.

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  1. I live in NJ n my grandfather worked the Wilpen mines n buried in cemetery there. I was thinking of taking a trip out there do they offer tours of the mines in Wilpen or areas the miners worked n lived?

    1. No, unfortunately you just have to walk around. Maybe contact the Ligonier Valley Historical Society at 724-238-4983. They might be able to help put you in the right direction.