Sunday, March 30, 2014

Donohoe Coke Works/Alexandria Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad

On January 20, 1884 the Alexandria Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad was opened between  Georges Station (Donohoe) and the Alexandria Coal Company's mines at Crabtree.  Most of this can still be seen today and a lower portion is part of a proposed trail at Twin Lakes Park.  In 1901 the branch was extended from Crabtree to New Alexandria. Later the branch was extended to the mines at Andrico, north of New Alexandria. Many parts of this can still be seen as well. The entire length from Donohoe to Andrico was 9.7 miles. The section from Georges Station to Crabtree was 4.55 miles. I'm not able to find when it was abandoned but passenger service between Donohoe and Andrico was discontinued on 1/1/1926 and the areas near Loyalhanna Creek were being lost around 1942 for the Conemaugh Dam flood control project. The branch itself is still shown on the 1960 county map.

The Donohoe Mine and Coke Works at Greenwald, east of Crabtree opened around 1900 by the Donohoe Coal and Coke Company and operated until September 1923 when the mine was sealed by striking miners and never reopened. The coke works contained 180 ovens circa 1909 and produced a high grade foundry coke. There are nowhere near that many remaining out here today.  I did find a small bank separated from the main bank. This was the only place I found an intact oven. I wouldn't have even found this if I didn't come across a huge puddle on the old railway that I needed to bypass. The rest of the ovens are in pretty bad shape with none of the fronts left.


 Here's a couple photos I found from 1909 of the coke plant.


Donohoe Coke Plant

Storage Bin and Washery

The area highlighted in red on this map is the area covered in this post. It stretches from Kiley Drive east of Crabtree to Police Road. I couldn't go any further because of a house that was built on the old railway on the other side of Police Road.


And here are the photos.



 The main set of coke ovens.

 They're not in very good shape.

Heading down the old railway.


 This is an interesting little arch thing sitting in front of the ovens.

 The massive puddle in the middle of the railway. I cut to the right to get around it and found this other set of ovens.

 This is the only intact oven I found. It's strange that it's even here.

 This is inside of it. Some kind of strange barrel contraption with an exhaust. No idea what it is.

 Another nice puddle I had to get around. Thankfully this was the last one.

 Headed down the line.

 These were to the left of the railway on the other side of a flooded area. They look like they could be piers or abutments for possibly a tipple.

 This looks like it could have been a siding at one time. It goes down to where I saw the possible tipple piers.

 This is a bridge from an old road. The road can be seen on the old map of the area. Now it serves as a farm bridge. The cows came across it later.

 The cows hanging out at the farm.

 Another view of the bridge.

 Another puddle but easy to cross. There is some sort of piping system running along this small area.

 And on down the line.

 This is as far as I could go. The house on the other side of Police Road.

The cows came across the bridge and were staring at me on my way back.



The following was sent to me by Bill Noel of Fairfax County, VA about his family history surrounding the Donohoe Mine and Coke Works. 




  1. people sometimes lived in these abandoned coke ovens. the one with the barrel may have been used as a heat source if there was an opening to put wood/coal. the keystones were very important in keeping the stones in place so the arch's didn't fail. interesting work, the manual labor, intelligence and supplies that one had to work with at that time. don't see that kind of longevity now.

  2. Thanks Peggy. I did find a guy living in one last summer up by Bradenville. I love the brickwork and construction of the coke ovens. Every site I go I find a couple differences. Each place is unique even though the design is basically the same.

  3. Hi Mike, How far from the road at Donohoe were the second set of coke ovens. Were they on the hill side.

    1. If you are going north on the railway, they are to your right. You have to go over the bank of the railroad cut and they are sitting right there. Pretty much immediately after you get to the last oven of the first bank. It was tricky. I never would have fun them if I wasn't trying to get around a giant puddle. There were only four ovens at the second set.