Sunday, January 25, 2015

Grace Coke Works-Moyer, PA

The most interesting thing about the Grace Coke Works is the layout. Three banks of coke ovens straddle two hillsides with a large valley in the middle, resulting in an upside down  "V" shape. The hill to the south contains one bank and the northern hill contains two. Today it seems like most of the ovens to the south remain while only a handful remain to the north. The ovens themselves are in poor condition but nice portions of the stone walls remain. An interesting feature is the height of the ovens. When you get further to the ends of the banks where they are closest together, the ovens sit about 20 feet up on a very steep hill. Towards the middle of the southern bank there is one perfectly intact oven that is impossible to get to. 


The Grace Coke Works, originally named the Eldorado Coke Works, date back to 1875 and were built by the John Moyer Company. John Moyer of Mt. Pleasant had secured the coal rights, on a sub-lease from Brunot and Detweiler, at the Beidler farm in 1871 and built the original forty ovens adjoining the railroad. After the ovens were operated for a few years they became the property of Brunot and Detweiler, who leased them to W.F. Zuck and Joseph B. Henry. Zuck and Henry are credited as building an additional 40 ovens.


Circa 1879 the W.J. Rainey Coke Company is credited with building an additional 328 ovens at Grace, bringing the total to 408. Rainey at this time was General Manager of the Cleveland Rolling Mill Company and the coke plant is credited as being owned by the Cleveland Company in 1880. After this date ownership is listed as the W.J. Rainey Coke Company. I am also assuming it was in the 1879-1880 era that the name was switched from Eldorado to Grace. Rainey had a daughter named Grace, who became a world renowned art collector and philanthropist, and it is not inconceivable to believe that the plant was renamed in her honor. This was Rainey's second venture in the coke business, his first being the Fort Hill Coke Works near Vanderbilt. Eventually he would operate around 15 coke plants throughout Fayette and Southern Westmoreland Counties. At the time of William J. Rainey's death on March 27, 1900 he owned 2,231 ovens at 8 plants. By 1913 there were only 124 ovens in operation at Grace and the plant ceased to exist in 1927.  


In 1881 there were 125 men employed at Grace. The Superintendent was Frank R. Bradford, the Yard Boss was J.W. Brooks, and the mines were carried out under the direction of J.B. Henry.


The upside down "V" shape of the Grace Coke Works circled.
Approaching the southern bank.

One of the remaining stone walls.

Some more remaining stone.

This is one of the ovens in better condition on the southern bank.

A disintegrating oven.

There was a lot of really nice coke samples laying around.

This is coming around the bend of the southern bank.

This is the valley section. The ovens from the north bank are visible to the right.

The corner oven before these things started getting really high up.

The prize!!

Incredibly intact compared to everything else.

But completely unapproachable.

At this point I didn't even realize there were ovens above here until I got over to the other hill.

It's hard to tell but these ovens are very high up.

Looking over at the northern bank.

This is the end of the northern bank at the bottom of the "V". The second bank that was shown on the map on this side is completely gone

Looking across at the southern bank.

At this point the northern bank ovens begin disappearing.

This is the last visible oven heading north.

After this all the ovens are buried.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Lafayette Coke Works- Helen, PA

The Lafayette Coke Works date back to ca. 1900 and were built by the Lafayette Coke Company of Helen, PA. After this it gets a little bit confusing. The 1904 Official Railway Equipment Register Of The United States requests that mileage reports and repair bills be forwarded to the Atlas Coke Company of Leetonia, Ohio. It also lists two separate identifications on the cars. One with Lafayette Coke Works in Helen, PA and one with Lafayette Coke Works in nearby Waltersburg, PA. The 1915 Railway Equipment Register lists the same information but omits Waltersburg, PA. The confusion lies between 1904 and 1915. The January 8, 1908 edition of the Connellsville Weekly Courier lists Atlas Coke Company as being based in Waltersburg. On March 4, 1909 the same source lists Atlas in Helm. After this, and up until December 29, 1932 the Atlas Coke Company is located in Uniontown. This is also the last mention of the Lafayette Coke Works that I can locate. 


As far as I can tell the Lafayette Coke Works contained 220 ovens between January 27, 1905 and March 4, 1909. After this all reports list it as having 200 ovens.

Another issue is how little information is available about Helen, PA. There was a company town there at one time and it was served by the Lafayette Supply Co. store. Today nothing exists of a town in this location. Any information on Helen and Lafayette Coke Works would be greatly appreciated.


Today there is one block of beehive coke ovens at the Lafayette Coke Works. Almost all the ovens are in relatively poor condition. The surprise came on the back side of the block where there were seven ovens in very good condition. 


The end of the block.

Eureka brick around the trunnel hole.

Looking out.

A nice example of block floor tile.

Most of the ovens were in this condition.

The ovens on this side got buried toward the end.

On the other side of the buried end were the intact ovens.

Mostly intact, some missing brick.

A nice pile of unmarked brick.

Other than the seven intact ovens, the rest on the back side of the block are in the same condition as the front.
On the way out we came across this red tailed hawk that was hanging out near the road.

He would fly off and come right back.