Sunday, March 22, 2015

1931 Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway Bridge- Connellsville

Today started off in Mt. Pleasant with a search for the old Buckeye coke ovens. I located the ovens but they were in such bad shape that I really can't even do a post on them. After this dismal failure, I decided to drive 9 miles and see if I could located the Davidson Coke Works. I had it pinpointed on a map but when I got to the area I couldn't find a practical way to get to the area without climbing a steep mountain. But there was one other way. I could walk across the 1931 Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railways bridge that has been abandoned since the 1970's. Oh, by the way, the Davidson coke ovens are gone. That's why this post is about a bridge. I'll throw in the few photos of the Buckeye ovens at the end. 


The bridge is actually pretty cool and it's a very, very long bridge. It crosses the Youghiogheny River, the CSX tracks, Mounts Run and drops you off on top of a mountain above Davidson. But it's a fine old bridge. It was brought into service by the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway on February 11, 1931. On the 1936 Connellsville Quadrangle USGS Map it shows it connecting to the Western Maryland Railway on the Davidson side and the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie on the Connellsville side. The Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway came to an end on October 16, 1964. After that it became a Norfolk and Western bridge until it was taken out of service in the 1970's.


This is my challenge.


I only took these two photos on the way over because I was testing my nerves. A couple more people came up behind me and I let them pass. I just stuck about 15 feet behind them and let them test this bridge out. It's still a very solid bridge though.

This is looking back toward the Connellsville side after I discovered there were no Davidson coke ovens.

Starting back across.

Looking down at the train.

At least there's coke here!

Walking on.

High above the power lines.

Those are big piles of cow manure on the ground.

Getting closer to the river.

Looking down at the river and piers.

After this I took some photos of the structure.

Almost across the river.

One more shot looking down at the water (and my shoe).

Almost over land. The Great Allegheny Passage is under the end of the bridge.


Old Union Switch and Signal box at the end of the bridge.

One last look back. I doubt I'll ever cross this bridge again.

Buckeye Coke Ovens


The Buckeye Coke Works date back to 1872 and were constructed by the Cochran and Ewing Company, by 1879 the A.C. Cochran Coal and Coke Company had 160 ovens at Buckeye. By 1900 the H.C. Frick Coke Company owned the plant and operated it until 1917 when it went cold. 


Today there are five (at best) remnants of these ovens.


Hardly even noticeable.

What happened??

This is the best one there.


The bank is still there but where are the ovens?

The slate dump is intact.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Walk Down The Old Pittsburgh and Connellsville Railroad- Dawson to Broadford

This past Saturday we took a walk down the current CSX tracks to take a look at the old coke ovens scattered along the tracks. There were four coke plants located along the tracks between Dawson and Broadford and we found them all!! These are some of the earliest Coke Works in the region. In fact Fayette Coke Works is THE first. 


The Pittsburgh and Connellsville (P&C) Railroad reached Connellsville from Turtle Creek in 1857. For more than a decade prior to this, the first small commercially successful coke manufacturers were floating their product down the Youghiogheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers and selling their wares in Cincinnati and later in Pittsburgh.


The Pittsburgh and Connellsville Railroad operated this railway until it was leased to the B&O for fifty years effective January 1, 1876. The B&O held onto it until they were merged into the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway on April 30, 1987 and that signaled the end of the B&O. On July 31, 1987 the C&O merged into CSX and they have been CSX tracks ever since.


Fayette Coke Works


Back in 1841 Provance McCormick and James Campbell, two boat builders and carpenters, along with John Taylor, a farmer who also owned a small mine near Broadford, decided to take a stab at the coke business. Taylor built two ovens on his land. McCormick and Campbell made the coke and built two ninety foot boats. In Spring of 1842 they had made enough coke to fill the boats with 800 bushels.


With the Youghiogheny River high from the Spring thaw they decided to boat the coke to Cincinnati to see if they could sell it there. Upon arriving at Cincinnati they had a tough time finding a buyer. Campbell stayed with the boats and shipment for three weeks selling small quantities. The balance of the coke was then traded for a patent iron grist mill. When they got the grist mill back to Connellsville they found it did not work. They ended up selling the grist mill for $30 in Connellsville. The trip was considered a failure.


Some of that coke had made it to Dayton by way of the canal and found its way into the hands of Judge Herman Gebhart. Gebhart was a Foundryman in Dayton and a former resident of Fayette County. The coke worked good in his foundry and he sent word back to Connellsville asking for more. McCormick, Campbell and Taylor were not going to make that trip again.


In 1843 the two ovens on the Taylor land were rented to James, Sample and Mordecai Cochran. The Cochrans made 1,300 bushels of 24 hour coke and boated it to Cincinnati where they found a buyer in Iron Maker Miles Greenwood. Greenwood was an early Cincinnati industrialist, very active in the community, as well as President of the Cincinnati Fire Department. He bought all the coke.


This was the first commercial sale of Connellsville Coke. In time those two ovens would turn into 130 ovens and be known as the Fayette Coke Works and would operate into the 1920's.


The first intact oven at Fayette. The man that owns the land said he has eight ovens on his property. He takes care of them and keeps them cleared.

Obviously this one collapsed.

I have no idea (and I'm sure nobody does) of what happened to the original two. Maybe some of these were but they were most certainly rebuilt.

Some nice floor tile intact in this one.

Somebody lined the floor with bricks later.

Looking down the tracks toward Dawson.

A little bit of intact wall.


The next set of ovens heading down the tracks belonged to the...


Jackson Coke Works


The Jackson Coke Works date back to 1864 and were constructed by the Keister and Cochran partnership. It changed hands a couple times but it appears Cochran was always involved in it. There would be 64 ovens here and would last until the early 1900's. 

These were tough to get to.

Right at this location there are bridge piers in the river. I haven't been able to figure out what they belonged to. They don't appear on any maps and the railroad on this side was here first so I doubt if there was a bridge connecting to the Pittsburgh, McKeesport and Youghiogheny Railroad on the other side. This is looking across the river at the modern day Great Allegheny Passage. 


Thank you James Love for pointing this out from the History Of Fayette County. This span was built by the B&O to cross the river to serve the Fort Hill Coke Works on the other side. It was constructed in 1880.

Closeup of the bridge piers.

Fort Hill Coke Works on the other side of the river.

More Jackson ovens.

A white swan in the flooded river.

An old pier for the tipple or something back behind the Jackson ovens.

The end of the Jackson bank.

Heading further, we come across....



Sterling No. 1 Coke Works


Sterling No. 1 dates back to 1860 and was started by early Coke Man Stewart Strickler. The coke made here was sold to the Graff and Bennett Steel Company to fuel their  Clinton Furnace. The Clinton Furnace was located where Station Square is now in Pittsburgh and was the first Pittsburgh blast furnace to use coke. From 1860-1864 Sterling's coke ovens supplied the Clinton Furnace with 2,000 bushels a day. 


There's not a whole lot left but the fact that we actually found them is pretty cool.

There's still some nice stonework left of the walls.

Some hidden stone work behind the tree.


  The last set of ovens along this stretch belonged to the...



Tyrone Coke Works


The Tyrone Coke Works date back to 1871 and were constructed by James H. Laughlin. Laughlin was the Laughlin in Jones and Laughlin (J&L) Steel. The Laughlin Company would have certainly been an affiliate of J&L. Tyrone would have 144 ovens by 1889 and also shut down in the early 1900's.


Not a lot left here either.

They're still standing out though. Probably very easy to miss in the summer.

Just clinging to the hillside.

Very easy to miss.