Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Closer Look At Donohoe Coke Works

Today I headed back out to Crabtree to test a theory I had come up with. Lately I've been thinking about the ovens on the other side of Kiley Drive from the old Donohoe mine site. I was wondering if these ovens could have actually been part of the Donohoe Coke Works because I couldn't find anything else to put them with. We know that in its heyday Donohoe contained 193 ovens. We know the mine and coke works closed in September 1923 when striking miners sealed the entrance. It was never reopened. As late as 1920 Donohoe is listed as having 193 ovens, although only 110 were in operation. It's safe to assume that between 1920 and 1923 there were no more ovens built and the total would have stood at 193. As a matter of fact, in 1919 there were only 150 ovens in operation so it is possible that production was actually waning.


Back to the experiment. The best way I could come with to test my theory was by counting coke ovens. "So what did you learn?", you undoubtedly are asking as you move closer to the edge of your seat. What I learned is counting coke ovens ain't easy. I did fine on the west side of Kiley Drive and came up with about 76-78 ovens. The reason for the inaccuracy is the give and take of ovens that are no longer there. In this case there are 76 physical ovens and a space where a trail is running over what appears to be the size of two ovens. Now on the other side of Kiley Drive I had all sorts of problems. The northern end of the bank is so overgrown in spots that it's impossible to get through there without a chainsaw. Not having a chainsaw I had to do some estimating. Also, the ovens closest to Kiley are buried so I had to count depressions. The ovens at the further end are also buried. What I counted was 104 physical ovens. So in total there were around 182 ovens which is pretty close to 193 in my book. This doesn't confirm that these two sets of ovens were related but it does make it highly possible. One thing is certain, there is not enough space on the east side of Kiley Drive for 193 ovens on their own. 


This is a diagram I made using the 1939 aerial view of the area.



And this is a terrain view of the area.



Now, this is the current satellite view of the area. The area circled on the east side of Kiley Drive is the overgrown section that was really tricky.

Now it's time for the photos from today. The following are from the west side of Kiley Drive.


This is the beginning of this bank. Visible right from Kiley Drive.

The first oven.

These were actually the first coke ovens I ever explored. It was nice coming back.

This is that trail running over what I counted as two ovens.

Heading back into the ovens.


Looking out at spring trying to arrive.

A nice typical CROWN brick.

Almost buried.

Spring blooms!


I counted them from the top on the way out as well. It was a much clearer path on top of the ovens.

This is the western end of the bank.

Taking a look at the western end ovens.

The Alexandria Branch of The Pennsylvania Railroad is visible toward the middle of the photo.

Right below the end of the ovens is this area where a bridge would have been for the Alexandria Branch.

Looking east on the Alexandria Branch right of way.

A closer look at the end of the western end of the bank.

My counting notebook sitting on the wall.

I just liked the way this tree was laying on this oven.

Another one nearly buried.

These are from the east side of Kiley Drive.



This is the first oven heading east that was not buried.

A really nice sleeper block from the larry track laying in front of the ovens.

The majority of the ovens in this upper section were in this poor condition.

This one was the lone standout.

I heard running water for a while. It took a lot of work to locate it. This is the second oven this month I've found with water running over it.

Rough terrain.

An actual remnant of the oven wall.


This is far as I went with this post. The remaining ovens in the bank can be seen in a previous post here: Donohoe


After this I headed over to the Baltzer Meyer Historical Society for a delicious traditional German meal at a fundraiser they were having. I highly recommend keeping an eye out for the next one and heading over there if you're in the area. There are many, many other events also scheduled at BMHS including a program featuring yours truly on May 3'rd at 2:00. Check out all their other events here: BMHS 

Pay them a visit and check out the extensive library. Many resources and volunteers are available to help you learn the history of your area or help in tracing your genealogy.



To end with here is a bluegrass song based in Crabtree.





  1. Pretty good detective work. PennPilot is excellent for pictures. The PRR Technical and Historical Society can help fill in blanks on railroad service to much of SW Pennsylvania, along with B&O, WM, P&LE, P&WV, and Bessemer groups.

    Wayne A. Cole is working on a book that will include the Plum Creek / Unity Railway that you walked, nice pictures by the way.

    neat blog!