Sunday, February 7, 2016

Isabella Coke Works - Cokeville, PA

Today was a perfect day to head back to Cokeville and once again try to find these ovens. The only thing different about this attempt was that, this time I was successful!! The ovens I found today were a separate section of the Isabella Coke Works. The last time I was out there was in 2013 and I did find some hardly recognizable remains of a bank of ovens. The earlier attempts can be seen here


There were two banks of ovens at Cokeville. One contained 160 and the other contained 40 ovens. The section I explored today were the set of 40 ovens that sat further east and high above the old town. 

The town traces its roots back to 1858 when it was known as Broad Fording, due to it's easy crossing on the Conemaugh River. Cokeville was served by the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal until the Pennsylvania Railroad located it's tracks along the canals towpath around 1864. The name was changed in the early 1870's to Coketown, Coketon and finally Cokeville after The Isabella Furnace Coke Company erected a 200 oven coke plant on the hillside above the town. The town was incorporated in 1887. 


The coke produced here was shipped to the Isabella Blast Furnace in Etna, PA on the Allegheny River. The H.C. Frick Coke Company took over the operation around 1901 and the ovens went out permanently in 1903. 


Today, I took a different approach then I did the last few times. I followed the old railroad grade northeast until I found the spur grade that headed (I hoped) down to the ovens. 


Terrain map showing the area and what I set out to look for. The railroad cuts looked deep enough that they would be easy to find. They were. The northern section of this grade is currently a residential road with a couple houses on it. Three different maps give three different names for the road. The spur to the ovens begins near where the current road ends. This might have been an easier approach but the rail grade was easy to walk and I enjoy walking through Cokeville. 


The piers of the former road bridge that connected Cokeville to Blairsville.

Geese enjoying the river.

Approaching the old railroad grade. The bridge approach to the right and a pier in the water to the left.

Old railroad bridge piers.

An old railroad tie on the spur grade.

The spur is on the right. Straight ahead is the road with three names.

 Looking back toward the river. The spur is on the left.

 The spur cut was full of fallen trees toward the beginning.

After that the cut was clear for most of the way to the ovens.

On the spur grade. The coke yard above to the left. Above that are the ovens.

Heading up to the ovens.

Only the back of the ovens remain.

The bricks in the back of this oven are completely burned out.

A lot of these were very close to buried.

This was very interesting. This tree that grew through the oven uprooted. It certainly destroyed the oven but underneath the tree were all the floor tiles from the oven.

Bricks everywhere.

All the ovens floor tiles pulled up under the tree.

The back of the oven.

The tree with all the floor tiles.

I thought maybe it was just an impression of the oven floor but I pulled a piece out and it was fire brick. Don't worry, I put it back.

Next to it was this almost entirely buried oven.

The front of the fallen tree. I think trees are the leading culprit in destroyed coke ovens.

Another nearly buried oven.

Some indentations in the hillside where ovens used to be.

Here is the next interesting thing. This stream ran right through this oven.

The stream running right over the floor of the oven.

A waterfall over the wall of the oven.

I'm not sure what this metal grate is. It might be something that washed down or it could be a part of an oven that never gets seen.

An interesting brick debris field.

These ovens would be next to impossible to find in the summer. Also the whole area would be one giant snake nest.

This is one of the better ovens.

Another small stream running through an oven.

A few nearly buried ovens.

The ovens and railroad spur sit high above this swamp.

Railroad grade, coke yard to the right and the ovens above that.

Railroad grade, hillside to the left. There were a ton of fallen trees all through here.

A couple small hills off to the side could be old ash dumps.

Back through the spur cut.

The grade that went down through Blairsville. It might have been part of the 1864 alignment of the Western Pennsylvania Railroad. Later maps list it as the Indiana Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad.




Old photos of Cokeville


The following photos are courtesy of Helen Diana. Helen and her family grew up in Cokeville.


The aftermath of the St. Patricks Day flood of 1936.

A great detailed map showing the town in 1951.

This photo shows the old general store that was built by Helen's father Antonio (Louie) Diana in 1930. This is lot no. 22 on the map above. The photo dates roughly from the late 1930's. The road to the left led to Torrance and the one on the right was the Derry-Blairsville Road. The Diana's were one of the last families to leave Cokeville after the flood control project took place. After this, in 1952, Antonio relocated to Homer City where he bought a tavern on route 119 across from the old Lucernmines mine tipple
This photo, dating from the 1940's, shows the building after the addition of a tavern.