Sunday, November 11, 2018

Empire/Bethany Coke Works

Today we took advantage of an incredible opportunity to explore the old Empire (later Bethany) Coke Works. A couple weeks ago I emailed the current land owner in Kentucky and we reached an agreement to allow me to access the property. A huge thank you goes out to Dean and the Clean Streams Foundation



Both Lou and me have been driving past this site for a few years trying to figure out a way to access this property. You can tell from the road that there is something back there. Once I learned who the property owner was, I began correspondence and it got us back there today. This is a major site that I (and Lou) can finally cross off the bucket list. 



The coke plant and mine really didn't last long, didn't have a lot of acreage and was surrounded by mining properties of the some of the bigwigs of the time. The Empire Mine and Coke Works of the Bessemer Coke Company was listed as a new mine in 1899.  At the time, this would be the Bessemer Coke Company's second mine and coke plant. The first was Humphrey's near Pleasant Unity, which is now completely reclaimed. Within ten years Bessemer would grow into the second largest independent coal and coke producer in the Connellsville and Lower Connellsville Coke Districts. I have covered Griffin in Fayette County, and Duquesne in Westmoreland ,which began around the same time, but it wasn't until 1908 that Bessemer Coke Company was one of the ground breakers of the coal fields in Washington and Greene Counties. 



The Empire Mine and Coke Works lasted from 1899 until its abandonment on April 25, 1907. 120 beehive coke ovens were all this plant ever consisted of. The mine was abandoned because the coal in its small mine was exhausted (at its peak in 1905, 163 people were employed).   This would be not be the end of the plant though. It lingered on until 1911 as Bethany Coke Works, operated (sporadically) by the Majestic Coke Company, until it just fell off the radar. The mine and coke works (still listed as 120 ovens) only operated in January and February of 1908. The mining reports for 1908 list this mine as "not operating during inspections". In 1909, the plant operated from September through December but only used 26 ovens. In 1910, Bethany operated from January through April, still using 26 ovens. In 1911 it was listed as idle , and after that it was never heard from again. The working theory is Majestic Coke Company came in in 1908 and started mining the stumps and pillars of the old Empire Mine. In the May 23, 1908 List Of The Coke Ovens In The Connellsville District, the mine is still listed as Empire but operated by Majestic Coke Company, with 120 ovens but none in blast.



The 1902 Connellsville Quad topographic map showing the Empire Coke Works, near the "W" on "West Bethany". The Ruffsdale Spur on the Southwest Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad was built in 1900 and it's terminus was at the Empire Mine and Coke Works. Much of this grade can still be seen along Leighty Hollow Road.


Connellsville Courier, December 15, 1899 announcing the new Empire Mine and Coke Works of the Bessemer Coke Company. They initially started with 70 ovens according to this report.


1905 advertisement for Bessemer Coke Company. 

This is what is left today:


 The initial ovens on the larger bank. There is a smaller bank further up that is visible on the topographic map.


 Lou walking on the coke yard of the old Empire plant. The Pennsylvania Railroad spur is not visible in this photo, but it would be to the right.

 The remaining ovens on this side are not in the best condition, but it is great knowing that something survives back here.

 This is looking over at the second, smaller bank. The ovens over here are in better condition but we'll get to those in a bit.

 A small slate dump behind the main bank of ovens. The way this mine was set up is pretty interesting.

 We were able to locate a couple different openings to this mine in the outcrop above the ovens. There was a graded haulage leading from the mine entrances to the coke ovens.

 Looking over at the graded haulage from the area of the outcrop.

 Trail leading along the outcrop on the left. This area was posted property so we weren't able to go further into this.

 This and the following two photos are of the haulage to the coke ovens.

 This is looking down at the end of the main bank. It looks like there was a small tipple at the end of the haulage road that filled the larry cars to charge the ovens.

 These are the ovens in the smaller bank.

 This is looking up the old railroad spur. The coke yard wall would be on the right and the ovens are beyond that.

 Railroad spur looking the other direction with all the fun stuff on the left.

 A small dammed pond that might have been used to supply the water to quench the ovens.

 Looking toward the road from the railroad spur.

 Looking back toward the ovens. The railroad spur is the left and the coke yard is on the right. The ovens are on the right buried in the brush.

The very beginning of the main bank closest to the road. There weren't any intact ovens in this section.

This is a map of the area that Lou drew up.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing your photos.
    Fascinating. Maggie