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A Visit to the Elkins Coal and Coke Company Historic District

If you are looking for a unique and fascinating destination in West Virginia, you might want to check out the Elkins Coal and Coke Company Historic District. This is the site of the last major coke manufacturing facility to use beehive ovens and was a major industrial site in northern West Virginia in the first half of the 20th century. Here, you can see a row of 140 beehive ovens that were used to transform coal into coke, an essential fuel for steel production. You can also learn about the history and culture of the people who worked and lived in this area and enjoy the natural beauty of Deckers Creek and the surrounding hills.

Image of Elkins Coal and Coke Company Historic District

The History of Elkins Coal and Coke Company Historic District

The Elkins Coal and Coke Company Historic District was established in 1906 by Stephen B. Elkins, one of the barons of West Virginia’s coal industry in the late 19th century. He and his father-in-law, Henry G. Davis, built more than 400 coke ovens throughout the coal country. Still, this facility was one of their largest and most productive. The ovens here were fed by coal from nearby mines, and coke was produced and shipped by rail to steel mills in Baltimore and other cities.

The facility operated until 1920 when it was acquired by the Bethlehem Steel Company, which moved production to more efficient facilities. The ovens were used only intermittently and permanently shut down in the 1980s. The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1983 and is now preserved as a historic industrial site. It is one of the few remaining examples of beehive coke ovens in the country and a testament to the importance of coal and coke in West Virginia’s economy and history.

Image of Old Elkins Coal and Coke Company Historic District

The culture around Elkins Coal and Coke Company Historic District

The Elkins Coal and Coke Company Historic District was not only an industrial site but also a community. The workers who operated the ovens lived in nearby villages, such as Bretz and Masontown, where they formed close bonds with their neighbors and families. They also developed a distinctive culture that reflected their ethnic diversity, hard work, and their pride in their craft. They celebrated holidays, festivals, weddings, and funerals with music, dancing, food, and drink. They also organized unions, strikes, sports teams, clubs, and schools to improve their working conditions, social lives, and education.

The culture of the coke workers is still alive in West Virginia, where many descendants of the original workers still reside. You can find traces of their heritage in local museums, archives, oral histories, folk art, cuisine, and dialect. You can also meet some of them at the annual Coke Oven Festival in Bretz, where they share their stories, traditions, and memories with visitors.

What can you find in the Elkins Coal and Coke Company Historic District?

The Elkins Coal and Coke Company Historic District is on a terrace overlooking Deckers Creek, about half a mile southwest of Masontown. The main attraction is the row of 140 beehive ovens built into the hills rising above the creek. Each oven is about 12 feet in diameter and 7 feet high, with an exterior shell of hand-cut stone. You can see how coal was fed into the ovens from above, how coke was removed from the side openings, and how heat was concentrated inside the dome-shaped chambers.

Besides the ovens, you can also see some pieces of vintage coking equipment that were used to load coal into hoppers and transport coke to railroad cars. You can also see a small office building where records were kept, a steam generator building where power was produced; a shop building where tools were stored, and some other structures that are not clearly identified.

The site is surrounded by natural beauty that you can enjoy as well. You can walk along Deckers Creek, which is a tributary of the Monongahela River and a popular spot for fishing, kayaking, and swimming. You can also hike or bike on trails that run through the hills and forests around the site. You might spot some wildlife such as deer, squirrels, birds, or even bears.

Interesting Facts

  • The beehive ovens at this site could produce up to 300 tons of coke per day.
  • The coke produced here was used to make steel for bridges, buildings, ships, and weapons.
  • The ovens were named beehive because they resembled the shape of a beehive, and also because they were constantly buzzing with activity and heat.
  • The ovens were operated by teams of two or three men, who worked 12-hour shifts in harsh and dangerous conditions.
  • The ovens were lit by burning wood or oil, and then maintained by adding coal every few hours. The coal was heated to about 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, which drove off the impurities and left behind pure carbon.
  • The coke was ready after about 48 hours, and was then cooled with water and removed from the ovens. It was then sorted by size and quality, and loaded onto railroad cars for shipment.
  • The process of making coke also produced by-products such as tar, gas, ammonia, and sulfur, which were collected and sold for other uses.

Advice for Visitors

When is it open?

The Elkins Coal and Coke Company Historic District is open to the public year-round, from dawn to dusk. There is no admission fee or reservation required. However, there are no facilities or services on site, so you should bring your own water, food, and supplies. You should also wear sturdy shoes and clothing that can protect you from dirt, dust, and sharp objects.

What to wear?

You should wear comfortable clothes that can get dirty, as well as sturdy shoes that can handle uneven terrain. You should also bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and insect repellent to protect yourself from the sun and bugs. You might also want to bring a flashlight or headlamp if you want to explore the inside of the ovens.

Is it family-friendly?

The site is suitable for families with children who are interested in history and industry. However, you should supervise your children at all times, as the site is not fenced or guarded. You should also be aware that some parts of the site may be unsafe or unstable, so you should avoid climbing on or entering any structures that look damaged or dangerous.

When is it best to visit?

The site can be visited at any time of the year, but you might enjoy it more in spring or fall when the weather is mild and the scenery is colorful. You might also want to avoid visiting on rainy or snowy days, as the site can get muddy and slippery. You might also want to visit during the Coke Oven Festival in Bretz, which is usually held in June. This is a fun event where you can meet local people, learn more about the history and culture of the site, and enjoy music, food, crafts, and games.

A Trip Through West Virginia Landmarks to Castle Floor Coatings

Via I-64 W and I-64 W/I-77 N

The Greenbrier

101 W Main St, White Sulphur Springs, WV 24986, United States

  1. Get on I-64 W from US-60 W/Midland Trail E
    1. Head southeast toward Greenbrier Dr/Springhouse Ln
    2. Continue onto Greenbrier Dr/Springhouse Ln
    3. Continue to follow Springhouse Ln
    4. Turn right onto US-60 W/Midland Trail E
    5. Turn left onto Harts Run Rd
  2. Turn right to merge onto I-64 W toward Beckley
    1. Merge onto I-64 W
    2. Use the right 2 lanes to merge onto I-64 W/I-77 N toward Charleston
    3. Take exit 79 toward Sharon/Cabin Creek Rd
  3. Turn left onto Access/Sharon Hollow Rd/Sharon Hollow Rd Access
    1. Turn left at the 2nd cross street onto Cabin Creek Rd
    2. Destination will be on the right

Eksdale, West Virginia, C&O Coal Tower

220 Back St, Eskdale, WV 25075, United States

  1. Head north on Cabin Creek Rd
  2. Turn right onto Access/Sharon Hollow Rd/Sharon Hollow Rd Access
  3. Turn left onto the 64 W/77 N ramp
  4. Merge onto I-64 W/I-77 N
  5. Take exit 97 for US-60 W/Kanawha Blvd toward Midland Trl
  6. Continue onto US-60 W/Kanawha Blvd E
  7. Destination will be on the right

West Virginia State Capitol

1900 Kanawha Blvd E, Charleston, WV 25305, United States

  1. Follow I-79 N and US-19 S to Birch River. Take the WV-82 exit from US-19 S
    1. Head west on US-60 W toward WV-114 N
    2. Turn right onto US-60 W/WV-114 N/Greenbrier St
    3. Continue to follow WV-114 N/Greenbrier St
    4. Turn left to merge onto I-64 W/I-77 N toward I-79
    5. Use the right 2 lanes to take the I-77 N exit toward I-79/Parkersburg
    6. Continue onto I-77 N
    7. Keep right at the fork to continue on I-79 N, follow signs for Clarksburg
    8. Take exit 57 toward Beckley
    9. Merge onto US-19 S
  2. Take the WV-82 exit toward Birch River/Cowen
    1. Turn left onto WV-82 E/Birch River Rd
    2. Continue straight onto Howard Farm
    3. Continue onto Old Birch River Rd
    4. Turn right onto 1st St W/Erbacon Rd
    5. Continue to follow Erbacon Rd
    6. Turn left onto WV-20 N/Webster Rd
    7. Continue to follow WV-20 N
    8. Turn right onto Co Rte 15/4
    9. Turn right onto WV-15 E/Point Mountain Rd
    10. Continue to follow WV-15 E
  3. Turn right onto US-219 S/Seneca Trail
    1. Turn left onto WV-66 E
    2. Turn left to stay on WV-66 E

Cass Scenic Railroad State Park

12363 Cass Rd, Cass, WV 24927, United States

  1. Head southwest on WV-66 W toward Deer Creek Rd
  2. Turn right onto US-219 N/Seneca Trail
    1. Turn left onto US-219 N/US-250 N/Seneca Trail
    2. Continue straight onto WV-92 N
    3. Slight left onto US-250 N/US-33 W/US-48
    4. Turn right onto US-250 N
  3. Turn right onto WV-92 N/Morgantown Pke
  4. Continue to follow WV-92 N
  5. Turn left onto US-50 W
  6. Turn right onto WV-92 N
    1. Turn left onto Gladesville Rd
    2. Turn right to stay on Gladesville Rd
  7. Turn right onto US-119 N/Grafton Rd
    1. Turn left onto the ramp to I-79/Fairmont
    2. Merge onto I-68 W
    3. Use the right 2 lanes to merge onto I-79 N toward Washington
    4. Keep left to stay on I-79 N
    5. Use the right 2 lanes to merge onto I-70 W/I-79 N toward Washington
    6. Continue to follow I-70 W
    7. Keep right at the fork to stay on I-70 W
    8. Keep left to stay on I-70 W
    9. Take exit 225 for OH-7 toward Bridgeport
    10. Turn left onto Marion St
    11. Turn left to merge onto I-70 E toward Wheeling

Wheeling Suspension Bridge

Wheeling, WV 26003, United States

  1. Head east on I-70 E
  2. Take exit 1A for US-40 E/WV-2 N/Main St toward Downtown
  3. Merge onto US-40 E/WV-2 S/Main St
  4. Continue to follow WV-2 S/Main St
  5. Turn left onto 16th St/Greater Wheeling Trail
  6. Continue to follow 16th St
  7. Turn left onto Market St
  8. Destination will be on the right

West Virginia Independence Hall

1528 Market St, Wheeling, WV 26003, United States

  1. Get on I-70 E
    1. Head north on Market St toward 15th Pl
    2. Keep left to continue on Lane 38
    3. Merge onto I-70 E via the ramp to Washington
  2. Merge onto I-70 E
    1. Take the exit onto PA-43 S
    2. Use the right 2 lanes to merge onto US-119 S toward PA-43 S/Morgantown
    3. Keep left to continue on US-119 S/US-40 E
    4. Use the left 2 lanes to take the US-40 E exit toward Hopwood
  3. Get on I-68 E/US-40 E in Garrett County
    1. Continue onto US-40 E
    2. Turn right to stay on US-40 E
    3. Use the right lane to merge onto I-68 E/US-40 E via the ramp to US-219 N/Cumberland
  4. Merge onto I-68 E/US-40 E
    1. Continue onto Exit 82C (signs for I-70 W/US-522 N/Breezewood)
    2. Use the right lane to keep right at the fork and continue on Exit 82B
  5. Keep right to continue on Exit 82A, follow signs for US-522 S/Hancock/Winchester, and merge onto US-522 S
    1. Merge onto US-522 S
    2. Turn right onto Fairfax St
    3. Fairfax St turns left and becomes Cornelius Ave
    4. Destination will be on the left

Museum of the Berkeley Springs

2 Fairfax St, Berkeley Springs, WV 25411, United States

  1. Take Fairfax St to S Washington St
    1. Head northeast on Cornelius Ave toward Fairfax St
    2. Cornelius Ave turns right and becomes Fairfax St
  2. Turn right onto S Washington St
  3. Get on I-81 S in Berkeley County
    1. Turn left onto WV-9 E/Martinsburg Rd
    2. Continue to follow WV-9 E
    3. Use the right lane to take the ramp to Winchester
  4. Merge onto I-81 S
    1. Take exit 12 for WV-45 E toward WV-9 E/Winchester Ave/Charles Town
    2. Use the left 2 lanes to turn left onto WV-45 E
    3. Continue onto WV-9 E
    4. Use the right lane to take the US-340 N/WV-51 W ramp to Charles Town/Harpers Ferry
    5. Turn left onto US-340 N/William L Wilson Fwy
  5. Drive to Shenandoah St
    1. Turn left onto Shenandoah St
    2. Continue straight to stay on Shenandoah St
    3. Destination will be on the right

John Brown’s Fort

814 Shenandoah St, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425, United States

  1. Head southwest on Shenandoah St toward Potomac St
  2. Turn left onto US-340 E/William L Wilson Fwy
  3. Continue to follow US-340 E
    1. Take exit 10 for interstate 70 E toward I-270/Baltimore/Washington
    2. Merge onto I-70 E
    3. Use the right 2 lanes to take exit 53 to merge onto I-270 S toward Washington
    4. Take exit 31B for MD-85 S toward Buckeystown
  4. Continue onto MD-85 S/Buckeystown Pike
    1. Pass by McDonald’s (on the right in 0.4 mi)
    2. Turn right onto Executive Way
    3. Turn right onto Macon St
    4. Turn left onto Proclamation Pl
    5. Destination will be on the right

Castle Floor Coatings – Garage Coatings & Concrete driveway sealers

7180 Proclamation Pl, Frederick, MD 21703, United States