On a warm, muddy February afternoon, I traveled to the Leetonia Beehive Coke Ovens Park, also known as the Cherry Valley Coke Ovens Arboretum, with my cousin. Entering the parking lot, we were instantly transported back in time. Beehive coke ovens
, some well-preserved, others claimed by nature, surrounded us. Under the bright sun, the ovens’ faded rustic red bricks illuminated with the history of the area’s coke production, and of the workers who tirelessly built the ovens.
Inside beehive coke oven image by Brooke Bobovnyik
As my cousin remained in the parking lot to operate his drone, I cautiously crossed a small wooden bridge to closely observe the rows of beehive coke ovens alongside the lot. Hundreds of ovens stretched as far as I could see. I walked along a narrow path littered with tree stumps and dead leaves, carefully studying the condition of each oven and their wide, hollow bodies. What a sight it was…
Rows of beehive coke ovens image by Brooke Bobovnyik
Founded in 1865 by William Lee, J.G. Chamberlain, William Matthews, Judge Sutliff, and Lemuel Wick, the Leetonia Iron and Coal Company utilized beehive coke ovens to covert coal from the region and Washingtonville into coke. Two- hundred and fifty tons of coke were produced each day. The coke was then used to fuel the blast furnaces that produced iron and steel. The company was bought and renamed the Cherry Valley Iron and Coal Company in 1873. It became the Cherry Valley Iron Works Company in 1879, the United Iron and Steel Company in 1893, and the M.A. Hanna Company in 1920. The ovens permanently closed during the Great Depression. In 1993, Cherry Valley’s beehive coke ovens were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. They are the largest remaining site of beehive coke ovens in the nation.
First operated in 1841, beehive coke ovens were used to burn impurities from coal to make coke. Constructed in the shape of a dome, the top of the oven contained a small opening called a “trunnel head,” where the coal was dumped for the coking process. The “trunnel head” also allowed for the escape of combustion products. The ovens were heated to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit by wood and coal fires. Air was admitted into the oven by a small opening at the top of the oven door to control volatile matter. Depending on the quantity of coal, the ovens operated between 46 and 98 consecutive hours. After the coking process was complete, the coke was drawn from the oven by machine or by a long-handled shovel and watered down.
In 1918, beehive coke ovens were replaced with byproduct coke ovens for two reasons. First, coal that was not sustainable for the beehive coke ovens could be mined with other coal for byproduct ovens. Second, byproduct coke ovens were cheaper than beehive coke ovens.
For more information on beehive coke ovens, byproduct ovens, and heat-recovery ovens, and the places where these ovens were used, visit the virtual exhibit on the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor’s website when it opens on May 6, 2021!