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BRETZ

This was probably the last beehive coke works in America to close down, in 1980. (A rectangular style coke works, similar to beehive ovens, operated in Alverton, PA until 1983.) The coke works was put into operation in 1906. Different operators owned the Bretz coke works over the years. A coal mine and coal camp were built there by West Virginia Coal Company before 1906. In 1906 Elkins Coal & Coke Co. acquired the mine and town, and began constructing the coke works. In 1918 Bethlehem Steel took over the Bretz town/mine/ovens, but only ran Bretz for three years. Later operators included Joseph Miller and Gibralter Fuel Co. In 1953 Mercury Coal and Coke Co. purchased the operations, which may have been idle at the time, from a bankruptcy sale. They revamped the coke works, but may not have reopened the mine, and operated it until 1980. After its closure, the site remained one of the most intact examples of a beehive coke yard. Despite it's listing on the National Register of Historic Places, much of the site has been reclaimed and many of the structures demolished, leving Shoaf, PA, 45 minutes to the north, as the finest extant coke works in the nation. This proves that a listing of a site on the Register is no guarantee that it will be preserved.

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The coke works when the operation was still young. (Circa 1914 image by C. McLemley, West Virginia Geological Survey, via Google Books)


A view of the coke yard when it was still active. (1974 image by William Barrett, HAER [Historical American Engineering Record])


Today most of the ovens are still extant. (Nov. 2004 image by author)


This coke extracting machine has been left on the site. Most of the rails that it rode on have been removed, however. (Nov. 2004 image by author)


Here is a picture from 1974 of the extractor pulling coke from an oven and loading it into rail cars. A flume on the machine catches the "dribble." (1974 image by William Barrett, HAER [Historical American Engineering Record])


In this photo a larry car riding on rails on top of the ovens charges an oven while the extractor loads coke into a B&O gondola car. (1974 image by William Barrett, HAER [Historical American Engineering Record])


The coke must be cooled by spraying water on it to stop the coking action. The structure over the rail car has been demolished.(1974 image by William Barrett, HAER [Historical American Engineering Record])


A employee bricks up an oven door to begin coking the next batch of coal. The coking process may last for as long as 48 or 72 hours. Years ago I was suprised to learn that coke ovens don't normally have metal doors on hinges on them. (1974 image by William Barrett, HAER [Historical American Engineering Record])


In another 1970's picture the coke yard worker on the right is leveling the charge of coke in the oven. Not long after these photos were shot the coke yard was shut down. (1974 image by William Barrett, HAER [Historical American Engineering Record])


A coke oven that has retained it's two leveling hooks on each side of the door. The leveling bar would be placed in these and the leveler would rest on that. Also note the ladder made out of round bar for climbing to the top of the ovens. (Nov. 2004 image by author)


Also remaining on the site are these sealed mine portals with the inscription "Mine No. 2 - 1913." (Nov. 2004 image by author)


The coal camp houses at Bretz, WV as the looked in the 1970's. (1974 image by William Barrett, HAER [Historical American Engineering Record])


Another vintage view of the Bretz coal camp. (1974 image by William Barrett, HAER [Historical American Engineering Record])


A few of the coal camp houses as they look today. (Image by others)

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