Monday, July 26, 2021

Belgian Coke Oven and Vinton Furnace 2021 - Ohio Ruins

While our kids were young, my wife and I toured many of the Native American ("aka Indian") mounds across Ohio (Serpent Mound, Mound City, Seip Mound...many more) we stumbled upon ruins of the past industry (~Civil War era) such as the Hope Furnace. This led to the desire to seek out other lost edifices and has inspired some of my writing (ie Clan Tonn in the Dyscrasia Fiction universe). For more on the history of iron furnaces in OH, I recommend:

 So I learned about this gem of a site called Vinton Furnance, which is accessible but off the beaten track. There are two key features at this location: one, the Belgian Coke Furnaces used to turn coal into coke fuel used for the blast furnace, and two, the huge Vinton blast furnace used to extract iron from ore.

Vinton Furnace operated from 1854 to 1883. In 1875 the charcoal-fired Vinton Furnace was converted to use coke for fuel. The unique feature of the Vinton Furnace is the set of 24 Belgian coke ovens. The battery of ovens was used to process coal into the coke, which was then was used to fire the furnaces.   Due to the local coal's high-sulfur content, efforts to produce coke capable of firing the iron furnace failed.  Coal had to be brought in by railroad to produce satisfactory coke. (from

1) Belgian Coke Furnace (used to turn coal in coke fuel needed for the blast furnace)

(from ) The following is a copy of a newspaper report dated 11/25/1875 which Lawrence McWhorter, Hamden, OH, found in the Democratic Inquirer archives.  He recognized its historical importance in the Iron Industry of The Hanging Rock Iron Region.....The article was written at the opening of the coke plant and at the time the new process was thought to be successful. Unfortunately, the local coal proved to be too high in sulphur content and couldn't be used....The article originally appeared in the Cincinnati Gazette and was written by a technical writer.

"The coal is ordinary hill coal of this region, and found from eighteen to twenty feet below the limestone ore.  This is taken first to the crusher, where it is broken up into small pieces of a size to permit them passing through a screen of about five-eights mesh.  It is then elevated and passed through the screen, from which it passes to the ‘Separator.’  This is simply a sieve working up and down in water, and by this process the whole of the slate and sulfur in the coal (being of greater specific gravity than the coal) sinks to the bottom of the sieve, and passes out there, while the clean coal flows out over the top and is carried to bins where it is left to drain off its water and dry sufficiently to go into the ovens.  From these bins it is taken in iron cars right out  upon the top of the ovens and drops into them through holes made for that purpose.  When coked for thirty-six to forty-eight hours it is pushed from the ovens in a solid mass or plug and extinguished by a stream of water poured upon it and it is then ready for use.  These ovens are of the Belgian type, and twenty four in number, standing side by side in a row or battery.  On one side is the coke floor, upon which the coke is discharged when coked sufficiently.  Upon the other side stands a pushing engine, which runs upon a track the whole length of the ovens, and from which when the ovens are opened there issues a huge plunger, which passes entirely through the ovens and shoves the m ass of coke out upon the other side, thus dispensing with the use of men and rakes to empty them, and discharging and filling an oven in about three minutes.  The ovens themselves are simply rectangular tubes of fire brick, twenty-two feet long, three feet wide and six feet high, with cast iron doors at each end.  Above, below and around each however, runs a system of flues through which are carried the gases evolved in coking, and which are thus utilized in creating greater heat for this purpose."

2) The Vinton Blast Furnace (used to melt iron ore and produce pig iron)

 Quote about its history and image below from Olde

Vinton furnace was placed in blast in 1854. Mr. Culbertson of the original company soon retired for in 1859 the firm was Means, Clark and Company. At this time Cyrus Newkirk was manager of the works. The original stack was 11 feet across the boshes, 32 1/2 feet in height and in forty-seven weeks of 1857 made about 3,100 tons of foundry iron from the local ores.

About 1868 or 1869 this firm sank a shaft west of the furnace and about 130 feet in depth to the Quakertown or No. 2 coal with the intention of using it as fuel. In 1872 Thomas B. Bancroft and his partner, Charles I. Rader, leased the property from the Philadelphia owners and undertook the smelting of the local ores with the shaft coal. This fuel, however, was unsuited for this purpose as the bed was very faulty and the coal high in sulphur and ash. The firm was now known as the Vinton Coal and Iron Company as both pig metal and coal were offered to the trade. The old charcoal stack, Vinton furnace, ceased operation in about 1883. Soon after this a coal furnace, 50 by 11 feet, was built on the site....

" For that time the new Vinton furnace, under the name of Vinton Coal and Iron Company, was modern in every respect. It had a steel jacket, was water cooled, had special devices for charging and casting, and had efficient hot blast stoves. This stack was 50 feet in height by 11 feet in diameter at the boshes. The rated capacity was 20 tons of metal per day or 6,000 tons per year."

How to get there

Vinton Furnace is near Hocking Hills Ohio (an outstanding park). However, it is not part of the normal park trails. It is located within the "experimental forest" which is run by the USDA and the State of Ohio (I think). They do experiments such as clear-cutting and monitoring regrowth.  Anyway, the public is welcome, especially on foot.

Do not expect great phone-cellular service, though the nearby town of Mcarthur seems to have some. Always good to bring a trusty old map just in case. Getting to the forest isn't too bad.

 Ohio Dept of Nature Resources (PDF Map): Map of Vinton 

Hiking the trail is easy no, especially with Apps like All Trails (download the Pine Run Trailmmap for Vinton....then even without cell service or wifi....the App can track your position over the map using basic GPS (as long as you downloaded prior).  Works splendidly.

Other hikers have documented how to get there and their step-by-step experiences:

Hocking Hills too!

Hocking Hills park is so close, you'll need to reserve time to walk part of its many curated pathways. Old Man's Cave, the Rock House, and Cedar Falls are favorites of ours.