Inne at Watson's Choice
Tourist Guide Book

The Coal and Coke Era

 
 
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Miscellaneous Information

Attractions
Addison Toll House
Bear Run Nature Reserve
Braddock's Grave
Christmas Shoppe
Coal & Coke Heritage Ctr
Country Charm
The Cross
CW Klay Winery
Dunlap Creek Bridge
Fallingwater
Flat Iron Building
Fort Mason Museum
Fort Necessity
Friendship Hill
Hazelbaker
Historic Brownsville
Historic Connellsville
Historic Dawson
Historic Perryopolis
Historic Uniontown
Historic Hopwood
Inne at Watson's Choice
Jumonville Glen
Jumonville Methodist Youth Ctr
Kentuck Knob
Laurel Caverns
Linden Hall
Meason House
Mt Saint Macrina
National Road
Nemacolin Castle
Nemacolin Woodlands
New Geneva Stoneware
Ohiopyle State Park
Pennsylvania Room
Point Lookout
Scenery Hill
Searight Toll House
State Theatre
Stone House
Summit Inn
Touchstone Center for Arts
Village of Shoaf
Washington Grist Mill
Washington Tavern
West Overton Museums
Wharton Furnace
Youghiogheny River / Lake
Youghiogheny River Trail
Youghiogheny Station

Themes
Antiques
Architecture
Biking
Coal and Coke Era
Early Local History
Fall Foliage
Fishing
French & Indian War 250th Anniversary
Genealogy
Glass
Golfing
Hiking
Hospitals
Gen. George C Marshall
Morgantown WV
Mountain Area
National Road
Nature
Opulence of Coal & Coke Era
Pittsburgh
Skiing
Trivia
Geo. Washington Slept Here
Whitewater Adventures

 

Coal and Coke Era

What is Coke?

Coke is a high-grade, high temperature fuel used in firing steel blast furnaces. Coal is made into coke by burning it under controlled conditions where very little air (oxygen) is available, yeilding a product that is almost entirely pure carbon. Coke ovens provide the controlled conditions required to transform coal into coke. In this area, beehive coke ovens, so called for their shape, were the norm. From an era gone by, beehive ovens also produced vast amounts of smoke and pollution which would never be tolerated today.

Vast coal deposits underlying much of Fayette County resulted in the development of a monolithic coal and coke industry internationally unrivaled around the turn of the 20th century. Prior to the 1870s coal and coke extraction had been undertaken on a small, experimental scale. Between 1876 and 1882 the number of beehive coke ovens, however, multiplied from 3000 to 8400 and by 1907, 23,857 coke ovens were operating in the Connellsville coke region.

Because of an increased need for labor, thousands of immigrants, particularly of eastern European extraction, relocated to Fayette County. As a result, numerous "patch town" communities were established by the coal companies to house the new labor group. Located adjacent to the coal mines and coke works, these patch duplexes or "company houses" characterized pockets of homogenous and blatantly functional frame dwellings which were unique to western Pennsylvania.

In direct contrast to the simplicity of lifestyle and material possessions of the immigrant workers was the opulence and grandeur which often surrounded the industrial magnates who directly profited from the coal and coke investments. The most notable examples include the J. V. Thompson "Oak Hill" estate. and the palatial Linden Hall constructed for Sarah B. Cochran. Other coal related businesses and residences became centralized in Uniontown , Connellsville , and Dawson.

The marked upsurge in coal and coke production of the late 19th century dictated the need for an efficient transportation system to ship the coal products to steel manufacturers in Pittsburgh and other cities. In 1881 the Pittsburgh, Virginia and Charleston Railroad opened a line between Pittsburgh and West Brownsville. It provided Brownsville and Bridgeport with valuable rail connections to outside markets. Subsequently, a network of interconnecting rail lines, particularly under the proprietorship of the Pennsylvania Railroad were opened throughout the county. Many of the lines terminated at Connellsville which ultimately became the major transportation center for the Connellsville Coke Region.

As the county evolved from a basically agrarian economy toward predominately heavy industry, improvements in human transportation followed. Trolley systems were introduced as early as 1890 in Uniontown and soon thereafter lines connected many of the communities within the county. Interurban rail transportation was also increased. Improvements in transportation also meant more modern bridge designs such as the enduring stone arches constructed by the Monongahela Railway (15) and the introduction of steel truss brides which spanned many of the county's waterways.

However, the beginning of the end was at hand. Violent Labor disputes of the 1920s, the Great Depression, and diminishing coal resources forced a continuing decline in the local coal and coke industry. This resulted in an economic backlash from which the county has never fully recovered.

The era of coal and coke in the Connellsville Coke Region is commemorated at the Coal & Coke Heritage Center located at Penn State's Fayette Campus north of Uniontown.

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