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Read here about the Coal and Coke industry in the late 1800s in this newpaper article discovered among local clippings housed in the Uniontown Library. The article was published November 1, 1885 (source unknown).

Graphic Sketches of Life and Labor in the Mines and Before the Ovens


Which Makes Twice as Much Coke as All the Rest of the United States Together.


TrainSuppose we fork together the coke made during the last twelve months in the Connellsville region, the popular name for the black stripe of country about 40 miles long by three miles wide, which lies northeast and southwest across Westmoreland county and part of Fayette. Load it on cars and hitch them together in a continuous train. Start the train going at the rate of 12 miles an hour, which is about a fair average for freight trains, and run it day and night, without a moment’s stop to cool hot boxes, or the slightest slacking up on the stiff grades. Stand beside the track and watch the train roll by, day after day, hour after hour. Night after night listen to the clank, clank of the wheels over the jointed rails as every hour sees 18,000 tons of coke whirled past you. Toward morning of the ninth day the signal lamps on the last car will mark the end of the train, and you will begin to have a dreamy sort of notion of the magnitude of the coke industry that is blazing and smoking within an hour’s ride of the city. The headlight of the train will be about 2,400 miles away. I handle the product in this way, not that it is either novel or original, but because one can give a better notion of bulk this way than by any quantity of figures standing by themselves.

LeithCoke is the bones of coal. In such yards as the foregoing sketch illustrates in a general way, the sulphur and other matter which would impair the quality of iron melted with it are roasted out. The remainder, as near a pure carbon as may be had, as near an uncrystalized diamond as can be made, is coke. An equally important change that is wrought by the oven, however, is the transformation of the soft, crumbling bituminous coal into a hard, porous substance, which will stand up stiff-backed under a ponderous load of iron ore and limestone in the blast furnace, where coke is chiefly used. Anthracite will do the same in a measure without coking, but it does not burn so evenly nor bear the burden so well. Block coal, also which is mined to some extent in the northern part of this State, is sometimes called a natural coke, on account of a resemblance in many of their qualities.

Coke making was known in England as far back as the sixteenth century. Mention is made of the patent granted to Thomas Proctor and William Peterson, in 1589, of the preparatory “cooking” of coa1, and in the following year a patent was issued to the Dean of York “to purify pit coal and free it from offensive smell.” In this country it is an industry of the last half century, and had its growth chiefly in the last two decades.

Provance McCormickOf the three men, John Taylor, James Campbell, and Provance McCormick, who, in 1841, made the first oven coke in Pennsylvania, the last is still living at the good old age of 89 years, the oldest citizen of Connellsville. Campbell and McCormick were plain house carpenters, but with a shrewd, Scotch-Irish bent for money-getting, they were ready to turn an honest penny into an equally honest sixpence at anything that promised fair. They knew how to burn charcoal, and when a strolling Englishman explained to them that a fuel called coak, as it used to be spelled, was made out of such coal as was plenty in the hills about them, and used in the blast furnaces of his country, they were quick to see that there might be money in it for them.

So they explained their scheme to Taylor and took him into partnership with them to burn a cargo of coke and flatboat it to Cincinnati. Taylor was a stonemason and owned a farm beside the Yough at the edge of Connellsville, upon which part of the Fayette coke works now stand. He had then a coal mine open upon it and mined the coal in a small way. Previous to this, Colonal Meason had made some coke at Plumsock in an open rick after the rashion of charcoal burning, and some had been made in the same way at Oliphants and used in the furnaces there, but the first of the 10,000 “beehives” that now dot the counties of Fayette and Westmoreland was yet to be built.

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