History of the Ovens


In the park are four rows of the remains of the Cahaba Coal Company’s coke ovens. These beehive block ovens were not the earliest coke producing units in the Cahaba Coal Field but may very well have been the largest single installation. Placed end to end the ovens would have covered more than a mile’s length.

In 1883 the Cahaba Coal Company constructed a coal company railroad extension from Woodstock to a mine being opened in a nearby town. A town to be named “Blocton” by mine owner Truman Aldrich for a ton block of coal removed from the No. 2 mine.

By 1887 a “favorable quality of coal for steam purposes” was being furnished to four major railroad corporations. “Blocton” coal was in such demand that all the orders for the coal could not be filled.

By 1889, 140 coke ovens were in operation. 150 ovens were ready for operation and 185 additional ovens were authorized because of the successful use by the Pioneer Mining and Manufacturing Company of coke made from the “Blocton” coal. Also a favorable report on the qualities of “Blocton” coke for blast furnace purposes was issued by John Fulton, a recognized authority in the field. One hundred tons of “Blocton” coke was now being shipped daily to the Eureka Company at Oxmoor and the same quantity to Birmingham Furnace and Manufacturing Company at Trussville. Coke was also supplied to a company in Anniston owned by Cahaba Coal Company directors, Samuel Nole and A. L. Tyler.

By the summer of 1890 the Town of Blocton had increased to 3,600 people and 467 coke ovens were in operation with an estimated output of 600 tons a day.

In 1909 US Steel authorized new tracks installed to the Beehive Coke Ovens at Blocton but company records do not record any coke being produced at Blocton after 1909.

During the Great Depression, the cave like, domed openings in the partially dismantled construction were shelters for hobos. Evidence of camp fires, food preparation and sleeping pallets could be observed by local youngsters who explored and played on the site in the Thirties and Forties. Many residents in West Blocton have bricks and stones from the ruins in their foundations and in yard retaining walls. The west wall of the Gillespie building on Main Street is constructed of brick from the ovens. Huge quarried stones from some of the ovens’ end-buttresses were used in 1987 to reconstruct an old iron furnace at Tannehill State Park.

The coke ovens represent one of the few remaining vestiges of Old Blocton, the once thriving company town, and are a landmark in Alabama’s late Nineteenth Century industrial development.