Coketon is the former central mining and coking facility of the Davis Coal & Coke Company, West Virginia. Located along the North Fork of the Blackwater River in Tucker County, Coketon was an integral part of the vast and productive industrial complex of Henry G. Davis.
In 1884, the railroad reached Thomas where Davis Coal & Coke had already begun active mining operations. Thomas was in a small commercial town, but part of it was a Davis Coal & Coke Company private town. Thomas merges into Coketon, which was completely a coal company town. Around the turn of the century, approximately 400 houses centered around the roundhouse and machine shops, and the valley was home to about 1,500 people.
History of Coketon Mine
In the picture above: 1890s view of coal mining operations of the Davis Coal & Coke Company in Thomas, WV. In the background can be seen the company houses. In the foreground, there is a headframe, power plant, tipple, and various shop buildings. There were over 600 beehive coke ovens burning here.
An 1887 experiment with two ovens convinced the coal company that a coking facility would be very profitable. The coal company converted raw coal into coke, the purest form of carbon and the most important by-product of coal. Coke was the premier “reducing agent” fuel in the world at the time, capable of smelting iron ore rapidly into steel through the Bessemer process. In the late 1800s, coke was produced by baking coal in huge stone or brick ovens until its impurities were driven off.
In the picture above: Tipple and coke ovens at Coketon, WV, another property of Davis Coal & Coke Co. Coketon was the third largest coking facility in the state and produced 200,000 tons of coke by 1904. Additionally, between 1915 and 1921, 15 coal mines near Coketon shipped over one million tons of coal per year, making it the sixth most productive operation in West Virginia.
In 1915, a change in mining technology revolutionized the steel-making process, thereby eliminating the need for coke ovens at the mine site. By 1919, there was no coke production whatsoever in Tucker County, leaving the long banks of obsolete coke ovens unused. Coal, however, was still mined at the site in record quantities. From 1920 through the 1940’s, the company continued production. As the seams were worked out and the mines closed, the population slowly declined, and the facility slowly began to shut down. By 1950, only two mines, #36 and #40 were still working and tonnage had fallen to 100,000 by 1954. By 1956, underground mining had ceased altogether with a few surface mining operations producing coal through 1965.
Although time and vandalism have eroded the Coketon complex, significant ruins are nevertheless extant. The town of Thomas retains much of its architectural integrity, featuring the company store and office building, and numerous well-kept and relatively unaltered miners’ houses. Poured and cut stone and masonry foundations remain from the powerhouse, as do the ventilation fan housing and tipple support pillars. Railroad trestles and graded railbeds line the North Fork of the Blackwater. Several mine portals stand open.
The most significant and striking cultural resources of the site are the rows of coke ovens that line both sides of the valley. An entire bank of ovens stands free in the middle of the site (Picture 1), while both walls of the hollow are lined with brick and stone ovens
Coketon Mine Photos
Coketon in 1960 and again in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s as a string of Chessie geep’s drift down through the curves at Coketon. (Chessie, Warren Hart photo)
These two photos are of a cab ride on the eastbound Bayard Turn in May of 1983. The two photos were taken between Douglas and Thomas. The photos are looking back on the wood chips and pulpwood cars placed before the loaded coal hoppers. In the second photo, you can see 2 of the 4 mid-train helpers looking down the straight stretch of track alongside the coke ovens at Coketon. (Jack Brown photos, May 1983)
During the period spanning between the 1880s and 1890s, the Davis Coal and Coke Company worked over 1,000 coke ovens. Over 500 of these ovens were believed to be located in Coketon.
Coketon Mine Map
The first topo map is a spilt map of 1926 (left) and 1921(right) joined at the center of Thomas at the horizontal line. Second topo map is from 2012 and still shows Coketon.