Vinton Furnace

Vinton Furnace Engine Mount
Vinton Furnace Engine Mount

Belgium Coke Ovens

Coke Ovens Looking Through an Oven Top of Oven Wall Flume
Coke Ovens Looking Through an Oven Tope of Oven Wall Flume
Under the Oven Floor LH Flume Passage RH Flume Passage Numbered Brick
Under the Oven Floor LH Flume Passage RH Flume Passage Numbered Brick


The Vinton Furnace is extremely interesting from a historical perspective, as well as the wealth of artifacts present at this site. While the furnace itself is in very poor condition, the remains of the boiler house, hot blast house, coke piles, and iron slag remain.

The most interesting portion of the Vinton site is the presence of Belgium Coke Ovens. Originally built to produce coke from coal, they did not work and were partially responsible for the demise of the operation. The ovens were originally built in Belgium (hence the name), and used in Connellsville, PA. All other constructions are believed to have been destroyed - to the best of our knowledge, the structures remaining at the Vinton site are the only remaining ones left in the world. At the Vinton site, they did not work, due to the high sulfer content in the local hill coal. The higher sulfer content in the coke produced a brittle grade of iron. While several of the ovens were demolished years ago, seventeen of the ovens remain standing. Six were probably destroyed on the south end when the coal hoppers were pulled down for salvage. The first oven on the north end was destroyed, but the reason is unclear. In all, the original structure included twenty-four ovens.

The ovens are 2 feet 6 inches wide and 24 feet 3 inches deep. The distance from the spring to arch is 5 feet 10 inches, with an additional 4 inch arch rise. The walls are 1 foot thick. The bricks were manufactured in Belgium and are 13 inches long x 4-1/2 inches wide x 4 inches thick.

All of the bricks used in the construction of the ovens are numbered to permit assembly after shipment.

An excavation in the fall of 2001 by Richard Leive, Norman Murphy, and myself identified why the ovens failed to be a success. Looking closely at the left hand flume passage, it can be seen that there were openings to permit the wall to be heated. However in reviewing the right hand passage, there are no openings - the wall had to have been heated by the next furnace to the right. Because of the flume design, it was impossible to have any portion of the ovens shut down - it was an all or nothing proposition. Reference this picture of the flume layout.

Additionally, the designers did not make the exit portion of the ovens larger than the entrance - probably causing the exit ram to jam up when the coke was being removed.

On the exit side of the ovens there are clear holes where iron work once hung. The doors were probably linked together to open and close simultaneously.

Digging down in the ground at the exit side of the ovens, we found evidence of rails. We believe that the rails supported a rail car (or cars) that collected the charcoal as it was pushed out of the ovens. There are rail tracks below the surface on both the discharge and the pusher sides of the ovens. We believe there was another monorail above the ovens and the rails were used for an apparatus to run back and forth to remove the doors during pushing. The doors could be removed individually. The first items to be removed before pushing were the charging hole covers. Richard Leive and Norm Murphy watched that operation at the New Boston plant. When the covers are removed, fire shoots up around 30 feet in the air. That relieves the pressure within the oven. The doors are then removed by the apparatus running on the rail track. There were probably iron stanchions driven in the ground next to the ovens that supported the ironwork for the doors. We believe they were tied together across the top by long iron rods to prevent the ovens from cracking during expansion and contraction from heating. It is probably true that the entire battery needed to be in operation in order to keep both walls and the floor hot. It was reported in an old news article that an oven could be pushed, recharged, and resealed in three minutes, thus maintaining sufficient heat to restart the coking process on the new charge.


Richard Leive has completed a great deal of research on this site. To review additional information on this site, reference a PDF version of his research at Vinton History. Richard Leive has nearly eight hours of video coverage on the Hanging Rock Iron Furnaces available on three DVDs or an eight hour video cassette. For details on ordering this material, Mr. Leive can be contacted at the following e-mail address: Richard Leive

I found the following information on the history of Vinton Furnace at the Ohio Historical Society. The information represents excerpts from the book "A Brief History of Vinton County", by Louise Ogan Biggs, copyright 1950. Published by Heer Printing. Chapter XIV, pages 135-138.

Vinton Furnace was built in 1853 by Clark, Culbertson and Company in Section 31 of Madison Township. It was placed close to the projected path for the Marietta and Cincinnatti Railroad line. The furnace went into blast during 1854 and was in good operation. In 1857, the furnace produced 3,100 tons of iron in 47 weeks. The furnace operated successfully for several more years, until Mr. Culbertson retired in 1859. The furnace passed to the ownership of Means, Clark and Company in that year. Cyrus Newkirk was the new manager.

In 1868 or 1869, the owners sank a 130 foot shaft west of the furnace with the intent of using coal as a substitute fuel for charcoal. They were not successful in using coal and apparently abandoned the idea. In 1872, Thomas B. Bancroft and his partner, Charles I. Rader, leased the property under the name of the Vinton Coal and Iron Company. They attempted to smelt local ores with the shaft coal. The attempt was a failure, reportedly due to the high sulfer content within the coal. According to this source, the original furnace operated until 1883, when the new furnace was built. The new furnace was 50 feet tall (11 ft bosh) and could produce 20 tons of iron per day, or about 6,000 tons per year. It had a steel jacket and was water cooled.

Bancroft was a financial partner only. He was a involved in the anthracite coal business in Schuyler, Nelson County, Virginia. Rader was educated in metallurgy, apparently receiving his college education at Freiburg, Germany. After the failure of the initial furnace, the owners proceeded to modernize the furnace (as noted above). The ore for the new coal furnace came from the Upper Mercer (or Red Bank) in south-west Swan Township. The limestone flux came from Section 36 of Elk Township, 3/4 mile north-west of the furnace. Rader initially attempted to use the Quakertown coal (from the aforementioned shaft near the school), and did not have a problem with the sulpher/ash - rather, the coal burned too rapidly to achieve a good result. He then attempted to use Clarion coal (found near the coke ovens). This coal coked easily and yielded 56%, but the sulpher and ash content were too high and weakened the resulting steel. The analysis of the coal is provided below:

Clarion Coal Structure
Structure Thickness (feet) Thickness (in)
Shale, Gray w/small nodules 15 0
Coal, Fair 1 2
Shale 0 0.5
Coal, Bony 0 1.5
Clay, Dark 0 4
Coal, Good Clarion 1 6
Clay, w/pyrite 0 1
Coal, Good 1 2
Clay, Siliceous 0 10
Coal, Good 1 2
Clay, Siliceous 1 0
Coal Analysis
Structure % Content
Moisture 4.80%
Volatile Matter 40.56%
Fixed Carbon 42.21%
Ash 12.43%
Total 100%
Sulpher 3.51%

Richard Leive reports:

Attached are diagrams of the H. Bradford Coal & Ore Separator. The coal, being lighter than slate and other impurities, floats to the top in the jigger and is deposited in the left hand chamber. The slate and other impurities sink to the bottom and pass through openings there. The coal is elevated to the storage bins and the slate and sulfur are transferred to a waste pile. Before being washed in the jigger, the coal was crushed to the required fineness. Figure 2 looks like the toothed crusher.

Bradford Separator Coal Crusher
Bradford Separator Coal Crusher

The furnace ran for a few years on coal shipped from a mine near Athens, Ohio. The main workers were of German and Polish origin, in many cases recruited directly from Ellis Island. During this time period, there are reports that the women worked alongside the men in the operation of the furnace.

In the mid 1870's the crash of Jay Cook caused wide spread failures throughout the HRIR region and led to the demise of the Vinton Furnace site. Many thousands of dollars were lost in this visionary, yet flawed venture into iron production.

History - Features and Dates

Start of Operation: 1854


Daily Tonnage: Original Furnace - 10 tons, Second furnace - 20 tons

Built By: Clark, Culberson and Company (1853)

Stack: Original 32.5 feet (11 ft bosh), replaced with a steel stack in 1873 to 50 feet tall

Blast: Hot

Type: Charcoal

Per J.P. Lesley, the furnace was owned by Means, Clark & Co. The fn produced 3,100 tons of foundry iron in fourty seven weeks during 1857. The ore was drawn from coal measure limestone ore exclusively.


Take Route 50 east of McArthur approximately 1/4 mile. Turn right onto Stone Quarry Road. Go past the limestone pits, the road will "Y" - take the left hand fork. (The right hand fork will dead end into a ditch approximately 100 yards ahead.) The left hand fork will cross a bridge, then follow along the hillside. At the next point where the road bends to the left, you will notice a bridge to your right that is closed. Park the vehicle, walk across the bridge and follow the trail (Mead Sanctuary Trail). It is the first trail coming back from the 2nd closed bridge on the right hand side that leads to the furnace/oven area. Follow the hiker markers.

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