"Good Morning Earlington:
Coke Ovens and other Sundry Subjects"
I recently did a little more research on the Earlington Coke Ovens and learned a few additional facts. Prior to 1882 all coal was dug by pick but that year the St. Bernard Coal Company introduced "mining machines." By 1890 Hopkins, Muhlenburg, Ohio, and Union counties accounted for 85 ½ % of the total output of the Western Kentucky District (and of that over 51% was machine mined). By 1902 of the total coal output in Western Kentucky, almost 4% was used for coke. The first Ky coke ovens were in 1877 or ’78 at Mercer Station (Muhlenburg County) although in’57 a first attempt at coking on a large scale had been tried with less than desirable results near Paradise on Green River at Airdrie Furnace using #11 coal. Then in ’82 the St. Bernard Coal Company built two commercial coke ovens in Earlington (although no commercial coke was at that time made in either of them). So actual coke-making in Ky did not begin until March of l887 at the Clifton Coal Company in Mannington at her 34 ovens (which lasted a very little time). Finally in the summer of ’87 St Bernard built 21 ovens in Earlington and began to turn out coke. These produced steadily and increased to 150 ovens (of which 21 were built in 1902).
An 1903 article in The Earlington Bee quoted J.C. Norwood, Kentucky’s chief mine inspector, as giving J.B. Atkinson then of Earlington the credit for St Bernard’s ovens producing most of the field’s coke. Norwood said that all coke was made from #9 and #11 coal and that Earlington used some of the highest quality. The same article listed Dan Evans as cashier and manager of the Earlington Coke Works. Dan Evans was known as "one of the most popular and capable men" in Earlington according to a 1911 Bee article which reported his election to the city council at the death of John B. Atkinson.
Although this doesn’t settle the question of "when" the coke ovens stopped operating, perhaps it gives more insight into these well-known Earlington ovens. They will always be a source of amazement to those who watched the numerous spirals of black smoke escaping from those enless rows of brick igloos on the enbankment alongside the tracks. We should also remember that along with the industry which led to the growth of this village that it was at the expense of men who labored long and hard shoveling coal into those ovens. Many of those men lost all or partial sight from the many hours of looking into the white hot fires of the coals. The numerous shards of bricks still lying half buried on those hills give testament to that once thriving business and the miners who once kept the ovens burning.
Ann Gipson 12-14-2001