The Village of Leetonia and the Leetonia Beehive Coke Ovens were born in 1865, when an Irish businessman named William Lee began scouting the area for railroad expansion. He learned quickly of the rich coal, ore, and lime deposits under the soil and began purchasing land. With this knowledge and the financial backing of several investors, William Lee purchased the land of John Yoder and Jacob Anglemyer. He also purchased mineral rights from several other local farmers (Frederick, Roller, Leyman, and Kirsch). Total land purchases amounted to 600 acres as well as several hundred additional acres of mineral rights. William Matthers, Jacob G. Chamberlain, Judge Sutliff, Lemuel Wick, and William Lee undertook the task of designing a company town and constructing a coal mine, coke ovens, and a blast furnace under the name "The Leetonia Coal & Iron Company".
Ground breaking began in the winter of 1865 and the complex was completed in 1866. The company started with 100 ovens and 1 blast furnace, which was completed in February of 1897. The group likely utilized a construction system similar to the ones developed by correspondence schools like the International Correspondence School of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Courses were sold in engineering, mining, material sciences and related fields. They contained all of the information needed to construct coke ovens, blast furnaces, coal mines, and connecting rail lines. While the ICS did not officially start until 1900, similar development methods can be seen in Leetonia. According to ICS's Elements of Mining Engineering, "coke ovens are generally 12 feet in diameter and 6 ½ to 7 feet high... 100 ovens running on 48 hr. coke will require 250 tons daily". The thought of processing 250 tons of coal into coke per day should provide some insight into the size of the operation. Throughout the life of the company production was increased several times, finally arriving at a system with over 200 ovens and 4 blast furnaces.
The area went from housing three families, to housing 1800 individuals by 1869, just 10 years later, the population had grown to 2800. The existence of a thriving industrial base and large population encouraged the residents of the area to call for the incorporation of Leetonia. Salem township granted Leetonia incorporation in May of 1869. The town elected a mayor and formed a town council.
During this time the village added a company store and a bank. Businesses unassociated with the iron company also began popping up. Several stores, pharmacies, churches, saw mills, and machine shops moved into the area and began to flourish.
While Leetonia seemed to be a boom town, global events would have a deep effect on the the once unknown section of Columbiana County. A chain of events sparked by the Franco-Prussian War in Europe ( 1870 - 1871) would culminate to what is often referred to as the Long Depression. Post Civil War economic inflation caused by new technologies such as Bessemer steel ovens and expanding railroads spurred major growth for several years. When several major banks failed because of faulty investments the industrial superstructure was thrown into upheaval. This effected the railroad and iron industry and partially lead to the closing of the Leetonia Iron and Coal Company in 1872, which employed nearly one-third of the population of the village.
In 1873 the company reorganized under the guidance of on of the original investors, Jacob G.Chamberlain. He called his new company the Cherry Valley Iron and Coal Company because of the reddish glow the emanated from between the hills when the plant was operating. Under the Cherry Valley Iron and Coal Company operations were doubled. 2 blast furnaces and nearly 100 coke ovens were added. The company ran this way until 1879, at this time coal production was slowing in Leetonia. Many of the local mines were abandoned beginning in the late 1870's. The company started importing coal from Washingtonville. The coal was of slightly higher quality and was less expensive than mining the coal on site. This may have partially been the reason for dropping "Coal Company" from the name. In 1879 the company was again reorganized and renamed the Cherry Valley Iron Works Company. The Cherry Valley Iron Works was forced to rebuild a blast furnace in 1883. It tore down its coal storage facility in 1890, thus sealing the fate of the mining portion of the company in Leetonia. This company made a successful endeavor until 1906, when the it again changed hands. In spite of company changes the site continued to be referred to locally as "Cherry Valley".
Records indicate that The Cherry Valley Iron Company had some hands in the operations in Leetonia until 1906. Republic Iron and Steel Company took command of some portions of the company through a merger sometime around 1902, though they kept the "Cherry Valley" brand. The rolling mill was closed and dismantled around this time, though the furnace was still operating. Republic Iron and Steel Company was operated by Joshua Rhodes, who assumed command of many of the finances of Cherry Valley Iron Works. The Rhodes family has a long history in the coal and iron industries in Cleveland, Youngstown, and Pittsburgh. Politician Mark Hanna married into the prominent family and was active in several of the business ventures. In 1906 the Cherry Valley Iron Company changed its name to the United Iron and Steel Company. This company was formed in November of that year and took control of several of the assets formerly managed by Joshua Rhodes, including the operations in Leetonia, OH and Middlesex, PA. This company was operated by none other than Daniel Rhodes Hanna, the son of Mark Hanna. The M.A. Hanna Company had been interested in the area since at least 1913, when his company bid on McKeefrey Iron company, but were outbid by the Salem Iron Company. United Iron and Steel Company operated the facility in Leetonia until 1920, at this time the name was changed to M.A. Hanna Company, though the same family was in charge of the operation. Financial troubles hit the company starting in 1929. It began to unload its iron and coal producing assets and by 1930 the coke ovens and blast furnaces were closed for the last time.
In the early 1980's a group of concerned citizens, lead by local pharmacist John Roose, set out to save the abandoned industrial site, which had lain forgotten for 50 years. Working with the property owners, village officials, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, these citizens obtained the property and began cleanup efforts. In 1983 a five member board was formed to oversee the development of the park. The Village of Leetonia took over the project and began working with local groups to make the area more accessible and open to the public. The efforts were rewarded in 1999 when the Ohio Historical Society recognized the site with an historic marker.
The Leetonia Beehive Coke Oven Park continued to move forward when it was approached by. the Appalachian Coal Country Team in 2012. This nonprofit organization works with communities which have been affected by preregulatory mining practices to strengthen economic and ecological development. This partnership lead to the arrival of Marin Braco, a landscape architect. Ms. Braco worked in the village for 10 weeks in the summer of 2012. Her efforts lead to the development of a master plan which encompasses the broad design of the park and helps define the goals for the future. The Village of Leetonia is continuing a three year relationship with the Appalachian Coal Country Team to help oversee the development of the park and its impact on the community.
The Leetonia Beehive Coke Oven Park is utilizing this time define the steps that need to be taken in each phase to accomplish the immediate, short term, and long term goals of the park and the village. We are continuing to build relationships with organizations including the Columbiana County Parks District, local universities, local museums, and nature conservation groups.
The design drawings provided by Marin Braco are giving the Leetonia Beehive Coke Oven Park Commission the guidance to develop this project into a sustainable asset that will fulfill the mission statement. The village working through several projects which will increase the visibility,
safety, design, and educational prospects of the park. The village is working to build partnerships with the Ohio Department of Transportation, The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, local and regional foundations, and sustainability groups to complete the projects which will open the park up for hiking, biking, and historical and ecological education.
Many of the coke ovens have fallen into disrepair because of their exposure to the elements and the work of vandals. We hope to catalog and rate the damage done to each oven so that we can create a priority list for restoration. Our goal is to remove vegetation and restore the coke oven facades at the minimum. Full restoration would be ideal, but potentially cost prohibitive. This project will include draining the water filled trenches which currently surround the ovens. This will not only make the site more aesthetically appealing, but increase the safety of the park, and make the area look more historically accurate. We also hope to install security surveillance and light systems which will reduce the chances of future vandalization.
Once the oven facades have been restored, we hope to protect the top of the ovens with the application of a coating to reduce exposure to weather and plant life which could be harmful to the structure. We also hope to install walking trails with interpretive displays in between the ovens, which are currently filled with water. This will open the ovens up to more educational exploration and increase the structural integrity of the ovens. Walking trails will connect the historic industrial site to the nature preserve so that visitors will be able to see the impact of industry on the environment and why it is important to preserve natural areas.
If you would like to learn more about our efforts, volunteer time or materials, or make a monetary contribution please contact us at our office:
The Village of Leetonia Leetonia Beehive Coke Oven Park Commission
300 East Main Street
Leetonia, OH 44431
(330) 427 - 8090
or at LeetoniaCokeOvens@gmail.com
More information can also be found at: