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Belgian Coke Oven Ruin

Historic Site #46

Though the roar of the iron furnaces no longer echoes through the hills of Vinton County, there are reminders of days gone by at Vinton Furnace State Forest. Situated in the northern reaches of Ohio's Hanging Rock Iron Region which ran from Logan, Ohio to Mt. Savage, Kentucky  Vinton Furnace State Forest shows a glimpse of the rich industrial history of southeastern Ohio.

The Hanging Rock Iron Region was once one of the largest iron-producing regions in the nation. The area did not become an iron-producing juggernaut by chance. The location was endowed with the raw materials necessary to manufacture pig iron in charcoal-fired furnaces. By the time of the Civil War, Ohio had established 69 iron blast furnaces, including Vinton Iron Furnace, and produced more than 100,000 tons of iron each year.

These blast furnaces were used to smelt iron ore into cast iron. The furnaces were built of local sandstone in the shape of a truncated pyramid and lined with firebrick produced locally in kilns from clay mined in the area. They were generally charcoal fired, but many of these furnaces were later converted to use coal or coke when timber for charcoal became increasingly scarce. Coke was manufactured by burning coal in heaps on the ground so that only the outer layer burned, leaving the interior of the pile in a carbonized state.

Vinton Furnace operated from 1854 to 1883. In 1875 the charcoal-fired Vinton Furnace was converted to use coke for fuel.  The unique feature of the Vinton Furnace is the set of 24 Belgian coke ovens. The battery of ovens was used to process coal into the coke, which was then was used to fire the furnaces. Due to the local coal's high-sulfur content, efforts to produce coke capable of firing the iron furnace failed. Coal had to be brought in by railroad to produce satisfactory coke.

During the period of iron production, homes and community-based structures were erected to accommodate a growing community. Land clearing for farming, iron ore mining, clay mining, coal mining, and stone quarrying, in addition to logging for charcoal production, was extensive, significantly altering the landscape. Most of the old-growth forest was removed and the hillsides were stripped bare.

In the late 19th century, the discovery of high-grade ore in the Lake Superior Region brought the operation of the iron furnaces in Vinton County to a standstill. Today at Vinton Furnace State Forest, the stone ruins of the Belgian coke ovens point to a place in time where industry thrived in southeastern Ohio.

How to Get There:
Reaching the Belgian Coke Oven Ruins requires a sizable 5.6 mile out and back hike through the forest.

To begin the journey, park at the gated entrance located on Experimental Forest Road. The hike starts by following the remainder of Experimental Forest Road to the forest headquarters. Once you reach the forest headquarters, follow Pine Run Trail, a gravel trail, to the northwest.  

When you reach the end of the Pine Run Trail, there is a turnaround surrounding a tree. The path becomes a mowed natural surface trail at this point and descends a hill via several switchbacks. The path leads to the ruins of the Belgian Coke Ovens.

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