Vinton Iron Furnace

By Emmett A. Conway, The Olde Forester

Vinton Furnace
After modernization by Charles Innis Rader

Vinton Furnace with buildings
(picture credit: Ohio Historical Society)

Vinton Furnace today
Site preserved as Mead Corporation Sanctuary
on Vinton Furnace Tract

Location: Madison Twp., Vinton County, Ohio

Dates: 1854 - 1883

Fuel: Charcoal/Coke

Condition: Located on land owned by Mead Timber, Inc.  Part of the stack still remains and the foundation for the engine house can still be seen.  Flues for the hot blast house are still visible in the boiler area.  The most important vintage at the Vinton site is the battery of Belgian Coke Ovens which may be the only ovens of this type in the entire world.  Those ovens are threatened by tree roots and other foliage.  I would urge the Mead Company to remove the trees growing on the ovens and to use a herbicide spray to eliminate further growth of foliage. (Condition reported by Richard Leive in the Fall of 2000.)


The following history was written by Dr. Wilbur Stout of the Ohio Geological Survey, Columbus, Ohio. The two sections were part of a report titled, "Report of a Casual Inspection and Study of the Vinton Coal and Iron Company Property now owned by D. B. Frampton & Company, Pittsburgh, PA." This report was written by J. J. McKitterick, Mining Engineer, Jackson, OH, December, 1944. The Olde Forester retains a copy of this report.

Vinton Furnace - Charcoal
by Wilbur Stout

    Clark, Culbertson and Company in 1853 selected a site for a charcoal furnace on Elk Fork in the central part of Section 31, Madison Township, Vinton County as the area was well supplied with timber and, as they thought, ore and limestone and was close to the line of the newly projected base of the hill on the south bank of the stream where the Ferriferous ore and Vanport limestone were not far above the level of the top of the stack. By road it was two and one-fourth miles southeast of Vinton Station and five miles southeast of McArthur, the county seat.
    Vinton furnace was placed in blast in 1854. Mr. Culbertson of the original company soon retired for in 1859 the firm was Means, Clark and Company. At this time Cyrus Newkirk was manager of the works. The original stack was 11 feet across the boshes, 32 1/2 feet in height and in forty-seven weeks of 1857 made about 3,100 tons of foundry iron from the local ores.
    About 1868 or 1869 this firm sank a shaft west of the furnace and about 130 feet in depth to the Quakertown or No. 2 coal with the intention of using it as fuel. In 1872 Thomas B. Bancroft and his partner, Charles I. Rader, leased the property from the Philadelphia owners and undertook the smelting of the local ores with the shaft coal. This fuel, however, was unsuited for this purpose as the bed was very faulty and the coal high in sulphur and ash. The firm was now known as the Vinton Coal and Iron Company as both pig metal and coal were offered to the trade. The old charcoal stack, Vinton furnace, ceased operation in about 1883. Soon after this a coal furnace, 50 by 11 feet, was built on the site.
    Like most of the other charcoal furnaces in the Hanging Rock Iron District, Vinton furnace was built and lined with the local sandstones from the coal formations. It was operated by steam power and either
with hot or cold blast. The furnace had switch connections to the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad.
    In the vicinity of the furnace the main ore member was the Ferriferous which was only locally present through lack of development and through replacement by sandstone. The chief supply of ore was secured from the Upper Mercer of Big Red Block member in southwestern Swan Township and was loaded for shipment to the furnace at Creola. In this field the ore was from 4 to 12 inches in thickness and of good quality. For fluxing purposes the Vanport limestone was used entirely. The quarry was in the northern part of Section 36, Elk township about three-fourths mile northwest of the furnace.
Wilbur Stout's References:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1887, page 46-51.

Geological Survey of Ohio, Vol. V. 1884, page 458.

History of the Hanging Rock Iron Region, 1916. Willard, Williams, Newman and Taylor. Vol. 1 pages 265, 266, 600-601.

The Portsmouth Inquirer, Friday, Jan. 7, 1853.

Personal Letter, John Bancroft, Sr. Wilmington, Delaware. May 2, 1933.

Notes by Nan B. Akin, Columbus, Ohio. 1933.

"A Century of Ironmaking in Southern Ohio." John D. Knox. The Iron Trade Review, Sept. 30, 1920, page 924.

Iron Manufacturer's Guide. J. P. Lesley, 1859, page 114.


Vinton Furnace - Coal
by Wilbur Stout

    With the advent of coal as a metallurigical fuel the old charcoal furnaces were gradually forced to give way to the newer, then more modern, stacks. Many of the original sites, however, offered advantages of ore, limestone, coal, transportation, houses, etc. favorable for the erection of furnaces using either coal or coke for the fuel of the burden. Vinton was one of several sites where the charcoal furnace was succeeded by a coal furnace. This was accomplished by Bancroft and Rader who under the name of Vinton Coal and Iron Company took over the Vinton furnace property and in November, 1873, went to work to erect a modern plant at the side of the original charcoal stack.
    Thomas B. Bancroft, who was the financial part of the firm and who did not take a direct part in the management of the furnace, was in the anthracite coal business at Schuyler, Nelson County, Virginia. He staked his capital against Rader's knowledge. Charles Innis Rader was educated in metallurgy in Freiburg, Germany. He came to this country and almost immediately afterwards formed the partnership with Bancroft and went to Vinton County to erect the new furnace and the coke ovens. He was well educated and an accomplished musician. On leaving Vinton County about 1880 he went to Sharon, Pennsylvania and there took charge of furnaces owned by Mr. Kimberly.
    For that time the new Vinton furnace, under the name of Vinton Coal and Iron Company, was modern in every respect. It had a steel jacket, was water cooled, had special devices for charging and casting, and had efficient hot blast stoves. This stack was 50 feet in height by 11 feet in diameter at the boshes. The rated capacity was 20 tons of metal per day or 6,000 tons per year.
    Bancroft and Rader first attempted to use raw Quakertown coal as the fuel. This was taken from a shaft 130 feet in depth and located near the school about one-fourth miles north-west of the furnace. Thus burdened the furnace was not a success. The failure was due not so much to the content of sulphur and ash as to the rapidity of burning of the fuel. The analysis of the coal is given below:
Thickness Moisture Volatile
Ash Sulphur
Upper bench 1ft. 3 in. 4.90 30.70 57.80 6.60 .65
Lower bench  1ft. 4 in. 4.60 29.00 55.80 10.60 1.30

    The next attempt was to coke the Clarion coal found in good thickness near the furnace in a battery of Belgian ovens. The coal coked readily, gave a yield of about 56 per cent, and produced a product with excellent strength and structure but with a content of sulphur prohibitive for metallurgical purposes. Where mined the Clarion coal had the following structure:
Shale gray, with small ore nodules 15' 
Coal fair 1' 2"
Shale 1/2"
Coal bony 1 1/2"
Clay dark 4"
Coal good  Clarion 1' 6"
Clay with pyrite 1"
Coal good 1' 2"
Clay siliceous 10"
Coal good 1' 2"
Clay siliceous 1' 

    The analysis of this coal is approximated by that of another sample taken not far distant. The results are given below:

Moisture 4.80
Volatile Matter  40.56
Fixed carbon 42.21
Ash 15.43
Sulphur 3.51

    For coking purposes the battery consisted of 24 ovens, each 2 feet 6 inches wide, 24 feet 3 inches long, 5 feet 10 inches high to spring at arch, and 9 inch rise in arch. The walls between the separate ovens were 1 foot 4 inches thick. The brick for the ovens were shipped direct from Belgium and were 13 inches long by 4 1.2 inches wide by 4 inches thick. Special arch and skew brick were used in the roof. The failure of the enterprise was not through the furnace or the coke oven, but through the high sulphur content of the coal.
    After this experience the furnace was run for a few years on coal shipped from near Athens in the Hocking Valley. The company brought a car load of raw emigrants from Ellis Island, mainly Germans and Poles, to work at the furnace and in the mines. In much of the work the women worked side by side with the men. the furnace ran until 1879 or 1800 when the Vinton Coal and Iron Company was caught in the crash of Jay Cook and in the panic that followed. Soon afterward the works were dismantled and the place practically abandoned.


Wilbur Stout's References:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1887, page 46-51.

Geological Survey of Ohio, Vol. V. 1884, page 458.

Personal Letter, John Bancroft, Sr. Wilmington, Delaware. May 2, 1933.

Notes by Nan B. Akin, Columbus, Ohio. June 22, 1933.

Directory to the Iron and Steel Works of the United States, The American Iron and Steel Association. 1884, page 56.

Belgian Ovens Coke Plant


by The Olde Forester, Emmett A. Conway
    In a second beginning the new owners of The Vinton Coal and Iron Company southeast of McArthur, Ohio, hired Charles Innes Rader to modernize and operate the 1853-54 stone charcoal blast furnace. Rader had studied mining and metallurgy at Freiburg University, Germany,  and was, no doubt, learned in all the latest innovations in Europe.

 The Olde Forester visited Freiburg University in 1978 and confirmed that they did, indeed, teach mining and metallurgy c1850 but no longer. A forest policy professor confirmed this after an investigation.  We learned at the small Black Forest village of Waldkirck from a farmer living in a 350 year old BARNHAUS that “there had been iron blast furnaces in Waldkirck, but only the streets remember.”  We would-be historians cherish that comment.

 The Vinton Furnace managers have met with, what must have been, bitter disappointment with the coke produced by the Belgian Ovens.  James G. McKitterick, in a Report on the Mineral Potential of Vinton Furnace Tract in 1945 for a potential timber buyer, stated that the “hill coal’ (Clarion No. 4a) was too high in sulfur for use in the blast furnace. No other coal on the property was suitable either.

 McKitterick, in his comprehensive report, and as can be seen today from observations, used the expensive ovens for roasting the raw ore. Ore covers the floors of the chambers.

 We searched for some of the coal coke and found small piles under the many layers of leaves.   The coke is firm.

In 1997 we examined the Belgian Oven remains with John Scurlock. John was an old friend who had supervised the building of modern coke plants at McNally Pittsburg plant in Wellston, Ohio. “Tricks of the trade, and a coke plant maker is made”, would have been a statement of Homer as often said in THE ILIAD.  Unfortunately, John passed away in February, 1998.

 John Scurlock’s observations are as follows with reference to a 1875 news article which appeared when the coke plant first opened. The news article is reprinted below:

1.  The pushing engine would have been powered by steam and moved on transfer tracks as needed -- much the same as modern coke plants.

2.  There is a space between the ovens and a pile of decomposed material, presumably washed coal as described in the 1875 news article. The space is about 24 feet wide, not measured.  Under this transfer pusher area there might be remains of cross ties or stringers and, perhaps, some dropped metal; but it doesn't appear that the salvagers left anything behind.

3.  Grooves for the door pintles show on each chamber opening.

4.   Air for combustion appears to have been provided by two two inch openings on each side of a door.   I noted that a hole leads from these main ducts into the combustion flues. These appear to be about a half inch in diameter.

5.  Two charging holes appear on top for each oven.  The top is covered with vegetation and is probably a sunning place for snakes, copperheads, rattlesnakes, etc.

6.  A bulwark supports the north end at the edge of the drop off.
Collapsed or unfinished ovens lie in piles on the south.

7.   The ovens are a masterpiece of ceramics. Each oven is a replica of the others.  We don't know how many individual patterns were required but there are arch parts, angles, tees, v’s, and circles for the charging holes.

8.  A controversy exists about whether the oven bricks were made in Belgium or in the US
A.  Robert Vogel, Smithsonian engineer retired said upon examination, that they would have been of domestic manufacture. Richard Conway, ceramic engineer, agreed.  James McKitterick, in his report to Mr. Frampton, said they were made abroad.  McKitterick was a careful researcher .


The following is excerpts from an article appearing in the McArthur Enquirer dated November 17, 1875. The article has been edited and reporduced by Richard H. Leive.

Operation at the Vinton Coke Oven Site
Our readers will remember that in May last we noticed, in these columns, the preparation being made by Messrs. Bancroft & Rader, proprietors of the Vinton Furnace, for converting coal into coke.  At that time,
Mr. Charles I. Rader was superintending the construction of a small oven for the purpose of experimenting with the hill coal on the lands of the Vinton Furnace & Coal Co.  By the process in that oven, a very excellent quality of coke was produced.  It was then resolved to go into the manufacture of coke on a larger manufacture a sufficient quantity required for the use in the furnace.

The erection of a building 50 feet high, 62 feet long, and 32 feet wide in which to place an engine and machinery took place.  The construction of 24 ovens on a site just south of the furnace stack was started together with the excavation of ground in preparation for the laying of a pavement of firebrick 40 by 100 feet on which coke from the ovens would be discharged.  On the opposite side of the oven battery, a track was laid upon which to operate a coke pushing engine.  All of that was completed over a month ago, when the engine and machinery were set up, and everything made ready for operation.

A 30 horse power engine was furnished by the Portsmouth Foundry & Machine Co. at a cost of $1,400.  One of H. Bradford's Coal and Ore Separators was provided by Carter, Allen & Co. of Tomaqua, PA at a cost of $6,000.  The Jigger and Separator were placed in perfect running order by William Leckie, a gentleman from Philadelphia, sent by the Patentee.

There are two methods of manufacture of coke in in ovens, and the other in large open heaps on the ground.  The twenty-four ovens built by Messrs. Bancroft & Rader are more durable and far superior in every respect to any ever built in this or in the old world countries. They are known as "J. King McClananan's Improved Coke Ovens," and are an improvement on the "Belgian type" of coke ovens.

Messrs. Bamcroft & Rader, two of the most energetic iron manufacturers in Ohio, notwithstanding the distressing conditions of money market of the country, have already spent over $46,000 in the enterprise.

The ovens are built with Webster Firebrick, arranged together in one stack, each oven being 22 feet long, 6 feet high and arched over the top, and 2 1/2 feet wide, covering an area of 22 by 100 feet.  The two outside ovens are supported by substantial stone abutments.  There are 20 down flues to each oven and 4 up flues leading to a chimney.  The 30 down flues lead to the 4 up flues, which connect with the chimney, 8 feet high, on each oven.  The gas from the coal enters the down flues, passes around and under the bottom and through the up flues to the chimneys, thereby completely surrounding the coal to be coked with hot sides and bottom.  The charge of coal is 5 1/2 feet in thickness, or about 180 bushels, and the time consumed in the coking process occupies about 48 hours.  At both ends of each oven are very heave iron doors lined with fire clay.  When the coal is charged, those doors are closed and thoroughly luted with common or yellow clay to prevent the access of any air whatever.  When the coke is ready to be drawn, the iron doors are opened, and a powerful pushing engine is immediately run in front of the open oven and the plug of coke is discharged to the opposite side where it is immediately quenched by a stream of water.  The water, besides preventing combustion, eliminates a considerable amount of sulphur. The coke is now ready for use in the furnace and is filled in iron barrows  or buggies and run directly to the tunnel head to be charged into the furnace.

The coal used by Messrs. Bancroft & Rader is of the hill vein, commonly known as the limestone vein of coal.  It is mined by drifting, the mouth of the drift being only 200 yards from the furnace stack or from the coal separator.  The quantity of coal in that hiss alone is said to be sufficient to supply the wants of the furnace for twenty years.  The coal, as it comes from the mine, is dumped over screen bars into a large hopper.  Pieces too large to pass through the screen are broken so that no piece will exceed 4 inches square is size.  From that hopper, the coal is fed to a set of toothed rollers which crush it to a size not to exceed 1/2 inch square.  The coal from these rollers then passes through a small hopper beneath, from where it is taken by elevator buckets and carried to a distance of 50 feet in height where it is delivered to a revolving screen.  All pieces too large to pass through the screen are returned, by means of a chute, to a second set of rollers which crushes it to the required size and delivers it to the same set of elevators as before described.  The coal, as it passes through the screen, becomes assorted and is then delivered to jigs or separators, which have an up and down motion in water of 200 strokes per minute.  The bottom of the jigs or separators consist of perforated sheets of iron with openings not larger than 1/2 inch square.  The motion of the jigs in water keeps the coal in constant suspension and the specific gravity of the coal, being lighter than that of slate or sulphur, the coal passes over and into a hopper from which it is elevated and delivered to two bins of 100 tons capacity each.  Under the bins is a continuation of the small railroad track leading to the top of the ovens.  On the bottom of each bin are two gates, under which gates hopper cars are placed to receive the supplies of coal for charging the ovens.  The slate and sulphur, being heavier than the coal, falls through the perforated sheets of the jig and passes through another hopper when it is taken to the slate elevator and delivered to the "waste pile."

Inside the building, only four men are required to operate the machinery, viz:  one engineer, who is his own fireman, and who operates the coke pushing engine when the coke is ready to be pushed out of the ovens; one weigher of coal who prepares it for dumping into the chute; one feeder; and one assorter who removes large pieces of slate, sulphur, etc.  Outside the building, five men are also employed, viz:  two to charge the ovens; two to attend the opening and closing of the iron doors; and one to water and remove the coke.

The works are eligibly located near the furnace.  A railroad of two miles in length runs to the M & C Railroad at Vinton Station, which enables the Furnace Company to ship their iron or to ship coke to any part of the country.



The following is a copy of a newspaper report dated 11/25/1875 which Lawrence McWhorter, Hamden, OH, found in the Democratic Inquirer archives.  He recognized its historical importance in the Iron Industry of The Hanging Rock Iron Region.

The article was written at the opening of the coke plant and at the time the new process was thought to be successful. Unfortunately, the local coal proved to be too high in sulphur content and couldn't be used.

The article originally appeared in the Cincinnati Gazette and was written by a technical writer.

Cost of Production Greatly Reduced
Special Correspondence - CINCINNATI GAZETTE
     Having noticed some time ago a long article about the new Etna furnace of Ironton, I wish to draw your attention to a work that has been quietly going on in our vicinity for the last few months, pregnant with as great benefits to the iron makers of the Hanging Rock Region as that of the Etna Furnace.
     Both parties have probably been aiming at the same results, vis.: The successful use of our stone coals in the manufacture of iron, and the result in our case gives evidence of entire success.
     About June last Messrs. Bancroft & Rader, of the Vinton Furnace, conceived the idea of adapting what is known as ‘THE BRADFORD SEPARATOR’ to the washing and cleaning of their coal previous to coking it.  The firm have for the last two years been experimenting with their hill coals with a view of coking for use in smelting iron, but with no very flattering results.  This separator they found to be in use at the Cambria Iron Works at Johnston, PA, with good results and a visit of one of the firm to those works decided them upon its adoption.  Previous to committing themselves to it, however, they, with the consent of the Hon. D. J. Morrell, Manager of the Cambria Iron Works, sent about ten tons of their coke to Johnstown, where it was subjected to the same process, and turned out a fair coke.  Some necessary changes were required in the machinery to suit the coal of this section, however.
 The firm, with their accustomed energy, at once commenced work upon their own property for the furtherance of their designs.  A contract was made for a battery of Belgian ovens and a coke pushing engine and also one for the ‘Bradford Separator’.  All such enterprises require time, and after many delays and disappointments, the machinery, was got into operation last week, and yesterday the first coke was discharged from the ovens, and the result proved satisfactory beyond a doubt.
     We happened to be present at the first discharge, and one and all expressed themselves as entirely satisfied that the problem is at last successfully solved.  The coke, to all appearance, was equal to Connelsville, and Mr. Rader says he feels no doubt of his ability to make a strictly No. 1 iron with this fuel.  The; iron previously made by this firm ranks high in the market, and they feel confident of making, with their own coke, as good iron as they made with Connelsville. Furnacemen and land-owners in this vicinity have looked with much interest upon this experiment, and the result is gratifying beyond expression, as it opens up a new use at home for a coal, of which immense bodies exist, but which hitherto has been without a market except upon the line of the M. & C. R,R.
     I will endeavor to give your readers some idea of the process as I have observed it when at the furnace.  The coal is ordinary hill coal of this region, and found from eighteen to twenty feet below the limestone ore.  This is taken first to the crusher, where it is broken up into small pieces of a size to permit them passing through a screen of about five-eights mesh.  It is then elevated and passed through the screen, from which it passes to the ‘Separator.’  This is simply a sieve working up and down in water, and by this process the whole of the slate and sulfur in the coal (being of greater specific gravity than the coal) sinks to the bottom of the sieve, and passes out there, while the clean coal flows out over the top and is carried to bins where it is left to drain off its water and dry sufficiently to go into the ovens.  From these bins it is taken in iron cars right out  upon the top of the ovens and drops into them through holes made for that purpose.  When coked for thirty-six to forty-eight hours it is pushed from the ovens in a solid mass or plug and extinguished by a stream of water poured upon it and it is then ready for use.  These ovens are of the Belgian type, and twenty four in number, standing side by side in a row or battery.  On one side is the coke floor, upon which the coke is discharged when coked sufficiently.  Upon the other side stands a pushing engine, which runs upon a track the whole length of the ovens, and from which when the ovens are opened there issues a huge plunger, which passes entirely through the ovens and shoves the m ass of coke out upon the other side, thus dispensing with the use of men and rakes to empty them, and discharging and filling an oven in about three minutes.  The ovens themselves are simply rectangular tubes of fire brick, twenty-two feet long, three feet wide and six feet high, with cast iron doors at each end.  Above, below and around each however, runs a system of flues through which are carried the gases evolved in coking, and which are thus utilized in creating greater heat for this purpose.  Messrs. Bancroft & Rader expect to be able to put their furnace into blast about the first of December, which; we shall know with more certainty the quality of iron this coke will make.  No fears, however, are entertained of the result, and this community without a dissenting voice wish them ‘God speed.’

      Yours, Vinton County”



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