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Bretz Coke Ovens


The Bretz coke ovens, the last beehive coke ovens to operate in West Virginia, are located in Preston County a half-mile southwest of Masontown. The town of Bretz and the mining plant there were built by the West Virginia Coal Company about 1903, and were named for an official of the Morgantown & Kingwood Railroad. After purchasing this railroad in 1902, Stephen B. Elkins acquired Bretz in 1906, then built 400 beehive coke ovens there. His Elkins Coal & Coke Company put the ovens into full production in 1907, shipping the coke to the huge steel plant at Sparrows Point near Baltimore. In 1919, Bethlehem Steel Corporation acquired the Bretz property, but shut it down the following year and moved its coking operations to a modern byproduct facility in Baltimore. The Bretz mine and coke ovens were operated only intermittently, during periods of peak steel production, until 1953, when the Mercury Coal & Coke Company purchased the property. New coal handling equipment was installed, the ovens were refurbished, and the facility was put back into operation. It operated on a nearly full-time basis until 1981.

As one of the last surviving beehive coke making operations in the nation, the Bretz coke ovens and mining plant were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 as the Elkins Coal & Coke Company Historic District. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1983.

Read the National Register nomination.

Written by Michael Edward Workman


  1. "Elkins Coal & Coke Company Historic District." National Register of Historic Places Nomination, West Virginia Division of Culture & History, 1978.