The West Elk Loop Scenic and Historic Byway, in cooperation with Pitkin County, has been awarded $113,100 in grant funds from the Federal Highway Administration to restore a contiguous section of three of the historic Redstone Coke Ovens to their circa 1900 appearance. The Coke Ovens are owned by Pitkin County and located on the west side of CO Hwy 133, across from the main entrance to Redstone. Their restoration is an important component of a larger project underway that includes development of a master plan, interpretive signage, provision for access, and stabilization of the remaining ovens.
Other partners in the project include: the Redstone Historical Society, Redstone Historic Preservation Commission, Aspen Valley Land Trust, Colorado Department of Transportation, National Park Service, and the Federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Congressman John Salazar and Senator Mark Udall have remained supportive of the project as it has progressed. ”It is important that we keep this piece of living history alive for future generations,” wrote Congressman Salazar in a letter of support for the grant application.
The Redstone Coke Ovens have been recognized for their importance in telling the story of mining, industry, and settlement of the Rocky Mountain region. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic District in 1990.
Coke is the solid residue resulting from roasting coal, and is used as a reducing agent in the smelting of iron and production of steel. The Redstone Coke Ovens were constructed by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company in 1899, as exploding regional demand for steel necessitated expansion of the coking industry. CF&I owner, John Cleveland Osgood, eventually became the sixth-richest man in America, and was a hunting companion of Teddy Roosevelt. From 1900 to 1909, coal was brought down from Coal Basin, 4.5 miles to the west, via rail car, top-loaded into the ovens, and cooked for 48 hours. The steaming-hot coke was then raked by hand from the front face of the ovens and loaded onto rail cars bound for the smelters at CF&I’s steel plant in Pueblo, Colorado. There it was used to produce the iron and steel which was forming the very sinews of America’s expanding frontier.
“The coke ovens are one of the most visible historic features of the District,” commented Suzannah Reid, Pitkin County Historic Preservation Officer. “These structures provide clues to the history of the region; one that spans from the life of a single anonymous mine worker to the vision and success of one of America’s wealthiest industrialists. The Redstone Historic Preservation Commission is very excited about the opportunity to see this site stabilized and improved, so that a comprehensive story of the evolution of this area can be told.”
The grant is part of the Federal Highway Administration’s National Scenic Byways Program, which recognizes and provides funding for roads designated either locally or nationally as having outstanding scenic, historic, cultural, natural, recreational and archaeological qualities. The West Elk Loop Scenic and Historic Byway is formed by the boundaries of CO Highways 133 and 92 and US Hwy 50, with gateways at Carbondale, Hotchkiss, and Gunnison.
The Redstone Coke Ovens are one of 160 projects nation wide, including five in Colorado, to receive National Scenic Byway grant funding. Colorado will be receiving $513,100 of the more than $40.7 million awarded nationally in 2009.