News: Withee – Black River Coke Kilns


Surnames: Brandt, Kowalski

---------Source: Withee Centennial (Owen, Clark County, Wis.) 2001

The early loggers were mainly interested in the pine trees and left the hard timber standing. It was another industry which made use of the hard timber stands, particularly the hard maple, that industry was the making of charcoal. Other operations were located near Spencer, Colby, Unity and Thorp. The Black River kilns were near the present Riverside Cemetery.

The charcoal kilns were owned by the Ashland Smelting Company. The Black River Coke Kilns were managed by August "Gust" Brandt. Gust also managed some of the other kilns in the area.

The kilns began operation about 1890. They were quite large, measuring 45 to 50 feet in diameter and 30 to 36 feet in height. The kilns were constructed of three layers of brick and had ten inch steel bands around them every four feet to prevent them from bursting from the tremendous heat.

There was a four foot door at the top of each kiln with a steel cover. Through this door workers would throw in the hard maple logs which were stacked in preparation for making charcoal. The kilns were filled full of logs to the top and the door was closed. Around the kilns and this door was a trestle for the worker to walk on and carry the logs.

After the kiln was filled with logs, the manager would start the fire at the bottom. The logs were only to smolder, to prevent them from being burned to ashes. The process of smoldering the logs into charcoal took about 48 hours.

After the charcoal had cooled, a large four foot wide and six foot high door at the bottom of the kilns was opened and the workers would enter to remove the charcoal. The men wore gloves and carried buckets made of wood with a hand grip on each end. With two men to each bucket the charcoal was carried out of the kilns to the rail cars on the spur line. The cars were low enough so the workers did not have to climb up to dump the buckets, but just walk to the edge and dump the charcoal in the cars. Each kiln had enough charcoal to fill two railroad cars.

The Black River Coke Kilns had nine kilns on the site. A spur line ran into the site from the main rail line that ran north of the kilns. There were five kilns to the south of the spur and four to the north. The kilns were shut down sometime around 1905.

Compiled by Mike Kowalski




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