Located at the intersection of State Highway 133 and Chair Mountain Stables Road in the town of Redstone, Colorado stands 90 historic coke ovens — but what is a coke oven, and why are they here?

When they were originally constructed back in the late 1890s, there were 249 coke ovens at this Colorado location. The concept was the brainchild of The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company and aimed to serve a purpose that was greatly needed in the mining industry at the time.

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The beehive-looking structures are built out of firebrick and can withstand extremely high temperatures. The purpose behind this was so that they could be used to burn impurities out of coal. Coal was loaded through the hole in the top and then heated up to a steamy 2,400-degrees Fahrenheit. When the coal got that hot inside, it would transform into coke. Following the transformation, the final product was taken out of a second opening in the front of the ovens. Once the process was complete, coking coal was shipped off to places around the country and used to create steel and smelting ores. Much of the steel made from the coking coal was used to build railroads.

The Redstone location was the largest coking operation in the state of Colorado. Although the ovens were only used for 10 years, they produced an average of around six million tons of coke annually. When the nearby Coal Basin closed, the miners moved on and stopped using the coke ovens.

During World War II, the support steel was removed from the ovens for scrap metal. Years after that, hippies made their way to Redstone and used the firebrick beehives as their homes.

After the hippies left, the coke ovens were becoming pretty dilapidated. In order to preserve what was still left, the remaining coke ovens were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. They are free for the public to stop and look at, all you have to do is pull right off the road to check them out.

There are several other, but not very many, former coke oven operations still standing across western America.

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