Along the roadside of Colorado Highway 133 at Redstone is a real head turner. A row of ovens, beehive in appearance, stand silently among the tall grass, a unique fragment of state history.
Built at the end of the 19th century by Colorado Fuel and Iron (CFI), the Redstone Coke Ovens were used to refine the coal that was mined nearby into a substance known as coke. This substance is not to be confused with the drink or the drug; it is a derivative of coal and is used by blacksmiths and in the process of smelting iron ore. Because coke was smokeless, it was a viable domestic heating source. Discovered to have superior heat shielding properties, it was also used in conjunction with other materials in the heat shielding of NASA’s Apollo Command Module.
The story of the Redstone Coke Ovens is one of boom and bust. At peak in the early 1900’s, Redstone workers were producing almost six million tons a year. However, due to the costs of shipping, and CFI’s shift of focus from coal to steel, coke refining was deemed unprofitable, and, merely ten years after they were built, the ovens were shut down.
The ovens were left to decay for a time. During World War II, much of the steel was removed and donated to scrap metal drives. In the 1960’s and 70’s, hippies were drawn to the area, and utilized the structures as living quarters.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, residents of the local historical society led the charge for restoration, and, in 2011, some of the remaining ovens were restored.
Visiting in 2016, it looked as if attention towards the project had waned a bit, possibly due to lack of funding. The brief, yet interesting stop was worthwhile, and I definitely appreciate the effort made to preserve this fascinating structure!