Historical Hike explores the history of the Gould Coke Ovens

By NATHAN HOWELL | Staff Writer

HELENA – The Helena Historic Preservation Committee recently hosted a hike that explored the history of the Gould Coke Ovens that provide a unique look at Helena’s past.

According to Linda Wurstner, who sits on the committee, they host this hike as a way to let people know about the rich history of the city.

The group met up outside of the Helena Sports Complex and hiked down Ruffin Road, which leads to a dirt road and then down to the site of the ovens.

According to Wurstner, one of the most interesting things to learn about the ovens is why they were put there in the first place, which involved some detailed history on Billy Gould, who they are named after.

“Billy worked in several areas of Alabama, sending coal down the Coosa and Alabama rivers to eager buyers. When the Civil War broke out, he came to Helena and bought 1700 acres where Buck Creek poured in to the Cahaba River,” Wurstner said. “Soon 12 coke ovens popped up near Billy’s Helena mines.  Many refer to them as the “Billy Gould Coke Ovens”, but they were more and likely operated by the Eureka Company on Billy’s land.”

Gould eventually left Helena in 1871, but the ovens still stand today as a testament to far-reaching history of the coal industry throughout the area.

Wurstner said that she was grateful that the committee could provide a safe and healthy outdoor activity for all of the guests who were interested in learning about Helena’s history.

“It was a nice day. We have not been able to take things to a lot of historical things with the committee during the pandemic,” she explained. “People love being able to go back there and see the ovens, and learn about the city’s history.”

The HHPC is hoping to do more regular events like this as things open up in the future to explore the history of the city. They regularly publish historical information about the city through the Helena Historic Preservation Committee Facebook page.