Helena Historical Preservation Committee leads hike

By MACKENZEE SIMMS | Staff Writer

HELENA – Under the swaying branches of old trees, the Helena Historic Preservation Committee led a group of around 45 people on a historical hike to Helena’s coke ovens on Saturday, April 6.

Coke refers to a coal-based fuel created by baking the impurities out of coal in an oven and is valued for its use in iron-ore smelting and production. According to HHPC member Linda Wurstner, this process was especially important due to the quality of coal mined in Helena.

“As Butch Botters—who led the hike on Saturday—pointed out, Helena’s coal was not that clean,” Wurstner said. “We had to wash it and put it in the coke ovens and burn it down.”

According to the HHPC, Helena once had 12 coke ovens on land owned by coal prospector Billy Gould, likely operated by the Eureka Company. The remnants of the Helena coke ovens are the only surviving coke ovens in this part of the Cahaba coal field and perhaps the earliest coke ovens to be constructed in Alabama.

In addition to touring the remnants of the coke ovens, hikers also had the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Wilson’s Raiders and see the bridge supports in Buck Creek and the Cahaba River.

“We were able to see the bridge supports in the Cahaba River,” Wurstner said. “There’s a story on our Facebook page about how Wilson’s Raiders rushed across those and into Helena and did so much damage just because our troops forgot to secure that bridge. They also burned about 3,000 pounds of coal that were at the Gould mines.”

The most recent historical hike is one installment in a long list of events hosted by the HHPC so far this year.

To start the year, the HHPC hosted a hike on the other side of Buck Creek to see the bridge supports on Feb. 3. This hike featured 82 total members of the community.

The HHPC also hosted a community cleanup day at Harmony Cemetery on Saturday, Feb. 17. Community members, including six Helena Belles and three boy scouts, joined the HHPC to whack privet and clear vines away from the graves.

The most recent event prior to the hike was an education night at Helena City Hall with a presentation on the history of Sloss Furnace and its operations from Sloss Furnace Education Coordinator Ty Malugani on Tuesday, March 19.

Those interested in learning more about the Helena Historic Preservation Committee can visit Facebook.com/HelenaHistory.

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