Johnson sees link between ovens, today’s energy scene

Village officials have taken a giant step in its attempt to preserve and restore the Cherry Valley Beehive Coke Ovens.

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson visited the site on Thursday afternoon, saying it serves as a link between the area and the energy industry.

“It’s a remarkable starting point when talking about the relevance of the area on the energy scene,” he said. “Historically its very, very relevant in an energy renaissance (in oil and gas) along the Ohio River. You see a site that dates back to the 1800s as one of the first energy and manufacturing producers, critical to the manufacturing of steel.”

Justin Hite, community development coordinator for the village through the AmeriCorps OSM/VISTA program, described the visit as partnership building at the federal level.

“We’re trying to build partnerships with local, state and federal officials,” he said. “So to have him come here for a tour is exciting.”

In addition to touring the site, Hite and other officials discussed with Johnson the historical significance of the site, the proposed 35-acre park and possible funding for the long-term preservation and restoration project.

Johnson said even though federal money cannot be earmarked for the project, there are a multitude of creative funding sources at the private and state levels that can be used for the Appalachian Coal Country Team and the Americorps Vista program.

“It’s not an investment … instead, promote the energy history of the site,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to be a part of a journey that began a long, long time ago. We have to find ways of funding needs like this (without earmarks) at the federal level.”

Johnson suggested specifically private and public partnerships, such as oil and gas companies seeking community involvement, particularly since the coke ovens are part of the energy industry legacy.

Kevin Howell can be reached at