Back to Chronicle Page    Home Page

RENOUF’S BEACH AND ALCOA'S COAL MINE

There was at the beginning of 1917, a very considerable shortage in the amount of steam coal available for industrial use. This caused considerable concern at the Aluminum Company of America’s plant in New Kensington and plans were made to eliminate this problem.

Accordingly, the Aluminum Company of America decided to purchase a tract of coal property that would be conveniently situated from the standpoint of shipping.

It was learned that George S. Baton, a mining engineer residing in Pittsburgh, PA, had an interest in a coal development located at what was commonly called Renouf’s Beach, PA. The matter was investigated and the Aluminum Company of America purchased from George S. Baton and Mary B. Baton, his wife, under date of October 26, 1917, the coal property referred to:

The property was located on the bank of the Allegheny River immediately north of, or on the upstream side from, the old river crossing at "Crag Dell" or what was then called Tarentum Road. At the mine location was a prepay station of the Pennsylvania Railroad known as Renouf’s Beach. The station name came from the fact that a man by the name of Renouf operated a ferry across the river at this point; also a bathing beach. This point was about three miles upstream or north from the New Kensington Works.

This property consisted of about three acres of surface ground and 1,075 acres of coal.

At the time of the purchase, an agreement was made with Mr. George J. Baton to develop the mine. Mr. Baton was in charge of the mine until July 1918, when the Aluminum Company of America took over the mine operations.

A combination railroad and river tipple was build. A small office, a storage building, and railroad sidings were erected. The Company purchased three wooden barges and built a stationery dock under the river tipple. During the following winter ice destroyed the dock and the company purchased a floating dock in its place.

The mine was well equipped with an inside generator station, an electrically driven fan, locomotives, and about 200 mine cars. The operation took on the name of the "Aluminum Mine. An unloading plant, with hopper and derrick, was installed on the riverbank at the New Kensington Works. An underground conveyor connected the hopper with the New Kensington boiler house leading to a bucket conveyor that feed the boiler house burners.

From early spring to late fall, the New Kensington Works was served via the river and during the balance of the year by rail. Coal was also supplied by rail from the mine to Alcoa plants at Niagara, Massena, Edgewater, Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo.

Operations at the mine moved along smoothly. During 1918 and early 1919 some construction work had to be finished. The average number of total personnel employed at the mine, both underground and on the surface, was as follows:

1918 - 100 men
1919 - 120 men
1920 - 110 men
1921 - 85 men
1922 - 145 men
1923 - 148 men

The mine was not operated from April 1 to September 1922.

The mine was designed to be of 700-ton capacity. This figure was exceeded at times and during emergencies the number was considerably higher.

Alcoa also owned a fleet of 21 hopper railroad coal cars; nineteen were of steel and two of wooden construction.

The coal mine ceased operations the first week in December 1923 and no coal was taken out after that date. The reason for stopping operations was principally because Alcoa could purchase coal from other companies for less money than it cost to operate the mine. Also, the coal that remained in the hills was considered as insurance for future shortages.

From the time the mine closed, and continuing until the mine was sold, two men were employed there in the capacity of watchmen. They kept water pumped out of the workings, and otherwise had things in such a condition that operations could be resumed on reasonable notice. The railroad cars were shipped to the Alcoa’s East St. Louis plant. The dock and barges were disposed. The flood of March, 1936, played havoc with the river tipple and during 1937, the tipple was torn down as a safety precaution.

Immediately upriver or north of Alcoa’s original mine, a man by the name of George F. Boyd operated his coal mine. Not being a mining engineer, he worked in a rather uncertain fashion. Early in 1925, it was discovered that he was mining on Alcoa’s property taking out their coal. He was stopped and Alcoa attempted to make a settlement. George Boyd had no money to pay for the coal he had taken and was anxious to stop mining here and move to Virginia. The Aluminum Company of America purchased his holdings in the adjoining property on June 29, 1925.

The additional property consisted of about 6.75 acres of surface and 64 acres more or less of coal land. It was doubtful how much workable coal there was as there was a very considerable rock roll. The purchase price was adjusted for the value of Alcoa coal that Mr. Boyd had removed.

On January 31, 1926 the Aluminum Company of America purchased from John McCartney Kennedy 217.395 acres of coal adjoining the original holdings.

In summary, the amount of Alcoa’s coal property was as follows:

Of the original 1,075 acres, it was estimated that 25 per cent was barren. This would mean roughly 806.25 acres of good coal. By depletion, this was decreased to 750.5 acres of coal. There were, in addition, the 217.395 acres purchased on January 31, 1928 and the approximately one acre in the Boyd mine. In total, the company owned 948.895 acres of unmined coal.

Alcoa also had 9.75 acres of surface land along the banks of the Allegheny River and with the original purchase had obtained ferry rights across the river.

This account of a local coal mining operation was copied from the historical records of the Aluminum Company of America. There is no additional information on when, or to whom this property was sold

Renouf’s Beach, on the New Kensington side of the Allegheny River, was a very popular swimming spot during the early 1900’s. Routine ferry service for those living on the Tarentum side of the river was provided to the beach by Mr. Renouf.

A number of local churches and fraternal organizations used the beach facility for their annual summer outings. The beach was equipped with bathhouses for changing clothes, a diving platform, rental canoes, and a food stand that served both hot and cold lunches. Trains, with swimmers from as far as Kittanning and Pittsburgh stopped at nearby Renouf's Station during June, July, and August. On most clear summer days, one could find scores of swimmers and sunbathers who had come to play or relax in the hot sun and cool water.

The construction of dams on the Allegheny River (Natrona dam built from 1920 to 1927) and the activities of the Alcoa coal mine prompted Renouf to dispose of his ferry service bath houses, and other river holdings in 1921.

Back to Chronicle Page    Home Page