Cement silos and towering buildings once adorned the Alpha Portland Cement Company in Ironton, Ohio, producing quality cement for such projects for a major bridge project and providing foundations and roads for the area. Abandoned after a period of financial difficulties, the complex was razed in 2010.
The Ironton Portland Cement Company was founded in the late 1800s and was later acquired by the Ironton Cement Company. In 1910, the company discovered a 100-foot thick vein of limestone 575 feet under the plant property while drilling for gas.8 The operations was purchased by the Alpha Portland Cement Company in 1920.
In May of 1924, two stock houses were constructed by the Macdonald Engineering Company. The stockhouses had a storage capacity of 170,000 bbls., consisting of eight bins 33-feet inside diameter by 80-feet high. The concrete structures were built with a moveable form, which meant that the concrete was poured continuously throughout the day and night. The walls were called ‘monolithic.’ An average of eight-feet per day in height was constructed, with ideal days pushing that up to sixteen-feet.
The finished cement at the storage plants was carried by screw conveyors and bucket elevators from the finish mill to the stockhouse for storing. When it was ready to ship to customers, the cement was drawn from the bottom of the silos into the screw conveyors, and was done through numerous spouts and feeders under each bin. The screw conveyors under the bins carried the cement to bucket elevators which elevated the cement to the screens above the packing bins. The screens were the screw conveyor type, which perforated housings to catch spray material or heavy lumps of cement from going to the packers.
Above each of these packers were packing bins which held approximately 350 bbls. of cement each. The amount of storage above the packer meant that the machine could keep going at short periods even though part of the equipment had to be stopped for repair or replacement. The packing machines were in pairs, meaning that the machines could deliver to each side of the packhouse. This was done via belt conveyors and the usual apron was provided to load to hand trucks for busing into the rail cars. Two railroad tracks existed on each side of the packhouse for shipping and a track shed was provided over the tracks to prevent rain and snow from interfering with the shipping operations.
The windows in the packhouse were never lined with glass. They were instead covered with steel plates on hinges. It allowed for light and ventilation when opened, and were not subject to breakage. As reported in the Cement Mill Section of Concrete, dated from May of 1924, ‘It is a fact in some plants that when the glass in the windows becomes covered with cement and the light is dim, the glass is broken out to admit more light, but then, in case of a storm, some temporary protection must be made.’
Mine shafts were constructed to retrieve the raw materials necessary to operate the cement plant. Extensive mine shafts were dug out, some of those being very deep. Locomotives, equipment, and other machinery were all dismantled before they entered the mine shaft, then reassembled once it reached its final destination deep within the mines because the machinery was very heavy and bulky. The mines, however, did not extend southwest towards the Ohio River and stopped short of the US 52 expressway.
The last tax appraisal was done in 1968 (external link). The Alpha Portland Cement Company closed on August 20, 1970, for what the company cited ‘financial reasons.’ The company further elaborated that terminating operations at ‘unprofitable’ facilities is an essential step in improving the profitability of Alpha’s cement division. Releasing the working capital committed to these plants permits management to move ahead with the expansion of its profitable plants and to more effectively manage those areas of high profit potential.’ Another official stated that ‘the plants on the Ironton generation cannot complete with the large modern plants of today,’ noting the fact that the plant was constructed in 1901. The most productive year, as noted by the company, was in the late-1950’s.
The plant employed 175 people.
There had been much discussion after it was discovered that the state air pollution control regulations actually closed the Alpha Portland Cement Company. The plant was a major contributor to particulate pollution in the Ironton and Coal Grove areas. The cost to modernize the plant and install proper pollution control devices would amount into the millions. Weill, former chairman of the Retail Merchants Division of the Ironton Chamber of Commerce, stated that, ‘the cost of putting in air pollution control devices wasn’t economically feasible for Alpha Portland.’ He added that two new plants in other states could take on the load easily.
There was also the rumor that the plant folded because the mine shafts had been dug below the water table and started flooding after a collapse. Some tunnels went as far down as 571 feet. Read a newspaper article, ‘the mine shafts became flooded. Unsuccessful efforts were made to pump out the influx of water. All machinery, locomotives, railroad tracks were quickly abandoned. The tunnels were sealed, never to be opened again.’
For ten years, the Alpha Portland Cement Company continued to own the property and payed taxes, which amounted to $57,000 annually. It was later sold to another person who stated that, ‘the building was to be condemned.’
The Ironton Tribune in the late 1990’s published an article that had the title of, ‘Abandoned site draws increased wrath of county’. In the article, county commissioners stepped up their pursuit of the owners of the former Alpha Portland Cement Company. They wanted the owners to safeguard the site as the commissioners were concerned about the possibility of someone being injured at the site. That fear was realized soon afterwards when a 15-year-old fell into one of the storage tanks and became injured as a result.
‘This is the kind of thing we’ve been trying to tell them would happen,’ commissioner George Patterson said. ‘Now he is messed up for the rest of his life.’
No further efforts have been made so far in safeguarding the site so far. In 2003, a small shed was constructed to convert metal objects into scrap metal, but is not related to the former operations of the Alpha Portland Cement factory.
- Name: Ironton Portland Cement Company, Alpha Portland Cement Company
- Location: Ironton, Ohio
- Years of Significance: 1910, 1924
- Status: Demolished
- Lindquist, A. J. “Alpha Portland Cement Co. Completes Two Stockhouses.” Concrete May 1924.
- Bauer, David C. L. “Abandoned site draws increased wrath of county.” Ironton Tribune.
- “It was the year of 1985.” N.p.: Alpha Portland Cement Company, 1970.
- “Alpha Portland Cement is Closing.” Ironton Tribune 20 Aug. 1970.
- “Alpha’s Closing County’s Loss.” Ironton Tribune 25 Aug. 1970.
- Ferguson, Leigh. “Alpha Closing Threat to Economy.” Ironton Tribune 24 Aug. 1969.
- Caldwell, Michael. “Old cement factory spooky link to Ironton’s past.” Ironton Tribune 5 Jan. 2004.
- “Limestone Mine in 1910.” Story of the Glorious Past, One Hundred Years. N.p.: n.p., 1949. 27.