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Locations of Gas Plants and Other Coal-tar Sites in the U.S.

THE STATE OF VIRGINIA

Introduction

            In terms of historical development of manufactured gas in America, Virginia presents a special case of vast areas of gas-making materials. These ingredients were mainly accessible in geologically-divided ridges and valleys, all hindrances to the spread of manufactured gas from its coastal and Potomac River proximity to the nation’s capital.
 
            Strangely, the second exhibition of manufactured gas in the United States(after the 1792 display at Philadelphia) was the 1802 gas exhibited at Richmond, by Benjamin Healey (AKA “Henfry”) and his limited gas lighting of a principal street in 1803. Today, the rich history of Virginia’s coal-tar legacy is poorly known, in all sectors. Eventually, the spectrum of coal-tar sites became as broad as in any state and multiple sites are to be found in most of the older, populated cites; nine at Norfolk and ten at Portsmouth.
 
            Currently, the author’s earliest MGP is the 1847 limited introduction at Washington, D.C.; the 1848 gas light works at Norfolk (eventually three of the nine known coal tar sites are FMGPs); the 1851 first of two FMGPs at Lynchburg, and the 1851 gas works at Arlington (just across the Potomac from the capital; and the 1854 Fredericksburg Gas Light Co.
 
            As was the case in most southern cities, gas works began, in the 1890s to engage in making ice, many making use of recovered gasworks ammonia (strengthened ammoniacal liquor); a good example is the 1898 gas and ice plant at Hampton and the 1913 plant proposed for Chincoteague.
 
            English gas engineering influences were frequent, such as that of James Cleland, who founded (1851) a prominent Lynchburg family, bringing forth experience working for William Murdock, pioneer of the English manufactured gas industry, and married to Murdock’s niece. Cleland made use of both fat wood and coal in his gas retorts.
 
            Oil-gas was generated early-on, in some smaller gas plants (such as at Manchester, 1893) when a plentiful supply of this feedstock was assured, and at a favorable price. Pintsch plants, producing the popular railway-car compressed gas lighting, were common in Virginia, and date mainly after 1900.
 
            A distinct surge in town gas plant activity occurred just after the turn of the 20th century (such as at Elizabeth City) and Virginia may turn out to represent America’s greatest municipal movement; places such Danville (ca. 1900); Fredericksburg (late 19th c.) and at Norfolk.
 
            All of the necessary purifier material options also were available in Virginia; lime, wood cellulose, and oxides of iron, iron sponge (from local industry, which also provided sawdust and shavings from town wood factories shaping and forming wood products.
 
            By far the greatest number of Virginia coal-tar sites are those of wood treatment/preservation. This activity began around 1896, at Buell, near Norfolk. These sites typically were located in and along the banks of the several rivers and harbors of the five cities of Hampton Roads maritime area, dating back to the 1880s. Also, as was characteristics of many other southern states, many treatment plants are to be found in timber areas, positioned along railroads, and mostly established from about 1900, for treating railroad ties and for street-paving blocks, as caulked with gas tar (such as at Finntown).
 
            Virginia’s own coal resources led, from about 1895, to the construction and operation of both non-recovery and recovery (by-product) coke ovens,(Big Stone Gap, 1895); some of the beehives (non-recovery) were active until at least 1999 (Buchanan County). The European war of 1914-1918 resulted in the construction of a number of by-product coke-oven plants, such as Carbocoal (Clinchfield); yet the number of these typically highly contaminated properties is far less than in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
 
            Producer gas, as is the case in nearly all states, outnumber town gas plants, providing fuel gas for virtually all industries. A good starting date now appears 1889, with the Lawrence Cement Co. plant at Fordwick, and its 1907 mill at Blacksburk; General Chemical Corp. plants such as those at Front Royal and Pulaski, and the Marion Foundry (Marion, VA). A particular category of industrial sites employing gas producers are the numerous military ordnance plants of both world wars, such as the Virginia Ordnance Works at Clifton Forge. Producer gas plants had a rather small foot print and their PAH residuals and wastes often are mis-identified and improperly diagnosed, leading to flawed site remediation.
 
            Acetylene and gasoline gas, both strikingly dissimilar in process, were quite popular, especially in very small cross-roads downs and with the “farms” and mansions of the landed rural gentry. In particular, acetylene is well represented by the early (1890) one room plants at Herndon and Manassas, providing very intense light at the consistently extravagant rate of $15 per thousand cubic feet. Acetylene generators were available off-the-self or on short-order in most mid- to large-size urban centers of Virginia. None of these gas plants should be considered to represent uncontrolled hazardous waste sites, unless shown otherwise, from activities other than this gas-making.
 
            Butane, began to be served as a mixed air-gas in the early 1930s, in low -cost plants found along rail sidings. The outstanding financial control came from out-of-state (Michigan) investors. 

Military Posts and Naval Stations, due to their remote or semi-remote locations, are universally suspect of having artificial gas plants; the larger posts with small coal-gas plants and the smaller installations with acetylene generators. Some examples are Fort Meyer (1908) the present headquarters post of the U.S. Army, with gas generated for its Signal Corps observation balloon detachment. Also to be considered are the many Coast Artillery forts (such as Fortress Monroe) of the Army, and the Quartermaster Remount Depot, Front Royal (est. 1907). The many naval installations, as well as Langley Field Naval Air Station (with a 500,000 cf gas holder) should be considered likely prospects for gasworks, as well as the National Soldiers’ Home (1887) gas works.

Click the blue "EPA" link below to view the
 Virginia map of the EPA 1985 Radian FMGP Report.

Click the green "Hatheway" link below to view the
 Virginia map of Professor Hatheway's research.

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