LEETONIA - The Cherry Valley Coke Ovens joined the famed Liberty Bell, Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty and other sites important to materials science, engineering and industry during a historical designation ceremony Friday afternoon.
The home of the largest remaining site of beehive coke ovens in North America was honored with the prestigious Historical Landmark Award from ASM International, an Ohio-based society which caters to the materials science and engineering community.
"The Leetonia Cherry Valley Coke Ovens enabled the burgeoning 19th century American steel industry fueled by coke transformed from coal in ovens in Pennsylvania and Ohio," the plaque said.
Robert Halverstadt, the man behind the award, remembered firsthand the glow in the sky from those ovens because he grew up in Leetonia on a farm just out of town. He returned to his hometown from Connecticut to bestow the honor on the coke ovens which were so important to the steel industry.
Halverstadt, a materials engineer and member of ASM International, also used the opportunity to make a pitch to the Leetonia first and second graders in attendance to study science and think about joining the materials engineering profession in the future.
He described how the ASM International Materials Education Foundation hosts material camps for high school students and high school teachers in an effort to ignite the students' interest in science and teach the teachers how to fan the flame, so to speak, for science.
According to Halverstadt, more than half of all students in engineering schools in America today come from overseas, which is something he said needs to change. He urged those in attendance to impress on the young people the importance of what happened in the past at places like the coke ovens and how they can contribute to the future by focusing on science.
"I never saw a good engineer out of work," he said.
Leetonia Superintendent Rob Mehno, a former science teacher, said they've added an AP biology course this year at the high school and they've been trying to concentrate efforts on science and math to enhance those subjects. He said he's noticed a push in recent years to emphasize math and sciences.
Some of the elementary students have already learned about the Cherry Valley history, but the education element is one of the many facets park officials hope to further develop by renovating the site and the 205 beehive coke ovens.
"We're going to do everything we can to restore them and preserve them for the future," Bill Merdich, chairman of the Leetonia Cherry Valley Coke Oven Advisory Commission, said.
He said they're working to continue cleaning up the site and waiting for results of a study regarding the water situation from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Next year they'll formulate their master plan for the renovations which include plans for a botanical garden near the entrance where some trees have already been cleared. The project will include a barn to house an industrial museum and incorporate the Little Beaver Creek Greenway Trail into the site.
"We're so honored by this award," he said.
Merdich presented Halverstadt with two gifts, an original postcard of the Cherry Valley Coke Ovens from his personal collection and a commemorative tile depicting the coke ovens. The coke ovens became the 13th spot in Ohio to earn the Historical Landmark Award, a designation established by the society in 1969 "to identify and to celebrate the places and events that have played a prominent role in the discovery, development and growth of materials."
The award has honored sites all over the world.
Leetonia Mayor Artie Altomare accepted the plaque and offered thanks to the advisory commission members for all their time and effort. Merdich also offered thanks all around, to the village officials, to the planning committee, to village workers and to anyone who's picked up brush or cut down a tree as part of the cleanup.
He also paid tribute to the immigrants who flocked to the village and built the coke ovens which have stood the test of time for some 130 years, including the English, Irish, German and Italian immigrants. He described one photo of the Cherry Valley Steel Mill which showed a safety sign posted in five languages.
"In one sense, we are honoring them today," he said.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at email@example.com