Built in 1876 by itinerant Italian masons (carbonari), who specialized in the ovens and in operation between 1876 through 1879, the Ward Charcoal Ovens are located in the Egan Mountain Range south of Ely, Nevada in White Pine County. Measuring 30 feet in height and having a 27 foot diameter at the base, the beehive shaped ovens were built to reflect heat back toward the center of the oven thus reducing the amount of heat lost. There are three rows of vents in the 20 inch thick walls. The ovens produced the charcoal from locally harvested timber for use in the smelters in nearby Ward, using approximately 16,000 bushels of charcoal a day.
Making charcoal was a daunting task, taking 13 days, as each of the ovens held approximately 35 cords of wood (a single cord measures 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet). Wood was cut into lengths of five to six feet before being stacked vertically using the lower door. An open space was left in the center to act as a chimney. Next, a ramp was used to load through the upper door which resembles a window. After the wood was ignited, the metal door was cemented shut and the vents were used to adjust the air drafts to smother the fire enough to product charcoal. Workers, known as burners, measured the charcoaling process by the color of the smoke produced. Approximately 10 days later, the charcoaling process was complete and the air vents were closed off until the fire died down. Water was poured through the chimney to cool the charcoal before the charcoal was loaded into bushel size sacks of burlap, emptying the oven.
Charcoal ovens never seemed to be in operation for any significant length of time as rapid deforestation forced production to be moved elsewhere or the ore supplies at the local mines were exhausted, thus eliminating the need for charcoal. Once their function as charcoal ovens ended, they served as shelters for stockmen and prospectors during stormy weather and had a reputation of being a hideout for stagecoach bandits. Today, the Ward Charcoal Ovens are a Nevada State Historic Park, providing visitors with recreational opportunities, including picnicking, camping, hiking, mountain biking and cross-county skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.
Until the next adventure….