United Kansas Portland Cement Plant (Concreto)

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Year Built: 1903 | Year Abandoned: ~1920's
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: Trevor Hoag

United Kansas Portland Cement Plant (Concreto)

In 1903 ground was broken on another cement plant in Allen County in the new town of Concreto. The name was very fitting for the location of the Kansas Portland Cement Company formed by George E. Nicholson. Becoming a small industrial boomtown many likely made the trip by way of the Iola Electric Railway (IER), on a 10-mile track that connected Bassett, Iola, Gas, LaHarpe, Melrose, Layonville, and LaGrange. Through extensive construction, the plant supplied its own gas wells for heat and power and was an attractive opportunity for work to those traveling in the passenger cars of the IER.

And despite harsh conditions not yet softened by labor laws and years of intense struggles on the part of unions and workers the plant hired more than 350 in the coming years. The sheer success of the Concreto plant and the nearby Bassett plant had a combined capacity of around 10,000 barrels of cement per day. Tragedy swept through the plant on July 27, 1910, when a gas explosion happening in the regulator house of the Concreto plant. In the explosion, Merlin Boyd, an experimental engineer, passed away after receiving substantial burns all over his body. Amongst the others hurt were Ralph Morrison, Chemist S.D. Calloway, Field Man Fred Ranger, and Dike Leonard. As the four men mentioned were testing the gas, Chemist S.D. Calloway lit a match while in the doorway and before one of the men could stop him the explosion occurred. 

Many cement plants were popping up in southern Kansas such as Lehigh, Lehunt, and Carlyle. This caused a nation-wide problem, too many plants producing too much cement and prices tanking causing the industry to go under. The first plant to suffer closure in 1911 from the financial difficulties was the Concreto plant, one of the only industries keeping the small boomtown alive. The plant was sold at auction in 1913 and equipment and machinery started to be moved the following year. Following its closure and the selling of the plant was yet another disastrous event. Around 6’oclock on the evening of June 25, 1913, a huge fire was ablaze throughout the plant. Chemicals remaining in the laboratory room were partially to blame for the fire that destroyed the building, boiler room, and engine room resulting in $40,000 in damages. 

Iola Zinc Company

July 1915 brought hope to the small town of Concreto once again with the announcement that the old United Kansas Portland Cement Plant would be turned into a smelter. Zinc smelters were popular during this era of concrete reign as well and immediately work commenced to convert the abandoned plant into a functioning smelter. During the dismantling, a man by the name of John Suggs was injured by a falling wall. He was taken to the hospital and treated for a broken hip, he remained at the hospital for a few months.

Two furnaces were installed and would be fired in August. Controlled by Dan Servey and Roscoe Clark the smelter was known as the Clark & Servey Smelter and also the Iola Zinc Co. Smelter. Approximately 150 men were employed at the start in an attempt to get the smelter up and running as soon as possible. It seemed that no matter the brutality of the work or dangers, men didn’t stay away, especially not when wages were raised at the smelter to a whopping $2.40 for unskilled and $4.50 for skilled labor. While this still was a small wage in today’s economy back then this was a decent wage. It wasn’t long after that the smelter died out and the plant was abandoned again around the ~1920s. 

Article by AKS Photojournalists Emily Cowan and Trevor Hoag.

Gallery Below




Bibliography

“18 Jan 1916, Page 1 – The Iola Register at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/1290925/?terms=clark%20and%20servey%20smelter&match=1.

“19 Jun 1903, 4 – The Iola Register at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/479315068/?terms=gas%20concrete%20plant%20concreto&match=1.

“2 Sep 1915, 5 – Altoona Tribune at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/420609981/?terms=clark%20and%20servey%20smelter&match=1.

“22 Jan 1914, 5 – The Weekly Republican at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/489328304/?terms=Kansas%20portland%20cement%20concreto%20gas&match=1.

“24 Jul 1915, 1 – The Neodesha Daily Sun at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/423569878/?terms=Kansas%20portland%20cement%20concreto%20gas&match=1.

“26 Jun 1913, Page 1 – The Iola Register at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/5064020/?terms=concreto%20explosion&match=1.

“28 Jul 1910, Page 1 – The Chanute Daily Tribune at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/95654972/?terms=merlin%20boyd&match=1.

“29 Mar 1916, Page 7 – The Iola Register at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/806526/?terms=john%20suggs%20concreto&match=1.

“30 May 1955, Page 63 – The Iola Register at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/4790199/?terms=gas%20concrete%20plant%20concreto&match=1.

“6 Aug 1915, Page 2 – The Evening Star at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/93044488/?terms=concreto%20smelter&match=1.

Kansas Department of Health & Environment, www.kdheks.gov/remedial/articles/smelterhistory.pdf.

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2 months ago

[…] the demand was high for Portlands products like many of the other cement plants in the area like Concreto, Le Hunt, and Carlyle they all experienced financial troubles. The plant was sold just five years […]

James Guldner
James Guldner
10 months ago

Where is this exactly!!!!

Jenni Bean
Reply to  James Guldner
10 months ago

I found this building. It took me like 2 hours of research and 30 minutes of google aerial photos. I’m pretty sure i found it though. Looks like it’s on someones property.

James Guldner
James Guldner
Reply to  Jenni Bean
10 months ago

Thank you

James Guldner
James Guldner
Reply to  Emily Cowan
10 months ago

All good just wondering thanks

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