In 1904 the Babcock and Wilcox Company (B&W), founded back in 1867 by Rhode Island natives George Babcock and Stephen Wilcox, expanded its operations and purchased the Pittsburgh Seamless Tube Company in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. During World War II the B&W Tubular Products operation in Beaver Falls, which made steel tubes and associated products, was expanded into a sprawling complex.
The B&W complex was comprised of three separate areas, known as the Main Tube Plant, the East Works, and the Wallace Run Steel Plant. The steel plant was constructed nearby off of Wallace Run Road (in West Mayfield) in 1942 to supply the Main Tube Plant with a constant supply of hot steel. A railway was constructed – built across W. 4th Ave – to transport the steel and other materials from the Wallace Run facility to the fabrication facilities at the Main Tube Plant.
The B&W facility at Beaver Falls prospered during World War II and employed many local women, including my grandmother Irene LaPatka and her sister Josephine LaPatka. B&W also opened another steel-making plant in the nearby town of Koppel years later in 1959.
B&W had many plants across the country and is famous for fabricating boilers and associated components in connection with such things as New York City’s first subway system in 1902, the U.S. Navy’s Great White Fleet of 1907-1909, the Manhattan Project that led to the atomic bomb in the 1940’s, and the nuclear-powered vessels of the U.S. Navy including the aircraft carrier Nimitz. Today B&W is a major player (see www.babcock.com) in the nuclear power industry and has its corporate headquarters in Lynchburg, Virginia.
The decline of the steel industry during the 1970’s and beyond saw B&W’s Beaver Falls complex (and others including at Koppel) phased out and closed in 1986-1988. The facilities at Beaver Falls were purchased by PMAC Ltd. in 1990, which continued to run operations at the Main Tube Plant and the East Works area. The Wallace Run Steel Plant was simply abandoned and the majority of its structures were torn down in January-February 2005. A construction/storage company occupies part of the area now. The East Works area was eventually abandoned as well. Many of the crumbling structures at the Main Tube Plant and the East Works location were also demolished over the years. PMAC Ltd. still runs a scaled-down steel tube operation at the Main Tube Plant and serves as a silent testament to the valuable work that was performed there for over a century.
I talked to a great guy named Tom McCutchen at the Main Tube Plant guard house in July 2010. He was a longtime steel worker for B&W in Beaver Falls and Koppel and later came out of retirement to work as a security guard. Several companies oversaw the security operation but now PMAC runs its own in-house security operations. Tom graciously answered questions about B&W/PMAC history and provided me with this map of the overall complex: B&W/PMAC COMPLEX MAP.
A view of rolling mill operations at the Pittsburgh Seamless Tube Company in Beaver Falls, which was acquired by the Babcock & Wilcox company in 1904. The plant was greatly expanded in the coming years. (1900) Full Size
An employee monitors equipment at the B&W plant in Beaver Falls. (c1951) Full Size
An aerial view of the sprawling B&W facility at Beaver Falls, with East Works at bottom left, the main plant in the middle, and the Wallace Run plant at upper right. (1951) Full Size
(1951) Full Size
(c1951) Full Size
This is believed to be the entrance gate along West 4th Avenue (near 47th Street) to the main plant area in Beaver Falls. (c1955) Full Size
An employee badge from the B&W plant in Beaver Falls. (c1960)
(c1951) Full Size
(c1951) Full Size
The old B&W plant at Wallace Run dominates the skyline along Route 551/Wallace Run Road. Most of the plant buildings at this location have seen been torn down. (1987) Full Size
The view from the upper parking lot area along West 4th Avenue that overlooks the former B&W main plant. (Oct 2013) Full Size
Looking over the main plant area from the upper parking lot area on West 4th Avenue. (Oct 2013)
The former Control Laboratory along West 4th Avenue. (Oct 2013)
A Norfolk Southern train passes through the sprawling grounds of the old B&W facility in Beaver Falls. (Oct 2013)
A closeup of the same train. (Oct 2013)
The crumbling buildings of the former East Works were demolished in 2013 and cleared away. (Oct 2013)
A pile of twisted metal at the former East Works site. (Oct 2013)
Heavy equipment at work clearing away the debris at the East Works site. (Oct 2013) Full Size