Friday, December 16, 2011

History of the Hurstville Lime Kilns

 Friday I drove home by way of the lime kilns just north of town.
In 1870, Alfred Hurst came to the area, having heard of the limestone formations along the banks of the Maquoketa River.  He then found what he considered the best quality limestone rock to produce the whitest, purest, and most adhesive lime in the marketplace.  He constructed a small pot kiln and started producing powder lime.  He then erected the first draw kiln in 1871, with the other 3 following soon after.  In the 1st year, production reached 100 barrels a week, with a total of 3200 barrels for the year. At the company’s peak, the kilns would produce 8000 barrels of lime a day!  
  The process used to make lime, then an essential building material, was uncomplicated.  But in the days of hand labor and horses it was nonetheless quite an undertaking.   The process started in the limestone rock quarry.  The men would get the rock into a manageable size so that it could be loaded into mule or horse-drawn rail carts and hauled to the kilns.  The limestone was then unloaded into the top of the kiln where a fire was burning. They kept the fire burning around the clock - 24 hours a day 7 days a week – for most of the year.   Workers were well compensated for their hard work.  In 1899 many workers earned $1.35 a day and rent was only $3 a month.

This time of year when the weather got cold, the fires could not stay hot enough to burn the limestone.  Thus the kilns were not operated in the winter months, but the men were kept busy all winter sawing cord wood to feed the hungry fires, as well as making barrels and feeding cattle.  The kilns used upwards of 100 cords of wood a day, requiring almost 8000 cords of wood a year for each kiln.  Lots of land was needed to provide the wood for the kilns.  In 1878, A. Hurst & Company owned 240 acres of land; eventually at the company’s peak, 3,000 acres of land were owned. 

When heated, limestone breaks down into a powder.  At the base of the kiln was a cooling shed where the lime was removed from the kiln.  After the lime had cooled, workers then packed the lime powder into barrels.  The lime was then shipped to a building site where it would then be mixed with sand and water to create mortar, a material used for buildings before cement and concrete. They did it all.

A half dozen eagles just down the road.

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