Part Two of The Lime Industry

By Barbara F. Dyer | Oct 10, 2019
Courtesy of: Barbara Dyer Pictured is the interior of a lime kiln in Rockland, including the barrels.

They fed fires in the lime kilns continuously day and night, seven days a week, month after month. The only exception to feeding wood was the half hour before removing the lime at “draw time,” when it was drawn every four hours around the clock. The working days in the kiln were 12-hour shifts. A barrel held 185 pounds of lime and later larger barrels were made that held 285 pounds. There were 30 to 40 barrels in one batch. After the lime was drawn, it had to be settled. This happened with a roar, blowing coals and blazing gas out through the arches, so eyebrows were burned off and faces blistered.

On a Sunday, July 6 of 1907, the Eels Company night gang was on duty, when about 11 o'clock a fire was discovered in the wood work of Number 1 kiln shed and the alarm went off. By the time the Rockport hand-engine arrived, the lime sheds were too far gone to save and the fire spread rapidly. Loss was later estimated around 15 to $25,000, because it destroyed three kilns, sheds, 3,000 barrels of lime awaiting shipment, 4,000 lime casks and 2,500 cords of wood. All Rockport kilns had fires except the Burgess-owned ones. Of course they were built of granite or field stone, but it was the great wooden roofs on the sheds that enclosed them and the wooden trestles above them that went up in flame.

At one of the kilns the night watchman was ill, and it is reported that the town clerk took his place. He was to leave a report of the night's activity. This is what he wrote:

Irving Oat on the goat,

Henry Cox picking rocks.

Night watchmen taking it easy.

Yours truly, Charles L. Veazie.

If you have not seen a lime kiln, they have preserved some down on Rockport's Park, near Andre the Seal's statue. The one almost across from Dunkin' Donuts in downtown Rockland is the last of about the 155 that were around in 1855. That one dates to about 1830, and belonged to David Gay.

Camden had about ten lime kilns on Bay View Street and the last two from the town side are under Camden Yacht Club facilities.

They built the Rockland-Rockport gas kiln plant at the junction of Main, Camden and Front Street in Rockland, when they expected it to be “the lime capitol of the world.” The Portland Sunday Telegram once gave an entire section to Rockland's lime industry, which told about the completion of the gas kiln plant. But times change and things change. The lime industry changed with the production of wallboard and the “Great Depression.” Locally, the companies failed to see the market beyond the building industry. Now, the Department of Environmental Protection would be most unhappy if we still had lime kilns burning. The two-masted vessels built to transport lime were called “Lime Coasters.” It was a hazardous commodity to ship by vessel, because fire was inevitable. The industry itself was hazardous, as there were explosions, falling limerock and fire in the kilns due to high tides and storms. Lime and water do not mix.

The wooden barrel industry grew because they needed them for shipment of lime. Many farmers augmented their income in the winter by being coopers. In 1905, it is said that Fred Lermond made 400 lime casks, shaving his own hoops, in one week. On his best day, he turned out 100 barrels. After the Rockland-Rockport Lime Company was formed, they made their own barrels.

Many products are made from lime. It is used in architecture as building stone, plaster, brick mortar, wall board, whiting and putty. For cosmetics lime is used in soap, talcum, dyes, toothpaste and deodorant. In agriculture, it is land lime, chicken grit, insecticides, fungicides, fertilizer and egg preservative. The medical field uses it as a tooth and bone builder, to combat infection and for acid indigestion (Rolaids). They use it to manufacture paper, rubber, dyes, steel alloys, acetylene, textiles and abrasives. There are miscellaneous uses as well: to melt ice in dehumidifiers, controlling dust, and purifying illuminating gas. The cemeteries are full of monuments made of limerock or limerock with other materials in it. This is what I have been told.

Most of the lime from this area was used for plaster. In 1817, many casks went from here to Washington, D.C., to construct the new U.S. Capitol. Many of us have had the privilege of seeing it and the other memorial things in Washington.

So much more could be written about the industry that lasted 200 years in our area. Maybe these two articles will give you an idea of what the lime industry was all about. Maybe it will fill your head with things perhaps you never knew.


Barbara F. Dyer has lived all her life, so far, in Camden and is the official town historian.


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Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Oct 10, 2019 13:42

You always fill my head with "things" to know, and I thank you. Looking forward to the next history lesson.

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever...+:0)....

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