The lime industry

By Barbara F. Dyer | Oct 03, 2019
Courtesy of: Barbara Dyer Pictured is the West Rockport lime kiln.

In our area one of the lost industries is the lime Industry, that was actually started by General Samuel Waldo (of the Waldo Patent fame and grandfather to Lucy Knox). General Waldo had Robert McIntyre, one of the Scottish-Irish immigrants, who came to settle the Thomaston-Warren area, manage the business very successfully. It went out of business about 1935 in Rockland, once known as “the lime capital of the world.” More lime businesses in that time were started in Rockport, West Rockport and Camden. In about 1855 there were 150 lime kilns in the area. East Thomaston, or “The Shore” as it was called, along with South Thomaston, was incorporated as Rockland in 1854. It was at that time that the lime business began to grow.

The beginning of the process started in the limerock quarries, such as the Jacob's Quarry, now the site of the land transfer station, located at the end of Limerock Street in Camden, and those at Simonton’s Corner can still be seen. Pure limerock (or calcium carbonate) was used in this area for lime. There is, of course, other limerock with other minerals mixed in it and depending on the mixture, it may be calcite, marble, limestone, oletic-limestone, coquina, chalk and marl.

The men worked from daylight until dark in these quarries. They struck for more pay in 1881 to go from $1.25 to $1.50 per day. The more limerock they dug, the deeper the quarry became. Some were 600 feet in depth, making the deepest open-pit quarries in the world. The men were hoisted in and out by a platform suspended on a wire and the hole in the quarry became so deep that the men down there looked like little ants.

The kilns were where the limerock was burned and in the end, turned into lime. The limerock at the three Eels kilns were hauled by horses, on heavy carts with large wheels and wide tires, and thrown piece by piece into the top of the kiln by hand. The rock was hauled from the quarries in Simonton's Corner; then later a quarry for this plant was opened on the road to Camden, on the western side, and continued to be hauled by horses. All the other kilns in Rockport had their rocks delivered by miniature electric railroads in small square dump cars, each holding several tons. These were dumped directly into the top of the kilns from a trestle. It was a three-foot wide track, rail to rail. In 1886, the Rockport Limerock Railroad chartered a three-mile line. It began on wharves in Rockport by the old kilns, now preserved on the public landing, and followed the shores of Goose River, through Simonton's Corner. There were seven wooden bridges built over the years to cross Goose River, at a cost of about $20,000. Less than $5,000 was paid for the two miniature locomotives, and the whole thing was used for 11 years.

The Merriman & Burgess kilns were constructed of fieldstone laid in mortar. One of the earliest of kilns is still visible across the road from Dunkin' Donuts in Rockland on U.S.Route 1. They ranged from 16 to 22 feet square and from 30 to 40 feet high. Interiors were circular - about 10 to 15 feet in diameter - and lined mostly with fire brick, leaving the outer walls five to six feet thick. The inside diameter held its size from the top to about three-quarters of the depth then tapered in a conical shape to an opening two feet in diameter at the bottom. Most kilns were wood burning, with the exception of the three Pet kilns, which burned soft coal. O. P. Shepard changed from wood to coal. Another was the strangest of all. The Gran Carleton kiln experimented with “water gas process.” That was invented and patented by Granville Carleton and it used soft coal exclusively. The coal burners were almost all the same design. They had arches half way up the sides of the kiln, leaving no more lime in the hopper below the heat, with no red-hot lime coming through the shears. The trestles were constructed of timber, except for a very few that used steel. All of the kilns were loaded with limerock at the top from the trestle built along the side, level with the top opening.

A story was told to me about a worker who was removing the lime from the kiln when he spotted gold. Immediately, the workers thought that maybe there was gold in some of the limerock, until a man who had helped to load the limerocks into the kiln came by and said, “I've lost my wedding ring.”

Workers cut thousands of cords of wood in our area and delivered it by teams. All the kilns burned an average of hundreds of cords per week. The forests in Knox County were at that time denuded to the extent that in some cases shade trees were sacrificed for the hungry kilns. That is why some pictures in this area in the 1900s look quite barren. Thousands of cords arrived from Downeast ports, from “up river” of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Two-masted schooners sailed in carrying two hundred cords or more and they were called “Johnny Wooden Boats,” named for the St. John River. Often men who built them had never seen the ocean, so they were not always seaworthy. Rockland was the largest port of entry, according to cargo. The wood cost from $2.50 to $8 a cord delivered, and the wood choppers were paid 50 cents a cord for cutting it.

I really have much more to tell, as I never run out of words, and I believe that you do want to hear the end of this story. There will be Part II of the lime Industry next time.


Pictured is Jacob's Quarry. (Courtesy of: Barbara Dyer)
Pictured is a drawing of a fieldrock kiln. (Courtesy of: Barbara Dyer)
Pictured is an early rock and cement kiln. (Courtesy of: Barbara Dyer)
Pictured is Burgess Quarry. (Courtesy of: Barbara Dyer)
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