Ray Norbut State Fish and Wildlife Area, Pike County, Illinois
For ease in loading the unburned stones, kilns were often dug into the side of a hill, earning them the nickname of "groundhog kilns." The limestone for the Griggsville kiln was quarried from the bluff side directly above this groundhog kiln, where there is a small, leveled work area between the bluff face and the top of the kiln. The quarried limestone pieces would have been about 6-8 inches in diameter and could have been dumped directly into the mouth of the kiln from a hand cart. Firing time for a periodic kiln was about 72 hours, with an additional 12 hours cooling time. The powdered lime could then be scraped out from the opening at the bottom of the kiln and packed in wooden barrels for shipping. The amount of hardwood fuel required for a single burn is two to three times the volume of lime produced.
A more efficient kiln type in use in the mid 1800s was the continuous or perpetual kiln. The earliest version of this kiln was similar in construction to the periodic vertical kiln. However, continuous kilns were loaded with alternating layers of fuel and stone, and after the initial firing both stone and fuel would continuously be fed into the top of the kiln while lime was removed from the base. Because this type of kiln was in constant use, it required a steel lining to protect the structure from crumbing. By 1857, 5 of the 20 commercial kilns at Alton, a major supplier of lime in the Midwest, were of a newer "patent" design, probably utilizing a separate feed box. It was reported that during a nine-month period in 1857, 121,900 barrels of lime had been produced, 60 percent of which was shipped to markets along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. However, the Alton exports peaked during the late 1860s. An 1866 account of lime productions states that "for some years Alton supplied nearly all the river towns from St. Paul to New Orleans with this article. But more recently the manufacture of lime has been commenced at many points on the river."
The raw product from the lime kilns was known as quicklime. Unslaked quicklime is a volatile product, and it is essential that it be kept dry. When combined with water, it produces a violent, extreme heat-producing reaction, converting back to calcium carbonate. For this reason, when this product was transported by wooden barrels along the river, it was fairly hazardous cargo. Hence local manufacturers may have been at an advantage over the major manufacturing centers that shipped on the rivers. When a builder purchased raw quicklime, it was necessary for him to "slake" (hydrate) it under special conditions--usually in a flat box of boards or a pit that would offer some protection from the reaction and which could be covered to store the semi-liquid slaked lime from the elements.
Lime kilns were constructed with an attached shed or roofed addition in the area where the lime was removed from the kiln throat. This overhang was useful in keeping the quicklime and the workers dry. The Griggsville kiln has a ledge about nine feet above the ground on the open side of the kiln that likely supported a roof extending out on the front of the kiln. The roofed area would have been over the two wing walls, which extend for nine feet from their juncture with the kiln chamber. The portions of the wing walls that remain today are less than three feet high. Construction scars on the kiln chamber exterior suggest that the wing walls formerly extended at least two-thirds way up the side of the kiln. As such, the wing walls probably served a dual purpose: as buttresses for the kiln face and as walls of a work room.
There is extensive stone rubble covering the floor of what would have been a work area by the opening of the kiln chamber. This section of rubble-covered ground and the quarry work area on the bluff face hold much promise for archaeological excavations, which could address how extensively and in what manner these work areas were used. One outstanding question for this kiln site is how much lime was produced here, how long did the kiln operate, and how did this industry contribute to the growth of the area. The production of lime may have been a short-term venture at Griggsville Landing. By 1872, the kiln location is coded as a blacksmith shop on the county atlas.
Local tradition maintains that this kiln was used by the English stonemason William Hobson (d.1862) in building several homes as well as a few barns and stone-arched bridges in this vicinity during the mid-nineteenth century.
The production of quicklime was phased out around the turn of the century, when artificial hydraulic cement came into production in the Midwest. Artificial cement was superior to the earlier product in that it set-up quicker and was stronger. A lower quality limestone could also be used in the burning process.
This brochure is based on a report by Floyd Mansberger and Christopher Stratton, Fever River Research, detailing work conducted under funding from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Photographs and illustrations were provided by Floyd Mansberger, project director.
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