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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The "The Importance of Limin'" Story

Lime kilns in Wrightsville, Pennsylvania
It was an ordinary day.  Jerry and I are walking in front of the lime kilns in Wrights- ville, York County, Pennsyl- vania.  Neat old stone and brick kilns that were used for burning limestone and turning it into lime.  The lime was then used for fertilizer, white-wash, plaster and even a deodorizer for the outhouses of the surrounding area.  Behind the kilns was once a quarry where workers would dig the limestone needed to burn in the kilns.  
This old photo shows the nearby quarry where the
limestone was taken for use in the kiln.
The quarried limestone was also used, along with coal and iron ore, to make pig iron in furnaces at the nearby Aurora Furnace that is located just north of the lime kilns we are standing in front of right now.  In order to make lime, limestone is crushed and loaded along with a load of coal into a tapered, stationary, vertical, refractory lined tube with a wider bottom permitting the free downward movement of the materials.  It is burned out with hot air at a temperature of 2000 degrees to make calcium oxide or what is known as quick lime.  After cooling, the lime is crushed into the powder form.  
A closer look of one of the kilns.
In the late 1890's there were five different sets of kilns operating in the Wrightsville area and York County, PA was known as the largest lime producer in Pennsyl- vania.   A common feature of early kilns was an egg-cup shaped burning chamber with an air inlet at the base, constructed of brick.  The limestone was crushed to a uniform size and successive dome-shaped layers of limestone and coal were built up in the kiln on grates.  When the loading was complete, the kiln was kindled at the bottom and the fire gradually spread upwards through the kiln.  When burnt through, the lime was cooled and raked out through the base.  It would probably take about a day to load the kiln, three days to fire or burn, two days to cool and a day to unload.  
Advertisement from a local paper in 1855.
Standing in front of the kilns was a placard that gave the history of the lime kilns as well as a few very old and hardly recogniz- able photos of the area in the mid-1800's.  Included on the placard was an ad from a local newspaper that listed Superior White Lime for sale.  It told of a subscriber who had opened a quarry of limestone and erected kilns for burning the lime in the borough of Wrightsville.  It said it was suitable for building, plastering, and other purposes in quantities to suit the buyers.  The ad was dated Feb. 22, 1855.  I'm positive many people have never seen a lime kiln or have ever heard of how lime is made from limestone.  Our experience today gave us a better idea into the making of the product in Wrightsville and of its use for the general public.  A little piece of Americana visited today.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.


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