Lime kilns

lime kiln

I was at Canoe Creek State Park in central Pennsylvania on Tuesday evening for our local Audubon society‘s annual picnic. After supper, most of us stuck around for a stroll, which took as as far as the old lime kilns. Though the light wasn’t great, a few of my photos turned out O.K.

lime kilns at Canoe Creek

Here’s a photo from an earlier visit showing all the kilns. For a top view, see this webpage from a site devoted to industrial archaeology. Its succinct description of their function is worth quoting as well:

The production of lime was critical for the iron furnaces. Limestone was utilized as a flux, removing impurities from the raw ore. The lime was created by dumping quarried limestone ore on top of burning charcoal, or in later years, burning coal. Additional layers of coal and limestone would be added to the kiln, making the operation a continuous activity. The limestone was transported by side rail from the nearby quarries to the kilns, and then by main rail to the outside buyers.

These are well-maintained ruins; only the last of the six kilns is gated and full of debris.

lime kiln gate

The patchy, crumbling concrete walls of the kilns are, to me, their most attractive feature. Some plants have begun to grow in the cracks, though the kilns have a long while to go before they will be as green as the ruined Mayan or Cambodian Buddhist temples whose shapes they evoke.

lime kiln polypody

I like to think that these kilns helped, in a very small way, to fuel the development of modern American poetry, inasmuch as they were operated by the Blair Limestone Company, which was a subsidiary of Jones and Laughlin Steel Company. James Laughlin, heir to the Laughlin Steel fortune, founded, ran and bankrolled one of the most important literary presses of the 20th Century, New Directions Publishing Corp.

Writers whose early work was published in [New Directions] anthologies include Dylan Thomas, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Thomas Merton, Denise Levertov, James Agee, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. … New Directions also published many now-famous writers, including Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, when they had a hard time finding homes for their work, and Tennessee Williams was published as a poet for the very first time in a New Directions poetry collection.

I did find one interesting piece of writing scratched into the concrete in front of the kilns:

graffiti at lime kilns

8 Replies to “Lime kilns”

  1. dave,

    i enjoyed everything about this post. i can’t quite put my finger on what it is about the logistics of old plants and sites that increases the beat of my heart. the mix of science, time and poetry entices. lovely, lovely ending!


  2. Agree with Sherry about the appeal of old factory ruins, especially when they are being overgrown with moss and ferns! Such a different type of kiln than the old lime kilns I have seen when hiking in Ontario. Most were quite small pit type here and there in the woods on what were former farms. There are a few that are a little larger, but none I’ve seen that are anything like the Canoe Creek plant. Like the graffiti in the last pic. Beautiful photos, Dave.

    1. Thanks, Bev. We do limestone on a big scale here in the ridge-and-valley section of Pennsylvania. The old mines that supplied these kilns, though, have turned into excellent bat habitat — it’s amazing how quickly nature can recover from these kinds of wounds (as opposed to, say, white nose syndrome. Sigh).

  3. Very true about old mines and quarries too. In my travels, I have seen some interesting habitat created by both. Gien enough time, in many cases, something positive eventually grows out of a negative. Just recently, I was told that the old mine shafts going into the mountainsides in Bisbee are providing shelter for active bat colonies, so hat’s good. As for WNS – yes, that’s a sad situation for sure. So far, knock on wood, has not had any impact on the resident population of bats that fly around inside my old Nova Scotia house at night. They are all looking pretty darned healthy!

    1. Thanks — that was my favorite, too. You didn’t see “the ones that got away,” though: all the photos that didn’t turn out because it was too dark. I’ll have to go back sometime in late afternoon or early morning.

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