The Plymouth lime kiln

Local History


Last month next to my weekly column was a photo of the Plymouth lime kiln. Readers were encouraged to contact me if they knew anything about that photo. Several readers did contact me.

Georgia Wyman emailed me to tell me exactly where the Plymouth kiln was and offered to drive me there. I asked Danny Clemons to join us.

The three of us had a great day. Georgia drove us around Plymouth showing us not only old lime kilns but other historical sites in Plymouth. It was amazing how much explaining we didn’t have to do.

First, Georgia showed me a book titled, “Calvin Coolidge’s Plymouth, Vermont.” In that book is the identical photo of the Plymouth kiln that I had in the paper. This kiln is located near the boat landing on Lake Amherst.

Peter Farrar told me about the book, “200 years of Soot and Sweat,” by Victor Rolando. I ordered the book from the library. This is a highly researched book from which I provide the information below.

Burning limestone in nineteenth century Vermont included much more than I can offer here. Let’s just say there were more than one type of kiln, and many different grades of limestone.

In Plymouth there were two types of kilns. First there were commercial operations (continuous), which could burn limestone for long periods of time.

There were also small kilns (intermittent) operated by farmers. If a farmer had a limestone outcropping he would build a small wood-fired kiln nearby. Between seasons when times were slow the farmer would burn small amounts of lime.

For fuel farmers would use firewood to heat their kilns. Larger operations used coal or coke. It seems coke was the chosen fuel for larger operations. All early Plymouth kilns were built of stone. Commercial models were lined with firebrick by the 1850s.

The process: Limestone was broken into small chunks. A layer of fuel was placed in the kiln. The limestone chunks were placed on top of the fuel. In a commercial kiln, another layer of fuel and limestone was placed on top of the first layer.

Limestone is comprised of carbonate of lime, magnesia, silica and other minerals. Calcining limestone is done by bringing the stone to a red-hot heat (about 900 degrees) to free the carbonic acid gas within the stone.

Calcining causes the limestone to lose much of its weight. This burned limestone will now absorb water, creating cracks in the stone, a process called ‘slaking’. This process creates hydrated lime. Hydrated lime is white and much less caustic than quicklime.

In a small operation it could take a couple days to render the limestone down to lime. During this time the fire had to be attended to maintain constant heat.

In Rolando’s book, “200 years of Soot and Sweat” is the identical photo you see with this article. This photo is in my collection. Rolando describes the Plymouth kiln as follows.

Ron Patch
The Plymouth Vt. lime kiln. Photo provided.

Rolando refers to this ruin as the Rice Lime Kiln in Plymouth. It is about 10 feet high. Inside it is stone lined from top to bottom. The front of the kiln is about 14 feet wide with an arched opening at the bottom. He gives the dimensions of the arched opening as 46 inches tall by 28 inches wide.

The archway consists of 17 courses of firebrick. These firebricks appear to be made after 1859 and may have come from the abandoned Tyson blast furnace two miles south. Tyson Furnace, as it was known, produced iron, not lime.

Rolando’s condition assessment: The archway appears in danger of collapsing. There are cracks in supporting stones. It is possible the entire front of the kiln will collapse. Limestone burned here probably came from a quarry two miles southeast.

Rolando claims Plymouth had 18 lime kilns and that 17 have been located. One source I found claims Col. John C. Coolidge, President Coolidge’s father, made his first one hundred dollars at one of Plymouth’s lime kilns.

Update. My sister, Norma, asked me when I was going to write Part 3 of Bill Blake’s rag paper. Currently I am waiting for the Church of Latter Day Saints to provide me with information regarding Chester and Andover Mormons in 1836. That seems to be a slow process so I ask you to be patient.

Don’t forget the Chester Historical Society is looking for donations for our July 22nd yard sale. Give me a call at the number next to my photo.

This week’s old saying is from W.C. Fields. “Start every day with a smile and get it over with.”

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