Notes on the Chicopee Limestone Kiln near Gainesville

Submitted by Lorraine Norwood, Dan Page, and Jack Wynn

The GMAS Archaeology Chapter met on Saturday, July 7, 2007 at the home of Jon Hoekstra, professor at Gainesville College, and resident of Chicopee Mill Village, which is adjacent to Chicopee Woods. Jon hikes in the woods and often ambles along stream beds in the area in search of interesting flora and fauna. One day while hiking, he spotted a rock wall and went to investigate. He was intrigued by the design of the structure, which was more than six feet high and contained two semi-circular openings. He presented pictures of the structure to the chapter meeting, and members determined that the ‚“rock wall” was actually a kiln of some sort.

The purpose of the July meeting was to investigate the structure, clean, measure, and photograph it. GMAS and Elachee Board members hiked to the site, south of the Gainesville airport. The kiln was overgrown with poison ivy vines and Virginia creeper. Fallen trees and thick brush covered access to the two kiln openings and made ground reconnaissance difficult. GMAS volunteers used rakes to clear away leaves and other debris, while other volunteers pulled vines and cleared brush. No artifacts were noted on the surface.

Overall kiln measurements were taken, as well as measurements of the two ‚“eyes”, the openings which help to regulate air flow (Figure 1). Measurements were also taken of the top of the kiln, which was a bowl-like depression in which a large tree was growing. The roof of the kiln was thought to have collapsed on itself, but later research has indicated that the structure was open to the elements in order to regulate the fire. Brian Babcock created scaled CAD drawings from the measurements (Figure 2), to be included in the report on this project.

chicopee_kiln_eyes

Figure 1. View of ‚“eyes” for ventilation and access on front of Chicopee Lime Kiln.

Reconnaissance was also made of a nearby undeveloped property, which was found to contain large limestone outcroppings. The existence of these outcroppings near the kiln indicates that the structure was used for making lime rather than pottery or some other function. Limestone from the adjacent property is thought to have been transported to the kiln and then fired into lime.

A small stream that parallels the kiln had a man-made rock wall along it, which might have served as a base for a wheel or flume to bring water to the kiln site.

In addition, Jon Hoekstra has indicated that a similar facility, possibly another limestone kiln, is located nearby, but is extremely overgrown.

Further work on the lime kiln will include close-order shovel tests between the kiln and the stream, research on land ownership, and further research on the construction and function of limestone kilns and their use in the community.

Following the field exercise, chapter President Dan Page began library and local-informant research and learned the following details about the kiln.

This structure is referred to as a ‚“groundhog” kiln, since it is set partly into the hillside. This is an early style, single-charge kiln, which fired only one load at a time. It used wood as fuel, and was unloaded through the vent holes or ‚“eyes” near the base. The open top allowed the lime to be piled from above the ‚“kettle” area. Limestone was available within 100 yards of the kiln, and is still visible. Many local farms had similar small kiln facilities near limestone outcrops to produce lime for their own use.

chicopee_kiln_cad

Figure 2. CAD drawings of Chicopee Limestone Kiln.

Later the lime industry expanded, providing a large source for cement, fertilizer, and other uses. Transportation improved, other fuels became available, and many of the kilns became free-standing structures. These were capable of continuous firing, and did not have to be closed down to empty or refill the ‚“kettles.”

Further background research on limestone kiln operation and its economic and social importance is continuing by chapter members. Further field research will wait until fall leaf-off, to allow easier access and visibility in the area.