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Lime Kilns

Around Washington Township, lime kilns are taken for granted, but in actuality they are fairly unique to this part of the country.

limekilmDuring the nineteenth century Warren County farmers sweetened and fertilized their lands with lime burned in their own kilns. These kilns could be found on nearly every farmstead. Today most lime kilns are gone, dismantled or just disintegrated into piles of rock piles.  Lime kilns were built especially in Warren and Sussex counties and eastern Pennsylvania due to the geology predominance of limestone in the ground. Large outcropping of limestone were found in the Musconetcong Valley in Change water, New Hampton and Asbury area.

Lime kilns were important because gardening strips nutrients from the soil forcing many to continue moving west searching for greener farmland. Due to the abundance of limestone in this region, farmers began to adopt the manuring practice of the Pennsylvania Germans who could transform limestone into a soil en-richer.

Kilns would be built using fieldstone into a bank of a hill with a wagon path to the top. The kiln would then be filled from above with alternating layers of scrap wood (old fences, etc.) and pea coal, layered with limestone chucks and then set a fire.  Temperatures frequently reached two thousand degrees Fahrenheit and would break up the stone into hot lime often with an explosive bang.  The temperature of the fire would be controlled by adjusting the air flow in the draft hole.  The kilns would burn typically 1 – 4 weeks. The brilliantly lighted kilns led to new words such as “limelight”. The lime would filter onto the grate to the hearth below. The lime was set in mounds and wet down with water. The bushels of cooled, slaked lime were loaded onto farm wagons and shoveled onto the fields.

Typically lime burning was done in late autumn and early spring.  The results were evident in the increased crop yields. Limekilns were considered valuable assets and typically mentioned in deeds, wills, and land tenancy agreements.
Kilns were very dangerous and individuals had to be careful not to fall into the kiln or become asphyxiated by the deadly fumes.  Kilns were used up until the early twentieth century (around WW I) when commercial kilns began to mass-produce lime.

Today in Washington Township there are only five kilns left.


Hawk Point Golf Course recognition for Lime Kiln restoration June 18, 2005

Brian Wilcox Chairman of Washington Township Historic Preservation Commission with plaque in front of restored lime kiln.


Richard Cotton of Hawk Point Golf Course, Brian Wilcox and David Dempski  Mayor Washington Township during recognition dedication.