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The Griggsville Landing Lime Kiln

Ray Norbut State Fish and Wildlife Area, Pike County, Illinois

The Griggsville Landing Lime Kiln within Ray Norbut State Fish and Wildlife Area, Pike County, Illinois, is one of the best preserved periodic lime kiln found today within Illinois. Although the date of construction of the kiln is not known, the assessed values shown on deeds and tax records of this and adjacent properties suggests the kiln was built in the mid-1850s. Griggsville Landing was a steamboat stop established in the 1830s about ½ mile north of where the kiln would be built. The landing featured a warehouse from which farmers and merchants shipped their goods, a boat yard, hotel, and a grist mill. The Griggsville Landing Lime Kiln represents a small commercial operation that functioned prior to the industrial intensification of the lime industry, which occurred immediately after the Civil War. Very few old lime kilns are preserved today in Illinois. A few visible examples are a periodic vertical kiln in Maeystown (Monroe County), portions of a lime kiln within an old limestone quarry in Kankakee River State Park (Will County), a stone kiln near the community of Polo (Ogle County), and remnants of a poorly preserved continuous vertical kiln in Port Byron and a fairly well-preserved kiln at Cordova (both in Rock Island County).

During the nineteenth century, the most important use of lime (calcium oxide) was in making mortar and plaster for building construction. Mortar was used to bind stone or bricks together in building walls and to chink between the logs of a log house. Plaster was placed over wooden laths to provide a smooth-finished wall or ceiling in most homes and commercial buildings built during the nineteenth century. The more primitive log houses lacked plaster walls, but utilized lime in the whitewash compound that was applied on the interior surface of the logs. Chemical and manufacturing processes and agricultural applications also provided a small market for lime in the nineteenth century. To produce lime, limestone must be burned with sufficient heat to drive off the carbon dioxide, which turns the rock to lumps of lime and powdered lime. Limestone was burned in either impermanent heaps, periodic kilns, or continuous kilns.

The periodic kiln, such as the Griggsville Landing Lime Kiln, is one of the more primitive kiln types used in this country during the pre-Civil War years, although being far superior to the "heap kilns" used for single-use or small-scale local lime production.

The heap kiln is simply a stack of alternating layers of wood fuel and limestone blocks stacked on the ground or within a pit. It is an expedient, although not efficient, means of lime production that was often used in conjunction with land clearing operations. The quality of the burn in log heaps was impossible to control, and the resulting products were of variable quality, mostly suitable for fertilizer. In urban centers, such as Alton, this type of lime production was replaced by use of stone- or brick-built kilns as early as 1818.

The next step up from a heap kiln is the periodic kiln, the most efficient type of which is the stone- or brick-walled vertical kiln, such as the Griggsville Landing Lime Kiln. This upright, bottle-shaped kiln has an opening at the base and at the top. The walls are about three feet thick and appear to have been either dry laid or laid with a mud mortar that has since eroded away. This particular kiln has an inside diameter of 13 feet and walls that rise 17 feet above the rubble-covered ground surface.