[From Lime Kiln Legacies, written by Frank A. Perry, Robert W. Piwarzyk, Michael D. Luther, Alverda Orlando, Allan Molho, and Sierra L. Perry.]

"The Santa Cruz lime is unquestionably equal to the best in the world. None that has ever been imported here can compare with it."
San Francisco Times, 1868

They are quiet now. Ferns, mosses, and lichens cling to their stone walls. Shrubs and vines cascade over their buttresses. Trees sprout from their floors. Nature is slowly laying claim to Santa Cruz County's historic lime kilns.

If the lime makers of the late 1800s could somehow return and see where they once toiled—stacking rock, stoking fires, packing barrels—they would be amazed at the changes. Save for a few quarries and kilns tucked away in the region's forests and canyons, nearly every trace of the lime industry has disappeared. Yet, its effects reverberate to this very day. Lime had a major influence on the geographic, economic, and social development of Santa Cruz County. Both the University of California campus and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park owe their origins to lime. Over fifty regional place names have connections to lime-related activities and people. Even today, a surprising number of area residents have ancestors with links to lime.

intro page
The Introduction from the book is available here.
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Lime is generally made by heating limerock (rock made of calcium carbonate, such as limestone or marble) to over 1,640°F. This drives carbon dioxide from the rock, leaving behind lime. Pure lime is white, caustic, lighter in weight than the original rock, and reacts violently with water. It has many uses, but its principal historical use was for making mortar and plaster. When mixed with water and sand, it will adhere to stone and brick.

The process of making lime has been known for thousands of years. It may have been discovered accidentally when stones around a campfire got cooked enough to turn into lime. In Turkey, archaeologists have discovered lime mortar dating back seven thousand years. The ancient Romans and Mayans perfected the use of lime mortar on a truly grand scale, making stone buildings, roads, and monuments. They also used lime plaster as a finish on walls and floors. In North America, however, lime was not used for construction north of Mexico until European settlement.

In Santa Cruz, the builders of the mission were the first to use lime in construction. Small amounts of lime were manufactured throughout the first half of the 1800s; some was even exported. But it was not until the gold rush that large quantities of lime were produced in Santa Cruz County.

While some of the gold seekers returned East following their exploits, others stayed, and California was never the same. Small settlements grew into towns; towns grew into cities. Demand for construction materials, such as lumber, bricks, lime, and other supplies, increased rapidly. Importing goods from the East Coast was expensive, and the materials took months to arrive. Huge profits were to be made by those entrepreneurs who could locally manufacture the products and corner a major share of the market.

The path followed by Santa Cruz's lime industry is a familiar one, similar to the American automobile industry during the twentieth century and the home computer industry of the 1980s and 1990s, albeit on a smaller scale. In the 1850s a number of lime businesses sprouted up to meet the sudden demand. The smaller outfits could not compete with the larger ones, and by the early 1860s only a few remained. Later, as the market grew and technology changed, some newer companies managed to get a foothold in the market.

Santa Cruz County lime production increased during the late 1800s as the demand for lime rose and improvements in transportation opened up new markets. In 1884 Santa Cruz County produced a third of the state's supply and three quarters of the lime for the San Francisco market.

Although production peaked in 1904, the twentieth century brought the beginning of the end of the Santa Cruz County lime industry. This was because of the widespread adoption of Portland cement as a building material. Like lime, Portland cement is made by firing limestone or marble in a kiln. It differs, however, in that the rock is pulverized first and several other ingredients, such as silica, iron, and alumina, are mixed with it before firing. Mortar made of cement is stronger and harder than lime mortar. Furthermore, cement can be mixed with water, sand, and gravel to make concrete—the most commonly used building material in the modern world. The effect of this superior product was not instantaneous, but by the 1920s Santa Cruz area lime production was on the decline. Santa Cruz County's last lime manufacturing plant closed in 1946.

In 1900 the vast majority of lime used in the United States was for construction. Today, roughly 90 percent is put to chemical and industrial use. Lime is an ingredient in glass, plastics, paper, paints, caulks, resins, pharmaceuticals, and a multitude of other products. It is also put to such diverse tasks as refining sugar, treating water, reducing air pollution, and making steel. People have more daily encounters with lime and limerock than ever before. For example, it has been estimated that more than 300 pounds of limerock are used in manufacturing an average American car.

Surprisingly, little research was done on the history of the Santa Cruz County lime industry until 1976, when Kenneth Jensen chose it as the topic for his master's thesis at San Jose State University. His pioneering work laid the foundation and was an inspiration for the present study.

The purpose of this volume is to explore in detail the lime industry from multiple perspectives. How was lime made? What companies were involved? Who were the workers who made the lime? How did it get to market? What was the impact of geology and geography? And where can people go to see some of the old kilns and quarries? These are just a few of the questions we have explored and tried to answer. We have strived for historical accuracy and to leave no (lime)stone unturned, but history does not give up its secrets easily. Some things we will never know.

The authors also hope that this volume will encourage preservation of the surviving lime kilns and associated structures. Sadly, wind, rain, tree roots, earthquakes, and human neglect have been slowly destroying what little tangible evidence remains of our lime-making heritage. Photographs and words printed on a page can tell about history, but they do not let the reader experience history. They cannot replace touching the vitrified surface of a kiln wall, peeking into a long-abandoned cabin and seeing a rusty old bed frame, poking a finger into a quarry drill hole, spying a stack of barrels inside a cooperage, or hiking along an abandoned ox road. During the many years spent researching this volume, the authors reveled in these and countless other adventures. We hope that generations yet to come will be able to enjoy the same.