The Tipton Conservative Iowa, Tipton, Iowa, March 17, 1960
Transcribed by Sharon Elijah, September 19, 2019
Once Produced Top Quality Lime, Stone in Iowa
By Ruth Clark
All that remains of what was, before the turn of the century, the largest manufacturing concern in Cedar county are the crumbling remains of several large stone kilns on the banks of Sugar Creek.
Here, at the now defunct town of Lime City were 2 businesses which at the height of their activity were operating 12 lime kilns at full blast. The United States Lime company had a capital investment of $75,000 and the Sugar Creek Lime company, $50,000. The firms purchased some 300 acres of land in section 15 of Sugar Creek township.
The companies were organized in 1883 and located on the old Leech place, known also as the Sugar Creek Quarries or the Scott quarries. Many years before these had furnished rock for the Moscow railway bridge, but had been in idleness because they were inaccessible.
Started in 1883
The quarries were transformed into an active operation when the Rock Island lines put a spur into the area in July, 1883 from Wilton Junction. The railroad was said to be substantially built and kept pace with the movement of the lime companies, with as many as 100 men being employed in the construction of tracks and bridges.
Part of the track was built over difficult terrain and reportedly cost as much as $25,000 a mile. During the working season the train made 3 trips a day to Wilton Junction.
The track has long since been completely removed, but the roadbed can still be seen along the creek. In its day the train hauled not only barrels of lime, but provided transportation for the people of the community who wished to go to town, or further.
The kilns were 18 feet square at the bottom, 14 feet at the top and 32 feet high. They were made from solid masonry 30 inches thick and lined with fire brick, filled with clay between the brick and stone and clamped on the outside with iron hoops in the manner of barrels to keep the kiln from expanding when filled for burning. As high as 2,900 barrels of lime were shipped out in a week in 1886.
Large cooling and barreling houses were constructed as well as a cooper shop. Here the barrels were fashioned from staves hauled in by the railroad. The town was laid out and a dozen or more buildings put up before the trees were cut from the street.
The first store was established by L. T. Munn & Co. and the town originally called Munn after the proprietor. Later, with high hopes, it was rechristened Lime City.
In a short time more stores, 3 churches and 2 saloons were added to the growing town. There existed at Lime City what was probably the only example of a company town in this part of the state. Houses for workmen were constructed on a mile long street.
They were identical unpainted frame buildings, fully plastered (from company lime) and white-washed inside. Mrs. Everett Shotwell, Tipton, who lived in one as a child says her mother boiled walnut hulls and tinted the white-wash to provide brown ‘paint’ for a the kitchen and dumped bottles of blueing into it for the front room. In addition to these rooms each house had two bedrooms.
The company also provided its families with a forerunner of modern medical insurance. Dr. G. G. Leith of Wilton Junction was contract doctor and was on call for all medical needs at Lime City. Each laborer paid a monthly fee whether the services of a doctor were required or not.
A part of the community was church and school oriented. There was active competition between the Christian Church and the United Brethren. There was a third small church known simply as Friendly House. A literary society flourished and one of the favorite sports of the men was boxing.
Sometimes at odds with the church-goers were those who frequented the taverns. When the Christian Church burned to the ground, so the story goes, its members blamed the ‘boys’ from the saloons. In retaliation the church members set fire to the saloon and it too was destroyed.
A 1901 Atlas of Cedar county shows Lime City to be a rectangular village with 4 streets; Lowry and Scott running east and west and First and Second streets going north and south.
Some of the lime was sent to Des Moines where it was used in plastering the state capitol building. Building stone was shipped to Rock Island for use in constructing some of the arsenal buildings.
In 1888 the Sugar Creek company tried what was regarded as a “startling new departure.” Instead of burning wood to make their lime they began to use petroleum, the fire being made of a vapor of oil, steam and air combined.
The first kiln to try the new way turned out 140 barrels of lime in 24 hours with 10 barrels of oil. The best ever done with wood was 90 barrels to 3 cords of wood. The lime made by the new process was supposed to be superior.
The lime burning season extended from the middle of February to the latter part of December. During the remainder of the winter workmen stripped the dirt from the limestone in preparation for the quarrying of the following season. Dynamite was used in blasting.
The actual burning process began after tram cars, with one side open, were loaded with the raw stone and pulled upon a trestle by a stationary engine which operated a winch. The cars would dump their loads into the top of the open kiln for calcination.
Cordwood was fed into the side of the kiln at the bottom. After sufficient processing, two metal doors at the front of the kiln would be opened, and the powder, white as snow, would come pouring out. It would be loaded into wheelbarrows and then packed in barrels.
Lots of Cordwood
Surrounding the kilns were heavily timbered hills, so fuel was readily available. It required a tremendous amount of wood to fire the big kilns, and Bert Rochholz, Tipton, remembers how the cordwood was piled 15 to 20 ranks deep for at least a quarter of a mile leading to the kilns.
Ed Proctor, who was known as a man of extraordinary strength worked both at firing and cutting cordwood. Those who knew him recall that he would put in a full day’s work tending the fires and then go out into the timber to cut wood. He used only an axe to fell the trees, trim and split the logs, disdaining saw, mall or wedges.
The plant closed down in 1904. Although it has been said that the supply of wood for fuel was exhausted, those who recall the final days of lime burning maintain that there was still plenty of timber available. They say improved methods and centralization of the lime industry in other parts of the country, and particularly, Portland cement, spelled the end of the local enterprise.
Most of the houses were torn down or moved away and the workmen scattered to the other parts of the country. Six of the original houses and the schoolhouse which served the district remain.
Ed Proctor, who was boss of the lime burning operations, saw what was coming and purchased a farm. His daughter, Mrs. Shotwell, lists the houses that remain: the house in which her brother Fred lived is now occupied by Darlene Proctor; the house her brother Ed lived in is vacant. Across the street is the building which was once the Lime City postoffice. It was the residence of Claude Stanbrow until the roof began to fall in. He now lives beside it in a trailer. Another house is occupied by Tom Proctor and a fifth is the home of Don Showalter. The home of Mrs. Shotwell’s mother, Mrs. Ed Proctor, is one of the original houses of the ‘company town’ and was moved from its location to stand near Tom Pr4octor’s house.
The schoolhouse, never actually located in Lime City proper, is situated on a knoll on the east side of highway 38 southwest of the town, and adjacent to the Lime City cemetery. It is the home of the E. D. Hinkhouse family.
One of the teachers at the school was John Barclay, now 92, who lives in a rest home in Michigan.
According to a geology survey of Cedar county in 1901, the lime burned in Cedar county is of the highest degree of excellence. “It is a cool lime, slow to set, slow to slack and it is to such limes that architects, masons and plasterers now invariably give preference over the so-called hot limes,” said the report.
The hardness and durability was said to approach that of cement and it was stated that buildings in which it was employed showed no sign of weathering after 35 years and the joints seemed as fresh as when struck.
There was also a lime plant at Cedar Valley at this time. It consisted of 3 draw kilns with a capacity of 120 barrels. The product was shipped out on the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern railway.
The report stated that rock of the highest excellence for the manufacture of lime was broadly distributed over the county, as was good building stone. The reason production was restricted to these 2 places was lack of facilities for handling and placing on the market elsewhere.
In many other portions of the county, half burned lime and ruined walls indicated there had once been pot kilns there. These were constructed by individual farmers to obtain lime for their own use. It was obtained by burning the stone and timber together in a pit.
“Cedar county ranks easily first among the counties of the state in the value of the yearly output of building stones, a preeminence due chiefly to the quarries at Cedar Valley and Lime City,” continues the report. It added “that the many small quarries opened in almost every township have value for their convenience to neighboring towns and the rural districts. There is hardly a section in the county where a farmer or townsman cannot get a load of good cheap stone within easy hauling distance.”
Used as Ballast
In 1901 quantities of crushed stone were being used as ballast on the lines of the B,CR and N and C R I and P railways from both the Beeler Quarries at Cedar Valley and from Lime City.
However, most of the roads of Cedar county were unimproved at that time and there were probably few at Lime City who realized that the future money-maker of the quarries was road rock and not lime.
Prophetically, the report noted “the movement for good roads in the county has hardly more than begun. Scarcely a city or village *** ruin. From the beginning such a street has been redeemed from the primitive dirt road of the early settlers.”
[Note: In the transition from page 1 to page 8, a few sentences were omitted.]
But the report predicted progress, setting out the following warning:
“It is of prime importance to remember that no stone, however valuable, will make a good road unless some intelligence is used in its construction. The traditional method of dumping rock of any and all sizes on an ungraded and undrained road has proven the shortest way to its permanent dump makes an execrable road, rough from loose stones and it fast goes from bad to worse.”
The B. L. Anderson Construction company of Cedar Rapids has purchased the quarry property from Ed and Fred Proctor and leased additional land from Mrs. Ed Proctor. The firm has constructed a road for ease in trucking out the finished product and rock crushers are at work producing various sizes of crushed limestone.