Pioneer Ingenuity: Building lime kilns was essential for pioneers as without lime they could not build their brick homes. Consequently, there were several lime kilns built in, and around, Owen Sound in the early years of settlement.
As settlers continued to arrive in the area there was a need to build sturdy houses to protect the inhabitants from the harsh winter weather. Brick making was one of the early industries in Owen Sound. Therefore, it was essential that a supply of lime be available to the builders erecting the pioneers' homes. Given the lack of efficient transportation links with potential lime suppliers it was decided that advantage would be taken of the abundant quantities of the lime which was to be found in the hills surrounding the small community. As a result, many lime kilns were built in the area.
An attempt would be made to build a lime kiln to provide an accessible supply of lime for the building needs in the area. The kiln was to be built at the side of a ravine. A circular excavation was made about eight feet deep and six feet in diameter. A door was built at the bottom which opened out into the ravine. Because the walls were made of stiff clay there appeared to be little danger of caving in. The hole was filled with broken pieces of limestone and piled in a cylindrical fashion above the hole. A fire was started at the bottom of the hole and kept burning until the stone was thoroughly burnt, and all the lime collected. The product was then used to complete the bricking of the pioneers' homes and other buildings.
From this early experiment a commercial lime kiln industry grew and for more than a century line kilns dotted the Owen Sound landscape. Some of you may remember the kilns at the foot of escarpment on Seventh Street West and also on Ninth Street West across from West Hill Secondary School. There was also the remains of a kiln on the farm of William Hickey located on Park Street between Sixteenth and Nineteenth Street in Sarawak Township. However, from early maps we are able to suggest that the first lime kiln was built in the area to the east of 9th Ave. East behind the present Grey County Museum and Archives, the Grey County Building and the former E.C. King Construction.
A map from the 1870s shows four lime kilns in this vicinity. They are all located in an area east of the Garafraxa road, north of Superior road and south of Campbell. On average each of the four kilns is three chains (approximately 200 feet) from Garafraxa. Robert Holmes and his brother William moved here from the Guelph area and established a commercial lime kiln at this location in 1846. In the same year Robert built his home at the top of Sixth Street East near the location of his enterprise. Pictures in the Grey County Museum and Archives show one of the four kilns still in operation in 1946. Its owner was a man named Brown.
The building of these early lime kilns and the establishment of a lime burning industry in this area is only one example of the ingenuity and entrepreneurial ambitions of the hardy people who came to this area and helped create the thriving community on Georgian Bay which would become the city of Owen Sound.
The original version of this article first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.
An interesting note: During the week following the publication of this article the Sun Times received more than 30 telephone calls reporting of the locations of many lime kilns in the region. Thus proving the importance of lime kilns to the settlers.
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