The work on the lime kiln restoration project, by the Wet/Dry Routes Chapter of the Santa Fe, on the Elmer and Lee Musil's farm, about one-half mile west of Burdett, Kansas on K-156 on the north side, is coming along just fine.
For those of you that don't know, a lime Kiln is just a big hole in the ground. Before the erosion took over, these were well formed almost like a hand-dug well.
The hole is, probably about five feet across and 12 feet deep, were dug down into a creek bank or slough. Then at the bottom, a second hole was dug at an angle to the main structure to allow access to the bottom, so that air could penetrate and to make a draft so that the fire would more easily burn. When that was done, limestone was quarried into blocks somewhat similar in shape to post rock: These would be laid along the walls of the kiln and then wood was stacked in the middle. The wood was burned and the process caused the limestone to change its composition to a powdery substance. Once the fire was out, it would either fall or it was knocked to the bottom of the kiln. The lime was then take out the smaller access hole in the bottom and the result was lime, which could be used in production of concrete for mortar in building projects, white wash and for sanitation. The price for a bushel of lime was from 50 cents to $2. The higher price was to the government building projects. I guess they always over paid.
It is not known who ran these two lime kilns, however, it does appear that this site was chosen for a good reason. It provided the creek bank necessary and it is located about halfway between the Pawnee River, which was the only location for firewood, and the limestone deposits. The raw materials were all there for the taking. The hill for the holes. The limestone to be quarried. And the wood to be cut. All you had to invest was days of backbreaking labor.
Now on to the restoration project!! Lee and Elmer were joined at the site by Elmer's wife and Lee's mom, Ellen Musil. All three of them are happy with the restoration work that is going on.
Elmer said he was worried for years that the old structures were going to be lost by erosion. Elmer had thought originally that years ago they some sort of Indian storage facility. But that thought was soon knocked out of his mind when David Clapsaddle stepped into the picture.
The Larned historian, said the lime kiln still stuffed lime, was proof that is was a kiln and not some sort of Indian storage facility. Clapsaddle, explained that the lime was salvaged, in 1969, when some local people excavated the kilns and found them full of lime. The lime, was run through a grinder and then it was taken to Fort Larned National Historic Site, six miles west of Larned, Kansas, to be used in reconstruction of some of the early buildings at the site.
Now through the hard work of David Clapsaddle, Mildon Yeager, Herman Musolf and other volunteers, a retaining wall has been constructed to keep rain water from running into the kilns, causing more erosion. The lime stone used in the project came from a demolished pioneer limestone barn in Hodgeman, County.
The next step was to put up a roof, held up by poles to protect the kilns even better from the harsh Kansas weather.
"These are the only kilns that I know of in the entire state that have been or a will be protected and preserved," Clapsaddle said. "They are in pretty remarkable condition. You can still see the clay plaster that was baked hard onto the sides"
Preserving the kilns was the idea of Burdett, Kansas, native Louis Van Meter, past president of the Wet/Dry Routes Chapter. Van Meter's great-great-grandfather was John Van Meter, one of the 13 inhabitants of Brown's Grove founded in 1876. When the railroad came west from Larned, Brown's Grove died overnight. The town of Burdett took over.
Louis Van Meter shared with the club his interest in the kilns, the word spread and as they say the ball started rolling.
"We've had a lot of interest in it and a lot of help, we've had help from the Lyons Club in Burdett and the Sons of the American Legion."
So to sum it up, the lime kiln is being preserved for future generation to enjoy and learn more about this small piece of American and Kansas History, all and in part by the efforts of a lot of fine western Kansas folks and the Wet/Dry Routes Chapter.
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