Santa Cruz County History - People

Lime and the Lime Business
by Laurie MacDougall

In order to understand the development of the Cowell business, it is essential to know something about lime. According to one source, "Limestone is one of a select few raw materials that are absolutely necessary to modern industry and our present form of civilization." 19 Limestone is the raw material from which lime is manufactured. Today lime is widely used in various chemical industries, such as soap, glue, varnish and paint, glass, paper and sugar, as well as in construction industries. 20

It was in these, the construction industries, that lime played a particularly vital role during the second half of the 19th century. As the principal ingredient in mortar, plaster, and stucco, lime's importance to the building industry cannot be overemphasized.

Pack mules, used a lime carriers. Cowell Ranch, 1912.
Pack mules, used a lime carriers. Cowell Ranch, 1912.

Before Jordan and Davis discovered the presence of significant limerock deposits in central California, all lime had to be brought around Cape Horn. This was prohibitively expensive. Consequently, a majority of the building that occurred in central California during the boom period around the Gold Rush, particularly in San Francisco, was of wood. The frequency of devastating fires that plagued San Francisco as a result during this period is well-documented. 21 There are enormous variations in the characteristics of limerock deposits, and in the quality of the resulting lime. To build solid, durable structures, first-rate lime is a necessity. The limerock deposits in Santa Cruz County yielded lime of this quality. 22 In addition to rich deposits of the raw material - limerock - Santa Cruz offered an abundance of the timber needed to fuel the lime kilns that rendered limerock into lime. The final element that ensured the success of the enterprise was the location of Santa Cruz on the northern edge of Monterey Bay, providing easy transportation of the finished product by sea to the primary market, San Francisco.

>>Continue with the next chapter: The Santa Cruz Years (1865-1897)

>>Return to: Henry Cowell and His Family (1819--1955): Introduction

Text and photographs are from: Henry Cowell and His Family (1819--1955). published by the S.H. Cowell Foundation, 1989. Used with the permission of the Foundation. The photograph is from The Home Ranch of the Cowells by Josephine C. McCrackin.

Overland Monthly, July 1912.

View similarly tagged articles:

Cowell family, Cowell Ranch, limestone


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