Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living

The Laguna Limekilns: Bonny Doon
by Robert W. Piwarzyk

[This article is excerpted from a manuscript titled, "The Laguna Limekilns: Bonny Doon," pp. 44-45. The maps, drawings, and photos of the manuscript are not included on this site. The manuscript is copyrighted 1996 by the author. It is used here with permission.]

Historical Background

In California, lime production techniques arrived from at least three directions: from the north by the Russians, from the south by the Spanish, and from the east by the Americans. The Chinese from the west may have made small quantities out of sea shells. Early Santa Cruz was under the Spanish influence and then became Mexican territory. Before the revolt and statehood in 1850, Santa Cruz experienced a time of American influence when the Yankees penetrated into the social and economic structure of the Mexicans. They married, acquired land and began various businesses. One such enterprise was the large-scale production of lime.

Prior to this, lime was either made in pits or in small, single-pot kilns by burning various sources of calcium carbonate: limestone, marl, seashells (large ear-shells and perhaps abalone shells), and fossil seashells. The use of lime made from shell was recorded in ancient China (the Hsia dynasty of 2205 - 1766 b.c.).

Seashell lime was used by the Russians at Fort Ross and by the Spanish at Monterey. The Russians used seashell lime in making soap. They probably also used it in making whitewash for their windmills and farm buildings, in "tawing" hides, and in making mortar (which they probably made since they made bricks). Kilns were also used by both to manufacture bricks from clay. The missions at Carmel and Santa Cruz had tile kilns, which were used to make floor and roof tiles.

The Russian industries are not as evident as the Spanish industries. However, their presence to the north played an important role in our history. Because they were there, and moving south, the Spanish made the decision to establish the missions, presidios, and pueblos, and occupy their claim to the north. The fact that the mission at Monterey (later moved to Carmel) was the second one founded, reflects the urgency of the situation.

The earliest record (in 1792) of lime making in California was by the historic visitor, Vancouver, who wrote of seeing lime being made in Yerba Buena (now San Francisco), and at Mission Carmel "from sea shells --- in great abundance on the shores; not having found as yet any calcareous earth that would answer this essential purpose." Duhaut-Cilly traveled the coast in the late 1820s and reported shell lime being made for the construction of the new mission church at Santa Barbara. Shells have also been observed in cement aqueduct pipes.

The mission church at Santa Cruz was built in 1793. Later reports said the bottom of the walls were constructed of lime rock and lime mortar, but recent findings show that the footings were made of mudstone and mud mortar. The upper part of the wall was made from adobe brick. Exterior walls were usually covered with lime or mud plaster and sealed with whitewash made from "milk lime." The Spanish may have already experienced our wet winters and may have already known that damp adobe wall foundations did not stand up in earthquakes very well!

Sometime after 1797, the mission of San Fernando near what is now Chatsworth, may have used a limekiln to make foundation cement which they called "mezcla." State historical marker #911 notes that this "calera" is the first evidence of European industry in the Los Angeles area. Calera is Spanish for "limestone quarry" or "limekiln."

The stone mission church at San Juan Capistrano was completed by 1806, only to be destroyed in the 1812 earthquake. The exposed hard-burned brick and mortar archways, and the vaulted ceiling of cement (or some would say concrete) withstood the weather many times longer than the ruined adobe structures did.

Lime use is also documented for missions San Buenaventura and San Diego. Missions San Antonio and San Gabriel also had vaulted "concrete" roofs. The Spanish were among the best stone masons in Europe, but California earthquakes added a new element and many of their structures were destroyed or badly damaged in 1812, and continue to be.

The mission economy primarily provided for the needs of the mission. At least that was the intent of Spain, as it was illegal to trade with foreign countries. But trading (actually smuggling) was done with the Russians, the British, the French, the Americans, and others. Mention is made of exporting hides and tallow, and some wine, brandy, olive oil, and leather work. Lime was probably used in making soap and leather but is not mentioned as an export. But we know that lime was used, and that wherever lime was used a kiln was probably located nearby.

In San Francisco the Spanish were building their sixth mission, while the Americans were declaring their independence from England. In 1810 Mexico gained independence from Spain. By 1825 all twenty-one missions had been completed, the Monroe doctrine was in effect, and Mexico had its own emperor. Then in 1834, a new liberal Mexican government ordered that the missions be secularized. That same year saw a Russian from Kamchatka, Jose Bolcoff elected alcalde of Branciforte. By 1846 all missions were secularized except for three, which were sold. Enter the Yankees from the east!

The Americans brought with them a long history of lime manufacturing. Their countries of origin in Europe all made lime. Shell-lime was made by the Spanish at St. Augustine, Florida, and by the settlers at Jamestown, who used oyster shell dredged from a nearby estuary. In January of 1662, permission to burn lime was given by the town of providence, Rhode Island, to Thomas Hackelton. Production was noted at kilns in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania. Lyme, Connecticut, named for its lime industry, is now noted as the first place lyme disease was identified-in addition, many farmers on the east coast made their own lime, for sweetening the soil and other uses similar to the Russian and Spanish. The first settlers of Stone Valley, Pennsylvania, in Northumberland County, built a coal-fired kiln which is still used today! Sailing ships brought lime around Cape Horn from Pennsylvania to meet the demands of the booming new state.

The demand, market, limestone, and fuel were here. Capital was available. Labor was also available, as many men were unemployed from the gold fields. The redwoods were abundant and burned slow and steady with long, hot flames which were ideal for limekilns. The bay afforded the means of shipping the product to market by schooner.

Men like Albion P. Jordon and Isaac E. Davis led the way in 1851. Actually, they may have bought existing kilns operated by earlier Californios in the 1840s. Tradition says their first kilns were the ones now at the UCSC campus gate, but also that they built their kilns on Rancho Rincon land, although the campus gate is not within the rancho boundaries. Their first kilns may have been the ones in the Pogonip or the upper campus (see "The Limekilns of the Pogonip," by the author). In any event, an 1856 production report listed export of 19,331 barrels of lime valued at $57,993.00, or $3.00 / barrel!

Samuel Adams began producing lime one mile west of them in 1858. The industry expanded north out of the city and up the coast to Davenport on the west flank of the mountain, and up the San Lorenzo river valley to the east flank above Felton. The industry not only acquired vast land holdings for the quarries and kiln sites, it acquired forest land to provide wood to fuel the kilns. The industry did not always compete with the sawmills as sometimes the best timber was used for lumber and barrel staves. "Wood" was used as fuel for the kilns. Sometimes the sawmill provided scrap wood.

In the same year, 1858, Andrew Glassell began operating limekilns in Bonny Doon uphill of William's Landing which is now Bonny Doon Beach. The coast road had been built but it was a long, tough haul to the wharves in Santa Cruz. Glassell loaded his lime at William's Landing by sliding it down a cable to the schooner below --- a very unsafe operation. Even with this handicap he took on partners from San Francisco in 1867 and expanded his operation.

The year 1867 also witnessed the start of two single-pot kilns a mile west of Felton by Eben Bennett and his brother Stanley, and by Thomas Bull (AKA Bohl). These men were friends, had side by side operations, and shipped their lime together from Felton to Santa Cruz. Transportation added to the cost of their product and they looked forward to the coming of the railroad to Felton. Construction was stalled for a few years by their competitor, Henry Cowell, who controlled the Rincon. Cowell went to court to deny the railroad a right-of-way, but in the meantime Bennett and Bull's transportation costs were higher, giving Cowell an advantage.

Meanwhile, Henry Cowell became partners with Davis when he bought Jordon's share of the business in 1864. Jordan was ill and died the following year. In 1869, they bought out Samuel Adams kilns, which were located where Grey Whale Ranch is today. Cowell had forced Adams to transport his lime down to Wilder Ranch by refusing him a shorter route across his property. They continued operating it as their "upper kilns" (the kilns that are now at the UCSC campus gate became the "lower kilns.") Cowell went on to be the sole owner when Davis died in 1888.

The Reese (also shown as Reis) brothers started the Santa Cruz Lime Company in Davenport and built a wharf at Davenport Landing in 1875. This was competition for the existing Davenport wharf. Jensen (refer to "bibliography" for Jensen, Koch, Clark, and Orlando) states that their kilns were 3 miles east of the wharf. The end of Thayer Road is exactly 3 miles from Davenport Landing, so the kilns said to have been buried west of Thayer Road could be these kilns!

Grove Adams, who was one of Glassell's partners, ended up the sole owner of that operation. He sold out in 1872 to two men who built a road to connect the limekilns with the wharf at Davenport so they could utilize that better, safer facility. No further mention is made of them, and not much is known about the later owner, George B. Jacobs, of the "Jacob lime kiln," other than these names appearing on a road petition. They ended up being designated "Cowell's old kilns." It is uncertain whether Cowell ever operated them. He bought out many operations which he closed down. His empire was becoming a monopoly.

>>Continue with: The H.T. Holmes Lime Company.



View similarly tagged articles:

Henry Cowell, kilns, limestone, mining, Mission Santa Cruz


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