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.]

Lime Light

The purpose of this informal group is to study, understand, and teach the history of the lime industry in the Santa Cruz mountains. It is hoped that by focusing on the technical aspects of individual kiln sites, a more complete story of the evolution of this industry will result.

We also promote the preservation of these valuable artifacts of our heritage, through restoration and maintenance, to be utilized as "outdoor museums."

All copyrights to the descriptive and interpretive material in this report are reserved.

Persons with primary or secondary source material; archives, letters, business records, diaries, and photographs; or differing opinions on this (or any other limekiln site) are encouraged to contact "Lime Light."

The author is a member of the Society for Industrial Archeology and the International Brick Collectors Association (member numbers SIA 2054-R and IBCA 788).


In 1975 little Joey Mullen led me to his "castle" across from where he lived on Ice Cream Grade. He didn't know what this structure was really used for, nor did I, but this started my probing into the past!

I would especially like to put Mike Luther in the limelight! Our mutual interest becomes synergistic when exploring and photographing together, and many of the concepts and interpretations presented here were generated "in situ." Mike has meticulously surveyed these kilns, and again I feel fortunate to be able to present his artistic rendering. I also appreciate his patient and thorough editing, and helpful suggestions.

Thanks to Ernest Wildhagen for sharing his memories of his walk down Ice Cream Grade in 1912! To Nancy Andreasen for saving and sharing her history class project, to Jeff Thomson for sharing his research and altimeter, and to Ken Jensen (who started it all) for his interest and support.

Gratitude to Mary Crouser, park ranger, for her assistance in making this report a reality, and for her patience!

And, again, to all those; past, present, and future who suffer from "lyme disease."

Bob Piwarzyk, Bonny Doon, February 22, 1996


The lime industry of the Santa Cruz mountains employed about 200 men at a time when the city of Santa Cruz had a population of 800 persons! Later, about 25 men worked by hand at the Laguna limekilns quarrying, cutting fuel, making barrels, loading limestone, burning, and unloading and packing lime. The industry was, and continues to be, an important part of the county.

This site was remote, and shipping heavy barrels filled with lime five, steep miles to the railhead in Felton was hard and no doubt costly. This may be the reason the operation closed down after only about a decade, or perhaps it was due to the small deposits not being economical, or the lack of wood to fuel the kilns, or the danger to public traffic on Ice Cream Grade. In any event, its short life makes it easier to interpret the site, as the very nature of long-term quarrying can destroy any historical evidence as the quarry expands. It is the most concentrated, yet interesting, diversified site to be found, and offers an excellent opportunity to study the effects of quarrying and logging for fuel on the environment and the recovering ecology.

The story of these kilns has been synthesized from data collected and observations made over the last twenty years. Two and three foot narrow gauge tramways, an aerial tramway, and many small quarries make up the site. The kilns are the first to reveal firebrick floors in the fire chambers. Fourteen named firebricks were found on the site. All but two were probably imported from Scotland, England, and Belgium --- and that one had never been reported before!

Delightful stories abound on how "Ice Cream Grade" got its name, but for the first time the eponym for "Adams Road," its precursor, is identified as the Reverend Phelps R. Adams, assemblyman from Bonny Doon in 1893.

Many limekilns described in the historical record have already been destroyed. The Laguna kilns, quarry, tailings, and access ramps are overgrown. Several small trees grow in, on, and around the kilns, which are recommended for removal, but otherwise the kilns are in excellent condition. However, the lintel stone over one arch has failed and may result in eventual collapse of the front wall of the right kiln, which is already slightly bowed.

The Laguna kilns are an asset to the community and every effort should be made for their protection, restoration, and interpretation. More research is needed to establish the closure date and reason, and to date the tramway rails and pulley found on the site. Every effort should be taken to designate this historical industrial site with a California archeological inventory number, and to place it on the national register, as steps leading to grant funding for further research and restoration.


The purpose of this report is to compile an historical background and a site description of the limekilns on Ice Cream Grade at Laguna Creek in order to educate the citizens of Santa Cruz and Bonny Doon as to the value of this site; to prepare a plan for maintaining, and preserving these kilns; and to propose an interpretive program for the most effective utilization of the site.

This report was commissioned by the Santa Cruz City Water Department. The site is on their watershed property. Portions of a previous report, "The Limekilns of the Pogonip," have been repeated, revised or expanded to make this a separate, complete document.

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Bonny Doon, kilns, mining


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