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Lime Kiln Bottom

Lime Kiln History

Lime Kiln Bottom is the low-lying area on the north side of the Mine Bank Run. Included in this area are multiple lime kilns, a log house, the limestone quarry, and the "balancing reservoir" which was built in 1922 as a part of the Baltimore City water project associated with the dam. Through the tireless efforts of a group of volunteers, and major funding from some good friends of the park, including the France-Merrick Foundation, the historic lime kilns have been restored and preserved for future generations.  Click below to learn about each of the three historic kilns.

Lime Kilns & Merrick Log House

Through the tireless efforts of a group of volunteers, and major funding from some good friends of the park, including the France-Merrick Foundation, the historic lime kilns have been restored and preserved for future generations. The picture above shows the three major kilns, built and used at varying periods of time.


The Risteau Kiln is thought to have been built out of local field stone before 1785. This type of kiln is known as an intermittent burn box kiln and it greatly increased the production of lime over its predecessor, the “pit” or “field” kiln. The lime burning process involved loading the kiln from the top with alternate layers of fuel, usually wood and Cockeysville Marble, which was quarried less than 200 yards from this site, and transported by mule cart. Pictured here is an original cart that could have been used in this operation.

The bottom layer of fuel was ignited and the lime-making process began. Heat from the burning wood rose through the alternate layers of marble above, helping to warm and then bake the rocks. The bottommost layer of limestone was actually burned by the wood fire just below it. The marble and wood mixture was allowed to burn down for several days. Usually, it took from nine to twelve days to complete one cycle of lime burning.

In 1865 the ownership of Long Island Farm and this kiln passed from Dr. Thomas C. Risteau to his grandson Thomas Risteau Jenifer. Mr. Jenifer ran the farm until his death in 1915.

In addition to the natural support provided by the hillside into which this kiln is built, looking at the front of the Risteau Kiln you can notice the two curved walls protruding from its face. These are wing walls erected to provide extra stability to the structure. Between these two wing walls there is one large opening and four smaller openings. Unique to this type of kiln, and to Lime Kiln Bottom, the two foot by six foot opening is the “draw hole” by which the finished quicklime was removed from the kiln. On both sides of this man-sized draw hole are upper and lower vent holes. These four holes were used in varying combinations to supply fresh air to the burning chamber within the kiln so heat levels could be controlled. Sometimes grass sod was also placed over the top of the kiln to provide lower heat and a slower burning time.

Around the middle to late1800s, this type of kiln was gradually replaced by a more efficient, continuous burning kiln such as the Jenifer Kiln to the right.


The Merrick Log House is included here since it is located near the kilns and probably served as the home of the kiln manager. Plans are underway to stabilize and preserve the structure and to use it for an appropriate educational function.

The two-and-one-half story log and frame Merrick Log House was constructed in four distinct phases over a period of 200+ years. Each of the additions to the house represents an architecture and design engineered to meet the lifestyle of its occupants. The original stone and log structure was built sometime between 1797 and 1805 and probably housed the kiln manager and his family. Monitoring the lime burning process was a 24-hour a day job. Constant attention to heat levels was necessary in order to get the proper results.

Most of this original structure survives because the foundation and first floor were built with stone and this is not susceptible to rot and insect destruction. After lime production ceased at the kilns in the early 1900s, the log house was used as a residence by the farm managers of Long Island Farm. One such manager was Coleman Parks. He was a Jack of all Trades, gardener, carpenter, painter, plasterer, farmer and caretaker of the Jenifer property.

Later, the log house was used as rental property by the owners. In 1949, newly-weds Charles and Nan Hagan rented this house from the Jenifers for $40 per month. It was a bit rustic but it was close to Mr. Hagan’s work at Black & Decker in Towson. The last tenant left the log house in 1992 when the Maryland Department of Natural Resources bought the property to be included in Cromwell Valley Park.

[Click for photographs and more historical information:  Part 1 and Part 2]


[Click for photographs and historical documentation Part 1 and Part 2]

In 1848 Daniel Jenifer of LaPlata, Maryland married Mary Elizabeth Risteau of Baltimore County. It was their fourteen year old son, Thomas Risteau Jenifer who was gifted in trust in 1865 the Long Island Farm property by his grandfather, Dr. Thomas C. Risteau. Gradually, Thomas Jenifer took over management of Long Island Farm, including the lime kilns.

The Jenifer kiln, on the right, was built in 1883 by the partnership of Shanklins and Jenifer, who were nearby residents. This kiln is a vertical shaft continuous burn kiln, which could operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Typically, kilns were not operated in the winter months due to wet fuel and poor road conditions. As the initial contents in the kiln burned down, more fuel and limestone was added from the top while quicklime was removed from the bottom of the kiln. This continuous operation could produce up to 6000 bushels of lime per year, much more than the previous limestone burning process of the Risteau kiln. Lime from these kilns and other kilns throughout the county and state increased crop production so much that the Middle-Atlantic area became known as the Wheat Belt of the World up until the 1850s, when the title shifted to the Mid-West.

The Jenifer kiln measures 14 feet square from top to bottom and stands 24 feet tall. The entire kiln is solid rock and mortar with the exception of a 48 inch diameter hollow center core, which is the fire brick lined burning chamber.

The Jenifer kiln is distinguished by its artistic use of brick. Originally, this kiln was topped by a 10 to 15 foot brick chimney which carried away the smoke and toxic fumes from the lime burning process. Half way down the kiln there is a brick lined arched “poke hole” on both the north and south sides.

These openings provide access to the burning limestone in case more fuel was needed. It also allowed access to the burning limestone so it could be stoked periodically to move the mass of quicklime and ash into the cooling chamber.

Three courses of common brick were artfully used also in framing the arched vault that contained the funnel shaped metal cooler. The brick sides and roof of this chamber extends 7 feet back under the kiln cooling chamber.

Notice also the wood timbers held tightly against the kiln walls by a system of metal tie-rods originally built into the kiln walls. The outward pressure of heat and expanding stone was contained by these tie-rods and dispersed onto the timbers by the round metal spreader caps. As shown in the photo below, wood sheds covered the area in front of the Jenifer Kiln. These were probably constructed to protect the quicklime from rain during packing for shipment. Quicklime was very voletile until it was “slaked” with the proper amount of water.

In front of the Jenifer kiln a stone patio still exists from the 1880s. Presumably, this stone patio protected the ground in front of the kiln from damage by wagon wheels and allowed extended use during bad weather.


The Shanklin Kiln, built in 1893, is the youngest of the three grouped kilns. It is a continuous burn vertical shaft kiln capable of producing 6000 bushels of quicklime per year.

The fuel needed to produce this much lime amounted to approximately four acres of trees annually per kiln.

Continuous burn kilns could be operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Wood and Cockeysville Marble were dumped alternately into the top of the kiln and, after several hours, finished lime or quicklime came out of the bottom. This lime was placed in barrels, covered and sent to market.

One feature of this kiln is the increased use of brick. The 4-foot diameter-burning chamber was lined with firebrick. The top of this stack is also framed by a square pattern of brick, which was probably the base course of the 10 to 15 foot chimney.

Half way down the kiln, firebrick was used in the poke hole leading to the burning chamber. At the base of the kiln is the three-course brick arch at the entrance of the cooling vault. Inside the vault the curved brick ceiling extends 11+ feet back into the base of the kiln. Also, thevcfloor of this cooling vault is hand laid brick.

Large timber braces are held tightly against the stone surface of this kiln by iron tie-rods and bolted spreader caps. This bracing system provided support for the kiln walls so they were not pushed outward by heat and expanding gasses of the lime burning process.

The wing walls of this kiln also present an unusual pattern of kiln support. The wall supporting the north poke hole patio extends in a zigzag pattern ending up resting against the wing wall of the Risteau Kiln. The upper wall of the south poke hole patio extends south then bends around to the west. However unusual in appearance, these walls added support and stability to the Shanklin Kiln.

The Shanklin walls are tapered from 14 feet wide at the bottom to 12 feet square at the top.


Since very early days, Baltimore City had been looking for reliable water sources for the growing city. This search took on new importance after the 1904 fire which destroyed 140 acres with 1,500 buildings in the center of the city. Early planners always looked to the Gunpowder River as a possible source. An 1852 detailed plan showed an interesting approach, however it wasn’t until 1922 that the balancing reservoir was built on the northeastern edge of Cromwell Valley Park.  The construction was done to control and manage the flow of water from Loch Raven dam to Baltimore’s water treatment plant at Lake Montebello.   While the balancing reservoir is no long used, its principal features are still clearly visible.    Click here to read more about the reservoir.