History of the Lime Kiln Dam
Sources: Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center and Ozaukee County Staff
The Milwaukee Falls Lime Company was established in 1892 with the opening of a limestone quarry in the Village of Grafton. The company, managed by G.A. Mace, constructed five lime kilns adjacent to the quarry near a reach of the Milwaukee River north of Cedar Creek. An early description of the quarry gives its size as 800 ft. long, 400 ft. wide, and 40 ft. deep.
Prior to 1915, a timber crib dam with earthen backfill was built into the abutting limestone walls and solid bedrock island that defined the river channel. Around 1915, the dam was reconstructed with concrete and additional earthen backfill, reaching a hydraulic height of five feet. The dam's 60-foot long spillway created a five-acre impoundment with an average depth of five feet and maximum water depth of nine feet. In addition, a raceway with concrete walls was constructed west of the bedrock island to divert the river's flow, increase velocity, and power a machinery house that spanned the raceway walls. The machinery house supplied power to an air compressing engine that operated the drills in the quarry and powered the tram cars up the incline to the kilns.
The company continued its lime production through the turn of the century when its operations were purchased by the Tews Lime and Cement Company. As the country's need for the product dwindled in the early twentieth century, lime production at this site decreased and ended by the mid-1920s.
In the early 1960's, the Village of Grafton acquired the site, paying $6,000 annually over ten years to the Tews Lime and Cement Company, and filled the former millrace with concrete debris and earthen fill. During this time, the dam began to fail. In 1963, repairs were made to the Lime Kiln Dam to prevent further damage. About this time, one of the limestone quarries located northeast of the remaining kilns was filled and paved to become a parking area. The date of the demolition or collapse of two of the five original kilns is unknown.
Four tramway piers and the raceway walls were preserved and are still visible at the site today.
History of Wisconsin Limestone Production
Source: Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center
Historically, limestone was the most commonly quarried stone in Wisconsin. To a limited extent, Wisconsin's limestone was used in building construction. However, due to the natural irregularities in the State's limestone deposits, its main use was in the production of lime. Lime was used to make whitewash, plaster, and mortar for buildings, to condition soil, and to treat animal hides and leather. Wisconsin's earliest efforts at lime manufacturing consisted of burning heaps of limestone and wood together until lime formed among the ashes.
By 1859, the manufacturing of lime had become a prominent industry in Wisconsin and commercial lime kilns had been established in various regions of the State. Commercial production sites generally used chimney-like vertical-shaft kilns of masonry construction with cast iron fire grates and doors. These were usually located adjacent to a supplying quarry and not far from rail or shipping routes. Once cut into moveable pieces, the limestone was hauled to the top of the kilns via an inclined tramway or narrow-gauge railway. The limestone was dropped into the top of each kiln and would be converted to lime by the heat from two or more fireboxes located in the walls or near the kiln floor. The calcination process (the burning of limestone to form lime) generally took between four and 24 hours. The finished lime was removed from the cooling chamber at the bottom of the kiln.Wisconsin's limestone kilns were typically heated by local hardwood.
Most commercial lime manufacturers operated four to five kilns per site. Typical kilns measured between 25 and 50 feet in height and 15 to 30 feet per side, often tapering toward the top. Some kilns were set into hillsides with earthen pathways leading to the top of the hill where the limestone would be fed into the kiln. Commercial kiln sites often included storage sheds, rock crushing machinery, offices, waste piles, rail sheds, company housing, and, at more extensive sites, a hydrating plant that would add water to the crushed lime to make it easier and safer to ship. Around the turn of the century, mechanical kilns were developed, although the older vertical shaft kilns continued to be used into the twentieth century.
Wisconsin's commercial lime manufacturers were located primarily in the eastern parts of the state. By 1850, only ten commercial lime companies operated in 1892, and 51 operated in 1911. Wisconsin's densest lime production was located in the Racine, Waukesha, Sheboygan, and Milwaukee areas, and later in more northern areas of the State. By 1901, Wisconsin produced the seventh largest amount of lime in the United States, and between 1907 and 1914, it ranked as the third largest producer. By the 1920s, lime production in the State began to decline, and the Great Depression's impact on the construction industry meant that the demand for lime would continue to drop. By 1940, only 11 lime producers remained in the state.
1845: First dam building privilege granted to B.H. Mooers
1850: Lime manufacturing becomes prominent in Wisconsin
1892: Milwaukee Falls Lime Company established
1901: Wisconsin ranked 7th largest lime producer in the U.S.
1910: Wisconsin ranked 3rd largest lime producer in the U.S.
1911: 51 commercial lime companies operating in Wisconsin
1915: Original timber and earthen construction dam rebuilt with concrete and earthen backfill
1920: Lime production declines due to Great Depression
1940: Only 11 lime producers left in Wisconsin
1961: Milwaukee Lime Company transfers ownership of the dam to the Village of Grafton
2008: Dam fails WDNR safety inspection
2009: Ozaukee County Planning and Parks Department receives NOAA/ARRA grant for fish passage
2010: Dam removal completed
2012: Full restoration completed
Lime Kiln Park and the National Register of Historic Places
Source: Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center and Ozaukee County Staff
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources completed a dam safety inspection in 2008 and informed the Village of Grafton of required structural repairs to comply with current State dam floodplain and safety regulation standards. The Village determined that a full dam removal was the most cost effective and environmentally sound alternative to comply with State regulations. The Village partnered with the Ozaukee County Planning and Parks Department to remove the dam in 2010 to meet fish passage goals identified in Ozaukee County's NOAA/ARRA grant. During the dam removal permitting process, the US Army Corps of Engineers and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) requested the Village and County complete an archaeological investigation to further determine the historical and cultural significance of the lime kilns and dam. Subsequent studies indicated that the Milwaukee Falls Lime Company was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places and the dam was a contributing element of that historic property. In addition, SHPO requested that the County and Village retain a portion of the dam to commemorate its historic value. As such, the exposed raceway walls were retained, which offered stable "abutments" on which to construct a pedestrian bridge. The Milwaukee Falls Lime Company and Lime Kiln Park were formally listed on the National Register of Historic Places and listed in the State Register of Historic Places in January 2012.