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Frederick County Hopes To Save Historic Lime Kilns

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KAREN GARDNER
The Frederick News-Post

WALKERSVILLE, Md. (AP) — When Alice Nemitsas first thought about establishing a park at what is now Fountain Rock Park and Nature Center, the lime kilns were hidden under tangled vines.

“I didn’t even know they were there,” she said. “It looked like a hill.”

Through efforts by Nemitsas, volunteers and Frederick County employees, the lime kilns were restored, and today show an important part of Frederick County’s past. But moisture is getting to three of the ovens, causing the brick lining to crumble.

As always, funding to make the repairs is hard to get, and the county is starting a fund drive to cover the estimated half million dollar repair tag. Called the Fountain Rock Lime Kiln Restoration Project, donations and grants will be sought to preserve this piece of county history.

The rounded kilns are set into a high stone wall in a row. Six survive. Three face the west, toward the Nature Center, and another three face south. It’s the bricks that line the three west-facing kilns that are crumbling. This is happening because moisture from the chimneys above the ovens is seeping into the kilns.

Mesh covers were supposed to prevent that, but didn’t entirely do the job, according to Bob Hicks, assistant director of Frederick County Parks and Recreation. The current project will be installation of a waterproof membrane on the roof of the kilns, to prevent the groundwater from reaching the brick-lined ovens below. When this is completed, the brick linings of the ovens will be restored. That membrane should prevent the bricks from deteriorating because of moisture build-up.

Crumbling bricks from the three ovens have fallen to the floors of the kilns, and one of the ovens has a large pile of the bricks in the center of the floor. The south facing ovens are lined with stone, and there is no deterioration there.

Hicks said the county has been working with the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center, located in Frederick, to preserve the lime kilns in keeping with historic standards. The county hopes to work with the HPTC to restore the brick that lined the west-facing ovens.

A brick mason who knows historic structures will be used for the project, and the county will try to use bricks that match those used to line the ovens.

The lime kilns predate the park by more than 100 years. The limestone kilns at Fountain Rock heated limestone from 1872-1955. The kilns produced a powdered white lime used for fertilizers on farm fields and crushed stone for road resurfacing. During World War II, German and Italian prisoners of war provided some of the labor used in the lime production.

Originally, there were eight kilns, but the last two were never used because they were considered unstable. They have collapsed.

“Frederick is known for its limestone, and we have a battery of lime kilns,” Nemitsas said.

A rich limestone fault runs beneath all of Frederick County, and is partly responsible for the county’s productive farmland.

The Fountain Rock property was used extensively in the late 19th and early 20th century to quarry lime for burning. Today, the quarry is full of water and resembles a placid pond. The land around Fountain Rock is fed by natural springwater. A trail leads visitors around the lime kilns, and signs explain how the lime kilns once operated.

Leonard Barrick bought the property in 1907 as a supplementary limestone quarry to Barrick’s Woodsboro lime plant, but the family decided that the property was not profitable. It was sold several times before the lime operations ceased. At one time, the land was leased as a trout farm, and the state considered buying the land to raise trout, but those plans fell through.

“I just went in to the county and made a presentation to change this property into a park,” Nemitsas said.

After years as a volunteer and a part-time employee, Nemitsas was hired in 1996 to oversee the park and nature center. Part of the park’s mission, she said, is to tell the story of the land. The lime kilns are an important part of that story, as well as part of an important local industry.

The land also had other uses. The spring at Fountain Rock attracted Native Americans well before European settlers. In the 1920s, the pure water was likely used to make whiskey during Prohibition.

Today, it’s a nature center, with all kinds of exhibits and gardens showcasing native plants and animals. It is also a place to experience a bit of Frederick County’s industrial past.

Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, http://www.fredericknewspost.com

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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