Houston County

Lime Kilns

  Scattered throughout Tennessee’s western Cumberland Valley are a few well-constructed rock configurations that resemble smaller versions of the familiar limestone furnace stacks utilized by the charcoal iron industry to smelt the raw ore during the nineteenth century.  These structures are the remains of lime kilns, once used to produce the fine powdered form of limestone that remains a key ingredient of many essential commodities including mortar, plaster, whitewash, soap, and fertilizer.

In the early 1870s, a superior grade of limestone was discovered in the hilly areas surrounding Erin, Arlington, and Stewart in Houston County.  The preparation of lime provided work for a large number of local laborers and it quickly became the main industry of the county.  The high quality product found numerous buyers within the region and was also shipped by rail to customers in many of the surrounding states.  By 1885 seven facilities employing an estimated three hundred hands produced approximately 750 barrels of the substance per day.  Two companies headquartered in Erin -- Harris & Buquo and the Arlington Lime Company -- controlled most of the lime production in the county.  In addition, each firm operated a large stave and heading factory in conjunction with their works in order to handle and ship their product safely at a distance.

 In January 1898 H.H. Buquo bought the Palmyra Lime Company property in Montgomery County for $3,000.  Until then the company had been owned and operated by M.M. Hussey.  By July 1905 the plant was running at full capacity.  It shipped 500 to 600 barrels per week all over the South from its location directly adjacent to the Louisville & Nashville Railroad line.

As larger producers such as the Southland Lime Company began to dominate the industry, they began to acquire smaller facilities.  Eventually, the company bought the lime works in Erin and Palmyra as well as other kilns in west Tennessee.  By 1925, the Southland Lime Company had closed.  Although several firms tried to market other products such as insecticides and water purification chemicals, their efforts were unsuccessful and the lime kilns ceased to operate by the mid-1930s.

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