Over on Flickr we’ve been having a little discussion about Glenville’s Dawson family and their connection to a lime kiln in the western part of the town, a decent distance from their family home on Saratoga Road. I always think of Glenville as lousy with shale, but it turns out there’s some significant limestone to the west, and it further turns out that the early inhabitants made a fair amount of use of that through primitive limekilns. Percy Van Epps, the Glenville historian, gave the following history of “The Limekilns of Glenville,” written sometime around 1926:
Crossing the entire western end of Glenville is an outcrop of dolomite surmounted by limestone. This rock exposure is due to an earth movement, a tilting of the strata lying immediately west of a fracture of the underlying rocks. This particular rock-displacement is known to the geologists as the Hoffman’s Ferry Fault; a great and deep-seated fracture and displacement stretching from the Mohawk River, at the west line of the town, northeasterly to a point near the junction of the Sacandaga with the upper Hudson, near Luzerne. It is estimated that the territory lying next east of this great crack in the earth’s surface dropped at least a thousand feet; some geologists say twelve hundred feet.
Thanks to this ancient disturbance of the surface, known to have happened long prior to the glacial epoch, Glenville has an exposure of limestone nearly one hundred percent pure. The value of this was recognized almost at the first settlement of the town. This is shown by the numerous old-time limekilns dotting the region. Hardly a farm on this outcrop of limestone but had its individual limekiln. Many such were also built on the nearby farms of the slate regions to the east, the limestone being quarried and drawn to these kilns, where it was burned both for the making of mortar and also to apply to the soil. Its value for the latter purpose was early recognized by the farmers of this last mentioned part of Glenville, whose lands, underlain with slates and shales, were soon found to be quite deficient in lime.
With one exception, so far as known wood was the only fuel used in the limekilns of Glenville. This was a kiln operated for commercial purposes, situated on the extreme eastern margin of the limestone outcrop, a little over a mile west from the village of Glenville. Here, coal was used in calcining the limerock. The kiln was owned and operated by James V. Peek and the lime burned therein was drawn by teams to Schenectady and other nearby markets.
Peek’s limekiln was a “draw-kiln,” so-called, the only one of that type in Glenville. The draw-kiln was one in which alternate layers, or charges, of coal and of limestone were placed as needed, while at certain intervals the burnt stone and ash were raked, or drawn out at an opening provided for that purpose at the bottom of the kiln. Thus kilns of this type could be kept in continuous operation for weeks at a time, their fires perpetually burning.
The outcrop of limestone, of early Ordovician time, brought to light in western Glenville by an ancient disturbance of the earth’s surface, is the only deposit of limestone in the area of the town. Except for a very small surface exposure in the extreme north parts of Rotterdam and Princetown, the southern visible termination of the strata appearing in Glenville, there is no other limestone found in any part of Schenectady County nor is there any to the eastward till the other side of the Hudson River is reached.
Nearly all the abandoned limekilns of Glenville are now but bare and unsightly heaps of stone and earth. Occasionally, however, one will be seen whose sides are well-covered with a growth of bushes and perhaps a tangle of clematis or wild grapevines of regular contour; these mounds often arouse the curiosity of those today passing by, who are ignorant of their origin or use. When closely examined, their crater-like interiors with fire-reddened walls plainly showing the effects of great heat, often in places coated with a glassy slag, but adds to the wonder and speculation which they call forth. It was but a few years ago that one of these old kilns of Glenville figured large in a fantastic tale published at that time, its author totally at sea as to the true character of the “haunted ruins” of his supposedly-true story.