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Another Bluffton mysterious place

What's that large mound on Thurman Street on the Riley Creek bank?


Our quest for Bluffton’s 10 most mysterious locations continues with this feature.

What is the oldest existing structure in the village of Bluffton?

Where is it and what was its use?

The answer: The remains of a lime kiln and ashery used in making soap and lime. You will find it on the Riley Creek bank at the bend of Thurman Street, across from the EMS building.

On your next trip down Thurman notice the mound across from the EMS building. If you stand on the mound and look down at the creek bank you will see the remains of the limestone foundation of the kiln.

We have several sources for this story.

This was published in a 1933 issue of the Bluffton News. It was part of a series commemorating the first century of European settlers, who started arriving here in 1833.

The Old Lime Kiln

By Homer Steiner

One of the remaining landmarks of earlier Bluffton is fast disappearing, but traces thereof are still quite discernable.

It is the old Bluffton lime kiln on Thurman street, opposite the J.E. Steiner home.

Years ago, Lucius Siddall and his father saw the need of lime for this community and attempted to build what was considered a modern plant at that time.

Having a very high creek bank to start with, they laid the foundation on the creek bottom on stone. This was built several feet high and then on top of this was started the kiln proper, which was approximately eight feet in diameter.

The kiln was lined with fire clay brick, making a chamber about 18 feet high.

At the top it was necessary to build a fill, which was made of dirt and stone and up this incline limestone was hauled in two-wheeled carts.

The limestone was poured in at the top upon a fire that was fired at the bottom of the kiln and burned continuously.

Wood cut in four-foot lengths was used for fuel. This firing required two or more men who worked in shifts.

Every six hours a draw was made – that, is some of the stone in the bottom was sufficiently burned to serve as lime and after cooling was shoveled into binds and ready for sale.

Sixty years ago (reference to the year 1873) lime was a very essential material in Bluffton, as in other new communities where much building was going on.

Cement at that time was practically unknown and difficult to obtain.

Lime was used in making mortar for brick and stone work and most of the older buildings in the town and surrounding country contain some of the lime from the Bluffton kiln. This lime was used both for laying stone foundations and also for plastering.

The product of the Bluffton kiln was sold by the bushel and anyone requiring lime would go to the kiln and obtain whatever amount they would need in a wagon, barrel or box.

When taken from the kiln, the lime was in large lumps and in order to be used it had to be slacked. This was done usually in the following manner: The lime was placed six inches deep in a large box; water was added until the contents of the box were covered and the slacking process begun.

If the lime was intended for use as mortar, sand was added.

For whitewashing, which was quite common at that time, slacking was usually done in wooden buckets.

Lime made in the kiln was generally made from the upper layers of limestone. This was softer than the strata farther down, and consequently easier to burn and more profitable.

A part of the rock used in operation of the kiln was obtained from the creek bottom near the plant and traces of this are still quite evident by excavation in the creek bed.

Just how much the construction of this plant cost is not known. However, Mr. Siddall stated a few years before his death that the fill, or grade to the plant cost him $1,600.

A large number of people view this old relic every year and this site presents one of the vantage points in Bluffton overlooking the abandoned quarry of the National Lima and Stone company’s plant with its wide expanse of crystal-clear water.

1961 photo from Bluffton News

The following story is from the Bluffton News printed in Jan. 19. 1961. It accompanied a photo, which is the earliest we have of the kiln. Charles Hilty took the photo and wrote the photo identification line.

Only a mysterious hump beside Thurman Street, the old Siddall lime kiln presents a different face to the cameraman who scrambles down to the bed of Riley Creek for a view of the kiln.

A further reminder that early industry in many towns was clustered along the creeks, and that Bluffton did much of its growing up in the Thurman street neighborhood, this old kiln was in operation in 1880.

Stone taken from the creek. Bed and from the near Siddall quarries was burned with wood to make lime. The crumbling stone walls enclosed all that remains of the old kiln and its chimney.

Lazarus Basinger remembers buying the lime at 10 cents a bushel to haul

To his farm to help make the barn foundations, and says that even in those faraway days, the owner, Mr. Siddall, was a white bearded old man.

Other local residents recall another use for the lime, keeping down odors from those outdoor sanitary facilities which dotted every backyard – just at the end of the path.

Why soap?

This was published in “Town and the Fork of the Rileys” during the Bluffton centennial in 1961. As European settlers arrived in northwestern Ohio after 1832 they began clearing the heavily-wooded countryside. That set the stage for one of the town’s earlier industries: asheries. These operated using a by-product of that land clearing.

Ashes obtained from trees burned to open up fields were treated in the asheries to obtain lye, essential during this period in the making of soap.

It appears that Shannon had at least two asheries, perhaps even three.

Ashes treated in the log-lined pits sunk deep into the ground were purchased from farmers clearing their land.

As they burned the timbers in huge piles the remaining ash piles were loaded onto wagons and brought to Bluffton where they could be sold for a moderate cash return.

At the asheries, the ashes were piled in deep pits made up of layers of crossed sticks and straw followed by ashes and repeated the depth of the pit.

Water was allowed to trickle through this pit bleaching the ashes and producing raw lye in the process.

This was siphoned off from a trough in the bottom. From this lye, Bluffton pioneers made soap.

Today all that remains of this early structure are the crude limestone foundations to the kiln. Three forces are at work destroying it: weather, continual erosion of the creek bank and trees growing along the creek bank.

What became of the kiln? As fewer trees were removed and burned, the lime kiln eventually ceased operations and closed. We aren’t even certain when this took place, but it was probably a gradual decline.

In the past 60 years (remember, this was written in 1961) the stream has worn away the land that originally occupied that area of the lime kiln, eating into the rock underlying it.

The photos of the lime kiln site were taken in the fall of 2021

Photo taken by Charles Hilty in 1961

The black and white photo was taken in 1961 - The color overlay photo in 2021.

The lime kiln today

Looking down at the creek from the top of the mound today.


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