Meet York County’s silent stone sentinels: the Wrightsville Lime Kilns

If you have ever eaten at John Wright Restaurant in Wrightsville, you may have noticed the nearby medieval-looking fortresses facing the Susquehanna River. These stone structures were never strongholds charged with protecting Wrightsville from Columbia invaders, but something designed to improve agrarian life.

Looking south towards the Wrightsville Lime Kiln.

These large stone structures are lime kilns and are remnants of a very important nineteenth-century Wrightsville Industry. The structures are constructed of heavy stone with brick relieving arches and iron lintels that support the upper stone structure. The kilns were abandoned more than 100 years ago, but their form and function are apparent as so much of their original fabric remains. Only the two northernmost kilns have collapsed and are missing a large quantity of original stone.

Advertisement from a local paper in 1855.

Despite their condition, enough remains of the structures to understand a little of the process of burning limestone to create powdered lime. Few nineteenth-century industrial lime kilns survive across the country and almost none of them have been adequately studied.

A lime kiln is used to produce quicklime, hydrated lime, unslaked lime, or slaked lime, by the calcinations of calcium carbonate or limestone. Heating the limestone drives off carbon dioxide from the limestone to produce lime. Lime is useful in different ways such as fertilizer, building materials, or lime-washing buildings. It was regarded as a cleansing product and was used not only on farm buildings but also on factories after 1800.

Looking north towards the Wrightsville Lime Kiln.

The Wrightsville Lime Kilns were part of a thriving limestone-burning operation established by the Kerr family in 1848. The lime produced by the Wrightsville Lime Kilns was known for its whiteness and purity. An 1894 bird’s eye map of Wrightsville indicates that at least five different sets of kilns were operating in the community. Other maps indicate that the kilns ceased operation by 1909. The kilns were donated to the Borough of Wrightsville in 2000.

In the early 2000s the Historic Wrightsville, Borough of Wrightsville, and Rivertowns worked in partnership to restore the lime kilns. Historic Wrightsville received a Historic Preservation Grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 2004 to study the history and current condition of the kilns to ascertain the possibility of preserving these important features to the Wrightsville landscape.

Where to find them

The Wrightsville Lime Kilns are located on North Front Street at Limekiln Alley in Wrightsville, PA. Click here for the exact GPS location.

Learn more about Lime Kilns

Click here for a deeper dive into lime kilns to unlock the mystery of these ancient masonry guardians. For example, Lancaster County once boasted nearly 500 of these silent stone sentinels. Today, fewer than 20 percent of them remain.

For even more information, check out Millersville University’s professor Kenneth G. Miller’s book The Story of Lime and the Lime Kilns of Lancaster County. You can purchase his book on Amazon.

Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County

This was an edited excerpt from the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County’s 2006 1 Bridge, 2 Counties architectural tour book, where I currently serve as a board member. Click here to read the original on the Trust’s website.

Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County

The Trust was established in 1966 to help “stem the rapid destruction of historic properties in Lancaster County.” Through the years, the Trust has been active in helping to preserve many historic properties in Lancaster County that contribute to their respective communities as unique places for people to live, work, and play.

Our equation for success has been working for over 50 years. Look around you and know that our advocacy and direct action have resulted in saving hundreds of historic structures and other sites throughout the county. The flip side is that not everything can and should be saved. The Trust continually faces this delicate balance and works closely with all parties involved to reach an equitable decision for all. Sadly, it sometimes takes an irreplaceable loss to a community before preservation moves higher on the priority list.

Consider joining the Trust today.

One thought on “Meet York County’s silent stone sentinels: the Wrightsville Lime Kilns

  1. The Trailer Park on South Front Street also has these. As accurately as I can remember, 2 or 3 are on the west-side face of the hill that holds a single trailer home on top.

    They are most likely collapsed and dilapidated by now. They were crumbling when I was a young child.

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