Cooking Lime in Bayview, Idaho
Concrete is a key component to the building of America. But did you know concrete started in an oven with the burning of limestone? Some of these ovens or kilns can be found in the small lakeside community of Bayview, Idaho.
The first claim for limestone was located in 1881 near Lakeview and soon followed by 8 more during the next two months. The limestone created by remains of fossil invertebrates of the Cambrian Sea 550 million years ago was plentiful in the hills above Lake Pend Oreille.
The Gray brothers were among the first to discover the limestone quarries and formed the Cannon & Gray Lime Company in 1891 that operated north of Lakeview. They made crude kilns lined with stones and dug into the hillside with rock walls forming truncated cones.
By the early 1900s two companies from Spokane had consolidated most of the individual mining claims and formed two rival businesses. The International Portland Cement Company, built a plant, “The Cement,” in 1912 just north of Lakeview to crush the limestone before shipping it to Bayview and the kilns on the banks of Lake Pend Oreille. In 1921 they built another plant, “The Portrock,” just south of Lakeview. Both plants employed about 100 local men from the surrounding area. The Washington Brick and Lime Company of Spokane operated a plant near Bayview. Mining for limestone became a lucrative enterprise for the Spokane based companies.
Barges of loaded railroad cars were pushed by steamers to the docks in Bayview. From there the crushed rock was loaded into the kilns for processing. The men would alternate layers of wood and layers of limestone in the kiln. The wood was set on fire and the kiln door closed. The crushed limestone rock heated at about 1,000 degrees would chemically alter into Calcium Oxide. After cooling the reduced lime was raked out and shipped to Spokane by railroad for further processing and eventually turned into cement.
The 1930’s brought an end to the cement plants and lime kilns in the Bayview and Lakeview areas. A combination of a lack of market for agricultural lime, a change in the quality of the limestone from Lakeview, the lack of financial resources to improve plants and the onset of the Great Depression made the cost of lime production too expensive for the small companies. So the plants and kilns were abandoned.
Today the foundation of the cement plants and vacant kilns are a reminder to a once lucrative business in the mining history of North Idaho.