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Thomaston: The Town that Went to Sea

Henry Knox: Lime Works

Limestone quarry, Thomaston, ca. 1880
Limestone quarry, Thomaston, ca. 1880
One hundred years after Henry Knox's involvement, lime quarrying was still an active industry in Thomaston.
Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Lime was already an active industry in Thomaston by the time Knox moved to the area, and he became very involved in it as soon as he arrived. According to Eaton, Knox manufactured lime at the quarry on what is now the former Maine State Prison site on Main Street in Thomaston, and he operated kilns on the bank of the river, just upriver of where the Waterfront Market on Wadsworth Street now stands.

Knox’s wastebook is riddled with references to his lime burning activities, an indication of how important this business was to him and to Thomaston. In addition to lime burning, Knox busied several local men with associated industries such as cutting wood for the kilns, or making hoop poles for the casks. Between April 1804 and September 1805, Knox notes the sale of 3,000 casks of lime and the purchase of almost 3,800 lime casks. Even one of Knox’s ships was named the Quicklime.

A letter from Knox to his foreman William Howe Wiggen, dated January 15, 1805 and quoted in Eaton, gives a glimpse into Knox’s lime burning business:

Georges River, looking north, Thomaston, ca. 1890
Georges River, looking north, Thomaston, ca. 1890
Remains of lime kilns in the same area that Henry Knox was operating his limeworks one hundred years earlier.
Item Contributed by
Thomaston Historical Society

Mr. William Howe Wiggen, Having been well satisfied with the zeal, industry and integrity you exercised the last year in the manufacture of lime in my employ, I am desirous of of your superintendence of my business in that line during the present year, - and, you having agreed with me for that purpose, you will regard these instructions as the general outline of your duty… We must get out as much wood of our own this winter as possible, and as many teams are to be hired as can be, and employed in hauling kiln-wood to convenient places near the kilns so as to incumber as little mowing ground as possible. We could at present have five of our own teams, and we may next week have two more from the mills. But we should want six or seven more. It is my anxious desire to have cut and hauled out of the swamp at least 2000 cords. It is also my desire that as much limerock should be gotten and hauled, and all the kilns fitted so as to be burned early in March.

Creighton Kiln Base, Thomaston, 1900
Creighton Kiln Base, Thomaston, 1900
Into the twentieth century lime kilns were operating near the old Fort Wharf, located at the base of Knox Street, near where the Knox mansion had stood.
Item Contributed by
Thomaston Historical Society

Mr. Jordan, Williams and others, must be employed to break into the north side of the west end of the quarry. The coopers must be so regulated, and supplied with heading, as to be kept constantly at work; and they must be pushed to have a stock of hogsheads on hand. Our cattle must be so fed as to be able to work constantly; for this purpose they must have boiled potatoes, meal, and a little salt when necessary. The hay must be used with entire economy. You will, under the direction of Mr. Gleason, attend to the objects of the wood, the rock, the teams, the hay, the wood for home consumption, the care of the buildings, and everything for the care and promotion of my interest… You will please to observe clearly, that your personal labor is not so much my object, as that you should see that others in my employ work faithfully. You must therefore observe daily that every part of the arrangements of the farm and lime works, digging clay, etc., goes on with fidelity and that I am not imposed upon in any shape, by being plundered either of time or property; idleness of hired men is either a theft of time or money, and I would have Mr. Gleason discharge any hired man who should prove idle. I depend on your industry, activity and integrity. My son must be supplied with teams for his fire wood and necessary teaming. The sheep and poultry you will take especial care that they are well fed and secured from injury. Thomaston, 15 Jan., 1805.