A Historical Column From The Fayette County
Historical Commission and Fayette County Judge’s Office
Kreische’s Quick Lime
By Charles Hebert
Heinrich Kreische arrived in Galveston, along with his brother Carl, on Dec. 27, 1846; together, they began their trek inland towards what is now Mason County. Both men had each been awarded a 400-acre tract of land on the Llano River by the Organization for the Protection of German Immigrants to Texas.
Heinrich soon departed Mason County, leaving behind his land grant, to seek his fortune in Fayette County. Arriving sometime in late 1848, he began to exercise his trade as a stonemason and soon became friends with Georg Carl Willrich, a prominent German settler in the Bluff area. Although Willrich was a lawyer in Germany, he became a wealthy farmer in Fayette County. Kreische soon convinced Willrich to sell him 172¼ acres on the top of the bluff overlooking La Grange, and it is here where Kreische’s Quick Lime production began.
Lime kilns originated in Europe and were quite useful during the Victorian Era in England (1831-1901) and in part of the Edwardian Era soon after the death of Queen Victoria. It is also probably safe to say that Kreische observed or possibly participated in the construction of such kilns prior to his arrival in Texas, bringing with him this skill along with those of a stonemason.
The 19th century lime kiln on the bluff, constructed by Kreische, is 13 feet square and 13 feet tall with corbelled inner walls to increase the thickness at the top. His lime kiln was a first priority, for without it, the Kreische Home, his brewery, the second Fayette County Jail built in 1853, the third Fayette County Courthouse built in 1855, multiple homes, his beer hall and other business establishments would not have been possible.
So, what exactly is quick lime and how is it made? Quick lime is the calcination of sandstone (calcium carbonate) achieved by burning the stone to a temperature of 1,000 degrees (Celsius) or 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of three to four days, depending on the quantity of quick lime needed. The process used by Kreische involved lowering a worker via a ladder from the top of the kiln to the bottom. Once inside the kiln, the stacking process began with a layer of wood placed at the base, followed by a layer of stone, with the process being repeated until the height of the interior wood and stone reached about 12 feet with all of the materials being loaded from the top of the kiln. Once the process was completed, the worker exited the kiln at the top, and a fire was started at the base of the kiln to burn the sandstone. Sampling was done by removing some stones from the bottom during the burning process, placing the stones in water to test the liquidity of the sandstone and to assure that the temperature was close to the required 1,000 degrees Celsius or 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit. The process also required the kiln fire to be watched and frequently fanned for 24 hours per day for the duration of the burn. The hazards associated with such work required the workers to wear protective gloves, eyewear and a mask to lessen the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning, burns and the effects of other noxious gases.
The lump lime stone, once cooled, was removed through the opening at the base of the kiln, moved from the area, and was then dissolved with water in a process called slaking. The slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) could then be mixed with sand for mortar or plaster.
Kreische’s kiln ceased operation after his untimely death in 1882. When the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department acquired the property in 1977, the mortar in the kiln was in such good condition that there was no need to do any restoration. Over the years, however, the mortar began to deteriorate, and water began to erode the walls of the kiln.
Wesley King, a professional mason, was consulted to assess the integrity of the kiln. It was determined that at a minimum, the kiln needed repointing, and the capstones needed to be replaced. Starting in late July and working through August 2008, Wesley King, Duncan Grigsby with the TPWD and laborer Jason Asbill repointed and repaired the kiln.
The still-standing kiln, his home and brewery ruins all serve as a testament to Kreische’s skill, determination and German work ethic. He definitely contributed to the development of La Grange and the Bluff area by building a number of significant structures during the mid-19th century.