Grizzly Gulch Lime Kilns

Helena West Main Street Historic District

Lime manufacture was an essential industry for building in brick and stone in the nineteenth century. The Grizzly Gulch outcrops and the kilns below them supplied the entire region with lime of the highest quality. Joseph O’Neill built the first of these kilns in the late 1860s. Hewn timbers, hand-forged metal braces, and finely laid fire brick shipped from the East illustrate the kilns’ sturdy construction.  Workers blasted or quarried the limestone out of the hills behind, conveyed the rocks on handcars to the kilns or tumbled them down the embankment, and dumped them into the tops of the chimneys. Pine fires in the furnace beneath burned constantly. After several days, workers shoveled the powdered lime into the cooling shed adjacent the kiln and teamsters hauled it to the building site. Each kiln could produce some twenty tons of lime every eight hours. Irish-born James McKelvey later leased and then owned the kilns, supplying the mortar for the construction of the State Capitol. Lack of railroad access eventually forced closure circa 1910 although one kiln operated again briefly in the 1930s.



Grizzly Gulch, Helena, Montana ~ Public