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August 25, 2019

Lime Kiln, Henson Creek Landmark, Acquired by Historical Society


Hinsdale County Historical Society has completed purchase of a notable historic landmark on the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway located between Capitol City and Rose’s Cabin.
The 44’-tall brick Rose Lime Kiln, built by Capitol City entrepreneur George S. Lee in 1881, was purchased for $29,000 from Ronald Tharp, Jr., of Houston, Texas.
The historical society leveraged money for the purchase from a $23,250 State Historic Fund grant plus $7,750 which was donated by the Bureau of Land Management. BLM archaeologist Liz Francisco describes acquisition of the landmark “as an exciting step, the Rose Lime Kiln is an amazing structure with significant history both to Lake City 19th century mining history and, technologically, in the State of Colorado.”
Michael Murphy and Mitch Murphy of Lake City’s Team Murphy coordinated the sale which began in August last year when historical society directors signed a contract to purchase the property, after which the society board went to work on a funding application to the State Historical Fund which derives its revenues from a portion of gambling proceeds in three Colorado towns.
Word that the historical society was successfully funded, based on the BLM’s match, was received in December, 2018.
The historical society’s purchase — the first land acquired by the society in its 45-year history outside the Lake City Historic District — includes the chimney and four mining claims, the Rose Lime Lode and Millsite, and Mary Lime Lode and Millsite — aggregating 30 acres.
The land is mostly comprised of steep mountainside but also straddles Henson Creek and includes a relatively flat portion overlooking the stream where the 44’-tall brick chimney on 10’-square base is located.
The chimney and mining claims are a short distance upstream from a BLM primitive campground and it is the historical society’s intent to work with the BLM on a public trail system with interpretive signage which will lead off from the campground.
The society’s first goal this summer is to selectively remove trees and encroaching brush which obscures the chimney from a pullout with interpretive sign which is located on County Road 30.
In addition to its important history associated with Capitol City founder George S. Lee, the Rose Lime and Mary Lime lode claims are also notable in regional geologic history, according to Western State University Geology Professor Dr. Bruce Bartleson.
Limestone, a sedimentary rock, at the site is an anomaly in what is otherwise best known for its igneous, volcanic origins. The Lake City Caldera, according to Bartleson, was created 22.9-million years ago. Upper Henson Creek limestone near the lime kiln predates both the Lake City Caldera and the earlier, 28.4-million-year- old Uncompahgre Caldera.
Prior to those eruptions, fresh water lakes existed which through eons of years created sandstone beds interlaced with layers of shale and brown, freshwater limestone.
Jumping ahead a mere 30-million years, Capitol City businessman George Seth Lee had an assaying and analytical minerals background. Lee is best known for owning two ore reduction facilities at Capitol City and was the builder of the lavish Lee Mansion.
With a sharp eye for rare mineralization, Lee became aware of the limestone beds up upper Henson Creek and in 1881 patented two mining claims and two millsites which were named for his wife, Mary Lane Lee, and daughter, Rose Lee.
Lee proceeded to employ Samuel Tarkington to erect the vertical feed lime kiln. Limestone which was quarried on the lode claims higher up the mountainside was transported to the kiln where it was roasted into lime, a key ingredient of cement.
The Rose Lime Kiln was built at a time of high economic expectations in the region as the Denver & Rio Grande worked on a roadgrade from Sapinero to Lake City. The railroad failed to finish its Lake City branch until 1889, however, and Lee — who had over-invested in advance of the railroad’s arrival — was financially ruined.
The lime kiln only operated for two seasons, 1881 and 1882, before being abandoned. The lime kiln and mining claims were owned by H.L. Townsend from the 1930s until sale to Texas architect B. Carrol Tharp in the early 1970s.
Hinsdale County Historical Society worked with Tharp in 1993 to have the Rose Lime Kiln placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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