Hurst Lime Works – Iowa History

Just outside Maquoketa, Iowa is a fascinating historic place, the Hurst Lime Works. My husband, Keith and I found this on our way to the National Farm Toy Show at Dyersville, Iowa after a great lunch at the Decker Hotel. The Decker Hotel offers a nice dining option off the beaten path.

Decker Hotel
Beautiful Decker Hotel.

The hotel is one of our favorites to stop at on the way to Dyersville. It is located in the heart of Maquoketa and has been part of downtown since 1875. They offer 17 rooms and a classic restaurant we always enjoy.

Located two miles north of Maquoketa along U.S. Route 61, not far from the Hurstville Interpretive Center visitors may walk among the Hurst Lime Kilns. This century old operation that placed Hurstville on the map offers an interesting slice of Iowa history. The kilns appear near the site on the corner of a country road.

Hurst Lime Works

The Hurst Lime Works works were designed and built by Alfred Hurst. Hurst is quite fascinating. He was born in Lincolnshire, England in 1841 and came to the US with his family when he was nine arriving in New Orleans. He served in U.S.Navy on the Mississippi River transports during the Civil War. During the war, he was part of the battles of Paducah, Shiloh, and Ft. Donelson.

It was interesting to learn that Alfred Hurst was a taken prisoner by the Confederates and escaped to St. Louis. After the war, he learned about the limestone formations along the banks of the Maquoketa River. This brought him to the Maquoketa area around 1870 where he founded the A. Hurst & Co. Lime Works.

Hurst Lime Works
This is one of the historic kilns.

According to the placard outside of the huge lime works, “The kilns were used to produce lime from local stone quarries. Lime mortar was used for building foundations, plaster work and as a finishing coat, 8,000 barrels of lime were produced weekly during peak operation.”

On a trip to Chicago, Alfred Hurst became ill and died after a fall in 1915. The industry was changing at the time with the implementation of the newly popular Portland cement. The new popularity was causing the demand for lime to decrease. Plus, with less timber available to burn the kilns the company dwindled and pretty much shut down operations in 1920. In fact, in 1930, with the death of William Hurst, the kilns shut down.  

A. Hurst & Company left their mark. They were known as the largest operation of its kind west of Chicago. They boasted that they created the purest white lime in the nation. 

In time the kilns were covered by brush and were almost destroyed until the were reclaimed through citizen action. The kilns were then restored in the 1980’s by volunteers after being placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

How the Lime Works operated

The kilns worked first with quarry workers loading stone onto wagons and rail cars that loaded rails to the top of the kilns.

Information on the Interpretive Center shares that the fires in the kilns burned at 900 degrees Celsius (1650 F).  It is hard to imagine the heat! They kept the fire burning around the clock – 24 hours a day 7 days a week. 

The placard explained how sheds worked. The cooling sheds were attached to the front of four kilns. This is where the lime was cooled and barreled for shipments around the US.”

Hurst Lime Works
These kilns brought an entire town to this now abandoned area.

I found the information they supplied about the wood interesting. Many local families would trade wood with the A. Hurst & Co. Lime Works for extra income, lime or goods. The company required 100 cords of wood everyday during peak production!

This wood plays into the winter activity because during the winter, the fires could not stay hot enough to burn the limestone.  Kilns were not operated in the winter months. Men sawed cord wood, and made barrels and fed cattle during the long winter months. The Interpretive Center information said it took “almost 8000 cords of wood a year for each kiln. “

This enterprise eventually grew to 3,000 acres at its peak!

Development of Hurstville!

These kilns brought about an entire town! The Hurst family built two mansions. They also created a worker boarding house for single men. There were also 23-25 worker residences. The town was big enough for a school and a general store that doubled as a hardware store. In town there was a post office, barrel shop, blacksmith shop, wagon shop, the Hurst’s livestock buildings, and a shipping yard for the railroad.

The placard has photos of the town so you can get an idea of what it looked like. But now it no longer exists. This brings up the question of what happened to all the buildings?

Speaking with a worker at the Hurstville Interpretive Center I learned the town disappeared through a variety of reasons, flood, arson and just decay over time. One of the Hurst mansions though is still a personal home in Maquoketa.

Hurst Lime Works

Company Towns in the Midwest

I think of company towns existing in the south, but I wasn’t really knowledgeable of these in the Midwest. However, the Hurst Company workers received an hourly wage, home, garden and pasture use. They also had the company store to buy goods. The placard shares this store later became a popular restaurant.

The Hurst Family

Alfred Hurst married Sarah Lary in 1873. they had five children: Charles, Eliza, Abram, Alice and William. He also served two terms as a Democratic Senator.

A Visit

The kilns are quite remarkable. We were in a hurry when we visited so I didn’t get a chance to climb the stairs and see the view from above. For more details about this historic place in the middle of Jackson County Iowa, stop by the Huntsville Interpretive Center, or call (563) 652-3783 or contact the Jackson County Historical Museum (563) 652-5020.

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  1. Jill

    I, also, think of company towns in the South and wasn’t aware there were some in the Midwest. It looks like an interesting place to visit – I love finding a new place to visit and learning, too.

    1. Cindy

      Me too! I totally agree!

  2. Chrysa Duran

    This looks like a fascinating place to visit. It’s great that they are keeping the history alive.