City wants lime kiln to be main feature of Fenby Farm park CENTRAL -- Union Mills * Westminister * Sandymount * Finksburg

March 08, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Five years from now, bicyclists and hikers will be able to pause beside the face of a hill off Fenby Farm Road near Westminster and look back across 575 million years.

"That's 575 million years, give or take a month," Page A. Herbert, geologist, historian and manager of mineral reserves for Genstar Stone Products Co., says with a twinkle in his eye.

Mr. Herbert is lending his expertise to a city government committee working to make the hill and a nearby kiln, which farmers once used to turn limestone quarried from the hill into lime for their fields, into the historic centerpiece of a new park.

Fenby Farm Lime Kiln Park will be part of 70 acres of city parkland linked to open space owned by homeowners associations in the Furnace Hills and Avondale Run subdivisions. The properties will form a linear park, an uninterrupted stretch of green from Windsor Drive to Old New Windsor Pike, open to bicyclists and hikers.

"We want to create an interpretive park, the idea that anyone can go through there and, through signs, get a general idea of the history of the area," says Thomas B. Beyard, city planning and public works director.

As Mr. Herbert explains it, somewhere in the geologic timeline between the Ordovician and Cambrian periods, shifting tectonic plates created the unique "s" of marble that snakes through Wakefield Valley. The hill off Fenby Farm Road formed when phyllite, a harder rock, thrust up and carried the marble with it. The phyllite formed a cover that protected the marble from the elements.

The results of that geologic activity came in handy about 575 million years later, when local farmers needed lime to dilute the acidity of the soil. The farm off Fenby Farm Road contained what Mr. Herbert describes as ideal -- an accessible supply of marble, or limestone, that wouldn't fill up with the water that plagued in-ground quarries before pumps were invented.

"The guy down there, apparently everything came together for him," the geologist says. "He could mine when he wanted to, and he had another hillside for the furnace."

The owner probably used black powder to blast out chunks of limestone that he carried to a kiln on his property, Mr. Herbert says. He packed layers of limestone and charcoal inside the kiln, which reached temperatures of up to 1,200 degrees as it burned the rock into pellets of quicklime. The next step was to hydrate the pellets to produce lime for the owner to spread on his fields and sell to other farmers.

The kiln probably remained in use until the early 1900s, when the railroad brought large quantities of cheap lime from big mills, Mr. Herbert says.

The park planning committee has not identified the farmer who started the quarry and kiln. Joseph M. Getty, executive director of the Historical Society of Carroll County, says the land title information doesn't make it clear.

Planning Director Beyard anticipates that the linear park will be ready for public use in three to four years, possibly sooner. The committee plans to involve the two homeowners associations in planning.

Westminster does not own the Fenby Farm parkland, but has an agreement that the developer of Fenby Farms will build ball fields in the field along Route 31 and construct a parking lot before deeding the property to the city government.

The transfer will add about 20 acres to the 25 acres that Westminster owns on the southwest and about 22 acres on the northeast that will become part of the park.

Westminster's current recreation budget contains about $10,000 for planning and design for the park. Mr. Beyard said local quarrying companies have indicated that they might help pay construction costs for the interpretive area.

Mr. Herbert's dream is to see the kiln restored so it could be used for demonstrations, possibly tied to demonstrations of other early farming techniques at the county Farm Museum.

He will need someone who knows how to fit stone by hand to supervise restoration of part of the kiln that has caved in, and volunteers to remove the plastic jugs and trash that people have thrown into the kiln.

But his face lights up with historian's interest at the possibility that chunks of marble could once again be transformed into lime in a functioning operation like those between the late 1700s and the beginning of this century.

"I would love to see that," he says.

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