Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kiln District History

Abel Jeanes Mansion
 I know that I've written this before, but one of the things I find most interesting about the history of Mill Creek Hundred is the variety of people and activities that have taken place here over the past few hundred years. In fact, if there's one thing I'd like people to take from this site, it's that this area's story is a lot more than just, "It all used to be farms." For my money, one of the more interesting industries to pop up in MCH operated in the area just below Paper Mill Road, between Polly Drummond Hill Road and Pike Creek. In this tract, for most of the 19th century, operated the limestone quarries and lime kilns of the Jeanes and Eastburn families. Although some parts of its history are a little sketchy on details, there's enough information about the subject as a whole for me to drag spread it out over several posts. In this post, I'd like to deal with the 19th century history of the site and the families involved (although the Eastburns are far too large to handle in one post, so I'll limit myself to the ones relevant to the lime kilns). In the next posts, I'll explain (as best as I can) what the business was, and then what I think I've found about the earlier history of the property. I'd also like to do a post about the houses and other buildings in the district, if I can piece together enough to make it worth it. [I did, it's here.] Thanks for bearing with me.

The story of what would become the Eastburn-Jeanes Mining Complex begins with Abel Jeanes (1795-abt.1845?), who I think bought an existing estate along Upper Pike Creek Road in about 1815. In another post I'll detail more of what I found about the land pre-Jeanes, but for now, since A) Jeanes was born in PA, B) there is no mention of him in Delaware before 1816, and C) 1816 seems to be the common date for the beginning of the limestone quarrying, I believe c.1815 is about right for his purchase of the property. Whether lime was quarried prior to Abel Jeanes' tenure is unknown, but not long after his arrival he was joined by his brother-in-law David Eastburn (1773-1824), who bought the neighboring farm fronting onto what is now Paper Mill Road. Evidence hints that at this time, the quarrying and burning of lime was done as a secondary activity and source of income, supplementing the men's farms. It was only after David Eastburn's death in 1824 that the business would come into its own.

After his father's passing, David's eldest son, Joseph Eastburn (1802-1882), along with his Uncle Abel, expanded the lime business and made it a full-time enterprise. I plan on doing a separate post about the lime-burning process, but to give the quick explanation, it involves quarrying limestone and burning it in large kilns (eight of which are still present on the property). The resulting material, called quicklime, could then be used in mortar or plaster, or more commonly, as a fertilizer. To give you an idea of how extensive the venture was, by the 1840's there were seven kilns operating on Eastburn's property, and ten or twelve on Abel Jeanes' farm. Joseph Eastburn employed 14 men while Jeanes had about twice as many working for him. As you see, the supplemental activity of a decade or two earlier had by this time become a big business.

I've not been able to pin down exactly when Abel Jeanes died, but my best guess is sometime in the mid-to-late 1840's. It's likely that right after Jeanes' death, Joseph Eastburn moved into the old house on Upper Pike Creek Road. Elizabeth Eastburn (Joseph's mother and David's wife) continued to live in her husband's home on Paper Mill Road until her own death in 1864, after which ownership passed to her 11th child (out of 14 -- the Eastburns are prone to large families), Samuel. Joseph continued to run the lime quarry and kilns, later with the help of his son Joseph, Jr. (1847-1934). The business grew throughout the 19th century, prompting the erection of several of the structures around the site, such as an office, a wagon shed and wheelwright's shop (both to tend to the wagons with which the lime was delivered as far south as Middletown and as far north as Lancaster), and a storeroom.

Bank of six lime kilns along Upper Pike Creek Rd
By about 1900, however, the localized, small lime industry was in decline. Larger, more efficient operations in western Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia began to push out ventures like the Eastburn's. Sometime around the turn of the century, the lime kilns went cold for good. Eight of them remain today (six in one bank and two others), along with several buildings put up by the Jeanes' and the Eastburns (these will be highlighted in the next post). While I don't think there are many, if any, descendants of Abel Jeanes in the area today, the Eastburns have continued to be a prominent family all around New Castle County to this day. Whatever they are doing, I don't think anything can match the uniqueness of the almost century-long business that operated in the Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kiln District.


  1. Cool info! I was wondering about the site which is easy to miss if you're not paying attention. Thanks for the hard work you did looking into this.

  2. You're quite welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it. The "easy to miss" part is one of the things I enjoy most. There's a lot of history around that even long-time residents aren't aware of (like me, until I research the stuff).

  3. Thanks for the post and the great info! I had driven by often and stopped once or twice to read the plaque and check out the scene. Appreciate your background research, much appreciated.