Grey Cloud Island lime kiln collapses
Overlooking the Grey Cloud Island Channel, the 168-year-old lime kiln, a prominent structure that defined the early industrial era in south Washington County, has collapsed.
Shortly before noon Friday, the free-standing kiln was discovered in shambles.
While it is unknown what exactly caused the towering limestone kiln to crumble, Marge Schmaltz, who owns the property on which the kiln resides, attributed it to both its age and the recent heavy rainfall.
“I just feel bad,” Schmaltz said of the incident. “There were so many memories down there.”
Schmaltz said she was running errands when the structure collapsed.
Built in the late 1840s, the lime kiln, situated on the east side of Grey Cloud Island, primarily burned limestone to make quicklime which was used in fertilizers, plasters and mortar.
One of the last remaining kilns in the Upper Mississippi region, it produced limestone products for early settlers until 1900.
In 1949, former St. Paul Park resident Gayle Dippel, then 13, moved to the property. There was a small garage where she and her family lived while the existing house, mere feet from the lime kiln, was being built. The family finished construction of the house in 1952.
“We had so much fun as kids living by the kiln,” Gayle remembered. “We were just enamored with it.”
In 1961, the Dippel family built a new house on the property next to the existing home, and Marge and Otto Schmaltz moved in.
“I supposed that’s why Otto bought this house, because a piece of history was in his backyard,” Schmaltz said.
While the kiln was a selling point for the Schmaltz's, it was also a fond childhood memory for Kyle Dippel, who was born and raised on the property in Grey Cloud Island.
With the Mississippi River, the famous lime kiln and acres upon acres of green space, Kyle said it was the perfect outdoor getaway for he and his sister, Kim.
“It was my wonderland over here,” he said. “And the kiln was a big part of it. It’s like losing an old friend.”
It was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1978.
Throughout the years, the Grey Cloud Island lime kiln was a destination for history buffs, passing canoers, school field trips, senior citizen outings, even a trespasser or two.
Schmaltz said she would often find people roaming her front lawn attempting to sneak down to the kiln.
“Oh, and the buses of kids that would come down to see it on their field trips,” Dippel echoed, adding that the kiln is most likely one of the last original relics of south Washington County.
The collapse, which took off the entire front of the kiln facing the Mississippi River, might not be over, Kyle said. He said the portion of the kiln that is still standing is showing signs of even deeper cracking that could cause the remaining portion to fall.
“I don’t know what we do right now,” he said. “But there’s no restoring this."
Herb Reckinger, president of the South Washington Heritage Society, said the news of the collapse was heartbreaking.
“It definitely puts a tear in your eye,” he said.
Because the Grey Cloud Island lime kiln is on private property, the Schmaltz family requests that visitors view the kiln only from the river or across the channel and to refrain from being on the property.