ROCKLAND, Maine ― David Hoch had only worked for the Rockland-Rockport Lime Company for about four years when he was given the heavy task of telling the crews that the company’s four remaining lime kilns were going to be shut down indefinitely.
Until then, for more than a century, lime kilns lined Rockland’s harbor, burning limestone mined from a maze of quarries located on the other side of the city. The limestone was shipped down the Eastern Seaboard, where it would be used for mortar and plaster, helping build cities like New York and Boston.
But in 1958, the last of Rockland’s kilns went dark. Sixty years later, it’s a fact that Hoch, at 89 years old, just can’t shake.
“That was the absolute end of over a hundred years of burning lime in Rockland, Maine,” Hoch said. “That historical fact, I just can’t escape that. I was there when the last kilns forever went out.”
Hoch would be the last president of the Rockland-Rockport Lime Company, which shuttered a couple decades after the kilns went out. Today, he’s one of the last people in Rockland with a direct link to the industry.
“Limestone is really what made Rockland,” Rockland Historical Society member Gil Merriam said. “A lot of people don’t know a thing about it.”
Rockland’s first industry
The city’s relationship with limestone started before Rockland was even its own municipality, and can be credited to a vein of limestone that stretches from Thomaston through the Rockport-Camden area.
Limestone is a sedimentary rock formed underwater over thousands of years, Hoch said. It is formed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms. It is commonly used for building materials such as mortar, plaster, concrete and cement.
Quarrying of the limestone deposit in the Rockland-Thomaston area predates the Revolutionary War, according to Merriam, though on a very small scale. By the 1800s, dozens of quarries were forming to harvest the limestone.