Photographer Tom Parish visited the site of the Alma Portland Cement Works, a late-19th century manufacturing enterprise, located near Alma, Kansas. Parish photographed the remains of the large kiln where ingots of limestone aggregate were fired into cement clinkers. Closed in the early 1900s, the cement works remains a monument to the work of the Flint Hills stonemasons who constructed the plant.
Entrepreneur and banker John F. Limerick and his partner and brother, G. W. Limerick arrived in Alma, Kansas in 1882, just two years after the economic boom generated by the coming of the railroad infused new life into the town. That year, J.F. Limerick & Company, Bankers, the first organized bank in Alma opened for business. In 1887 when the Rock Island railroad came to town, J.F. Limerick was mayor of Alma. That same year, Limerick began exploration for coal at Alma, drilling a series of holes just east of town. The January 7th, 1887 edition of the Alma Enterprise reported, “Mayor Limerick returned from Kansas City last Friday, where he had been to purchase some new machinery for his coal enterprise. He is now down nearly 250 feet, having found coal at three different depths, but is confident of finding a much better vein than heretofore at a depth of probably 300 feet. We learn that he will continue to drill as long as he is within the coal limits, after which he will sink a shaft for the purpose of developing all he may have found.”
Limerick also took great interest in the limestone deposits that he discovered along Mill Creek, and in 1888 he formed Alma Portland Cement Works at Alma. In 1889 Limerick traveled “back east” to purchase a 100-horsepower engine to install at the cement plant. Portland cement, developed in England in the 18th century, was used to make concrete, mortar, stucco, and grout; and the primary raw material in Portland cement’s manufacture was limestone.
Ingots of a limestone-based paste were heated to high temperatures inside a kiln, and the resulting “clinkers” were then ground into a powder, commonly called Portland cement. The powdered cement reacts when exposed to water and then sets hard and permanently.
The cement works had a capacity for producing 600 barrels of cement, daily, and it was reported that as many as 40 to 50 men were employed at the facility at its peak.
Workers at Limerick’s cement plant and his coal mining venture lived in a shanty town constructed in Park Valley. A boardwalk was constructed from Park Valley to downtown Alma.
Limerick had constructed the expansive “Limerick Block” in Alma to house his First National Bank, and his enterprises seemed to know no bounds. Then, in November of 1890 Limerick’s bank suspended business and ultimately became insolvent, and his coal mining operations ceased. Immediately before his financial collapse, Limerick sold his Portland cement plant, which survived for a few more years.
All of the photos of the Alma Portland Cement Works and the stitched 360-degree view appear courtesy photographer, Tom Parish. Tom Parish works at Kansas State University as the Visiting Instructor of the Digital Humanities for the Chapman Center for Rural Studies. See more of Parish’s work by visiting FlintHillShelters.com and TomParishPhotography.com.
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