Dick Sievanen, visiting the defunct
pot kiln at Westcott Bay, San Juan Island.
Photo by L. S. McDonald, 1960.
Original photo from the S. P. H. S.©
The land where the kiln stands was homesteaded by the twin Scurr brothers, Robert and Richard. The former arrived at Roche Harbor in 1871, and the latter, two years later.
Mrs. Houde lives in the Scurr's house, which has a fireplace quaintly reminiscent of those the brothers had been accustomed to in their native London.
Near the house is another building, which Mrs. Houde understands was a quarry men's mess hall. Behind it against a hill is the pot kiln, topped with a small shed.
The base of the kiln is brick, with one opening. Above the bricks is the rough stone pot, the whole structure being about 12-feet in height. One may peer down into it through an opening in the shed floor.
Pot kilns were smaller and older than the tower-type stone kilns also found in the San Juan Islands. Their use was begun in the early part of 1860, by both American and British subjects.
Somewhere in the vicinity of the Scurr property, British marines stationed on nearby Garrison Bay are said to have burned lime for use at the fort and to ship away.
The pot kiln process was a slow means of obtaining the finished product. It is said that the men from the garrison required two weeks to produce 50 barrels. It took them that long to lay, burn, and draw, a kiln.
Chunks of broken limestone were piled in from above, leaving a small space at the bottom, where the fire box was opposite the opening. As the mass of rock heated slowly, the smoke and carbonic-acid gas escaped through the top.
When the calcining process was complete, the fire was allowed to go out and the brittle, flaky, white lime was removed through the opening with the help of long-handled shovels.
Island records to date give no indication of the exact age of the Scurr kiln. It may date almost back to 1882, the year the brothers began mining the great ledge of limestone lying across the neck of the peninsula between Roche Harbor and Westcott Bay, or it may have been built a few years later, when they patented a second piece of property.
The tract where the kiln stands was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. F. W. R. Dally of the Orcas Lime Co about 1921. Mrs. Houde acquired a portion of it from the Dally's 23 years ago, after they ceased quarrying."
This column was published by The Seattle Times, October 1960.
Above text written by author/historian/journalist Lucile Saunders McDonald (1898-1992). Her 23 cu. ft of research papers (1941-1990) are archived in the Special Collections, Suzzallo Library, University of Washington, Seattle.
McDonald's literary rights have been transferred to the University of WA but her collection is open for all to study.