Tribute to Appingedam’s last lime burner. ‘When my father took the lime out of the oven, you only saw his eyes’

The lime kiln of Appingedam has been restored. The daughter of the town’s last lime burner looks back. “It was hard and dirty work.”

Playing on the mountain with shells, hiding in the basement from the Germans: Reina Bolhuis-De Jong (87) cherishes countless memories of the lime kiln in Appingedam, where she spent her childhood.

Her father Jan de Jong (1896) became a lime burner there in 1926. He and his family lived in the house next door. She was the youngest of five children.

About lime kilns

A shell lime kiln is a kiln in a conical tower about 15 meters high and 5 meters wide. In there beach shells were heated to a temperature of 1000 degrees using petroleum and peat.

The combustion process took about five days. Sometimes the lime burner had to get out of bed at night to manually pump air into the oven with a bicycle pump.

After the incineration process, the quicklime was removed from the lime kiln and shoveled into water in an adjacent shed. The lime was then used for mortar for bricklaying.

She is looking forward to seeing the restored national monument. She had never seen the inside of the lime kiln before. “My father wouldn’t let me in. That was much too dangerous, he thought. Others weren’t welcome either.”

Her father held on to his heavy job until he retired in 1961 at the age of 65 and moved with the family from Appingedam. In 1990 he passed away. Despite the hard work, he lived to be 94 years old. My family kept saying: ‘Jan, you’ll never keep that up, you’ll get black lungs.’ But my father said: I have a steady job, so I will continue to work here”, says Bolhuis-De Jong.

She keeps many memories of the area around the lime kiln. With her brothers and sisters she played on the huge hump of shells next to the distillery. She remembers that people in hiding were hiding in the attic above her father’s office, she remembers the frightening hours just before the liberation, how damaged their house and the lime kiln were after the shelling of the Germans.

She talks with admiration about the diligent workers who emptied the ships full of shells. And about her father. “It was hard and dirty work. My father was covered in dust every day. My mother often couldn’t get his clothes clean because they were stiff with lime.”

And the hot lime burned everything away. Her father wore old rags around his stomach to prevent burns. His socks were choking with burn holes. And when he took the lime out of the oven, it was white from head to toe. “Then you only saw his eyes.”

Bolhuis-De Jong married Hilko (now 91) a year after her father retired and moved to Klazienaveen, where she still lives. The lime kiln fell into disrepair. Grass grew through the walls. Nobody cared anymore. Neither does Bolhuis-De Jong, who has not been there since her departure.

‘I am honored to be able to experience the restoration’

That had to change, thought the Foundation for the Preservation of Industrial and Cultural Heritage of the City of Appingedam (BICSA). He took the initiative three years ago to restore the oven to its former glory. The oven was thoroughly refurbished, stones were cleaned or replaced, the grass was removed. The restored lime kiln must become an open monument.

Now it’s finished. Bolhuis-De Jong received an invitation to attend the unveiling of the national monument. She is the only one of the lime burner family still alive: her sister died three weeks ago at the age of 92. “I think it’s an honor to be able to experience it.”

Restoration lime kiln in Appingedam

The monumental lime kiln on the Dijkhuizenweg in Appingedam is the only lime kiln in the province of Groningen in its original state. The restoration of the oven took three years and was realized thanks to a citizens’ initiative. Tourists saw the oven from the tour boat on the Damsterdiep and wanted to visit the place, but that was not possible until now.

The Foundation for the Preservation of Industrial and Cultural Heritage of the City of Appingedam (BICSA) set to work with the lime kiln, which had been neglected for more than 60 years. The result of the restoration was presented on Friday afternoon and the traditional name ‘De Fivel’ was also restored. Reina Bolhuis-De Jong was a guest.