Quarry & Kiln
The Pritchard Marble Quarry extracted limestone from a small marble deposit on the southeast bank of the Bear River about 2 miles west of Colfax. Following the discovery of the deposit in 1866, it was initially used as a source of dimensional stone for building construction. Later, the deposit became the property of the Holmes Lime & Cement Company which owned and operated other deposits in Placer County and Northern California to manufacture lime for cement and concrete. By 1904, a double kiln had been constructed and processed lime was exported from the site via a tramway (aerial cable and buckets) to the top of the ridge above the quarry site.
Importance of the Marble
The Central Pacific Railroad reached Colfax in 1865. The sudden close proximity of the limestone deposit to the railhead made rock from this deposit available to early building efforts in San Francisco and Sacramento for use as dimensional stone and tile. The quarry is about 3 miles from downtown Colfax by way of Ben Taylor Road that now passes by Colfax High School. At the quarry, remnants of a wagon road can be seen buried under the brambles. The newspaper and mining journal references attached below, indicate that this rock provided tile material for buildings such as the United States Mint and Bank of California buildings in San Francisco as well as others. Rumor has it that some of this rock was also used in the State Capitol building in Sacramento. With time, the availability of more attractive stone for decorative uses probably displaced the Pritchard rock for this use.
Holmes Limestone Kiln
The accompanying photos show the size of this impressive structure. Local Colfax resident, Larry Hilberg, stands at the base for scale. Although the double kiln structure has been partially reclaimed by the surrounding underbrush, the structure is largely intact. The height of the riveted iron chimneys rise to 30 to 40 feet above ground level. The base platform structure is constructed of the local marble. The arched openings at the base each house two large riveted iron funnels that dispensed the processed lime into ore carts or wagons that were hauled away.
Rock was conveyed the few hundred feet from the quarry to the kiln by way of an ore cart railroad—the ultimate “shortline”! Remnants of the ore cart grade and pieces of the rail are still visible on the site.
Very few people in the Colfax area have ever heard of this important kiln and only a few of those have ever seen it. Its relative obscurity is likely due to the difficulty in reaching its location through the heavy brush along the Bear River shoreline. This, in spite of the fact that the kiln and quarry reside very close to public property along the river to the south. Placer County’s land holdings for the Bear River Campground are adjacent, only a short distance away.
The Pritchard Quarry and Kiln on the Bear River are real gems of Sierra foothills history and in the development of California.
For more details on the history and geology of this limestone deposit and kiln see the historical references Click Here