A Bond Not Easily Broken

Lime mortar made with oysters

Photos, clockwise from left: Abandoned lime kiln in Virginia by Abandonedcountry.com, oyster shells in lime mortar by Jacqui Newling © HHT, oyster shell by BeaKez

So what was the “glue” with which the earliest settlers built their fieldstone homes?

Clay or clay mixed with chopped straw or animal hair would have been used to build the earliest foundations and interiors of chimneys, but this concoction would not have been strong enough to waterproof walls, fill gaps between stones and act as a cushion as walls settled. For that job, settlers needed lime, which when incinerated in a kiln and reduced to ash, was mixed with water and sand to create a superior mortar. The best sources of lime in early America? Natural lime deposits and seashells, whether combed off the beach or removed from an abandoned Native American rubbish heap (also called a kitchen midden).

So when we boil it all down, we may have both the land and the sea to thank for old stone homes.

The Early Domestic Architecture of Connecticut by J. Frederick Kelly
Indiana Folklore: A Reader, edited by Linda Dégh
The Availability of Lime and Masonry Construction in New England: 1630-1733 by Paul B. Jenison

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