Basalt rallies to save part of history
BASALT ” Basalt residents are rallying to try to save one of the defining historical features of the town.
A citizens group is raising funds to prevent seven brick kilns built in 1882 from being further ravaged by the weather. Two of the massive beehive-shaped kilns have collapsed over the years and one is partially caved in. Four are intact but one is threatened.
“I think last year was tough on the kilns in general with the snow load,” said Cil Klamper, a Basalt resident and member of the committee.
The kilns stand like sentinels on the side of the popular Arbaney Park in Basalt. They were constructed in spring 1882 to produce charcoal for the mining smelters in Aspen.
Charcoal was created from using pinon trees in the area. The product was shipped to Aspen and to Leadville, but the labor- and time-intensive process was undercut by the discovery of coal in the lower Roaring Fork Valley. The coal replaced the charcoal for industrial uses.
“The kilns stopped providing charcoal in 1887,” says a plaque erected at the park site.
It’s a minor miracle they have survived as well as they have over 121 years. They hosted kids’ beer parties over the years and have been the object of target practice for people wielding rocks. They were scheduled to be bulldozed when Elk Run subdivision was created, but the town acquired the site and surrounding land for a park.
The four kilns that are largely intact are amazing structures. They are roughly 20 feet high, tapering to a nipple at the top. They are about 20 feet in diameter at the ground.
Brick arches survive, as do layers of brick laid in different directions.
The kiln most threatened is the one most unique among the survivors. The builders tapped into the ample supply of river rock to create the base layer of the kiln, then topped it with brick. “It’s evident that they used what was at hand,” Klamper said.
The base layer gave way on the two kilns that collapsed. The cohesion was lost between bricks and river rock. The citizens’ committee fears that could be the fate of the third and final kiln that includes river rock in its construction.
The kiln committee hired an engineering firm that specializes in historical restoration to study the threatened kiln, dubbed kiln #6. JVA Consulting Engineers recommended protecting the kiln with a tarp by this winter to protect it until a longer-term stabilization plan is prepared and funded. A tarp with a metal frame will likely be erected around the upper two-thirds of kiln #6 before snow flies. The Basalt Town Council issued an emergency grant Tuesday for $5,500 for the project.
“This is a temporary fix,” said Klamper. It will protect the unique kiln and buy the committee time to come up with a restoration plan. Covering the kilns with a modern, protective substance has been ruled out because it will change the look of the historic structures. “Why save it if it’s not going to be like it was,” Klamper asked.
But exact historic restoration also has been ruled out because of the cost and ineffectiveness. If the same type of mortar is replaced between bricks, it will eventually wear out. So the committee is exploring middle ground. One option is stabilizing the five remaining kilns and leaving the two that collapses alone so people can see what happened over the years. Once the five are stabilized, one or so might be restored to its historic grandeur.
“We won’t restore them all. That would be cost prohibitive,” Klamper said.
The committee is hoping the work on kiln #6 this fall will spark community interest in ” and donations to ” the preservation effort. The work will potentially require hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Committee members believe the community will realize the effort is worth it and rally around it. The kilns are a true cultural resource for Basalt and something unique to Colorado, said Brian McNellis, a planner with the Basalt town government and member of the kiln committee. Other kilns are located as close as Redstone and the Upper Fryingpan Valley, but none in the state have the same shape or served the same function as those in Basalt.
“This is the only shining example of these type of kilns in Colorado,” McNellis said.
People interested in joining the effort to save the kilns can contract Brian McNellis at Basalt Town Hall, 927-4701.
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