Signs installed, cabin restored in Cowell Lime Works Historic District

Lime works interpretive sign
One of six new interpretive signs along the self-guided walking tour of the Cowell Lime Works Historic District.
Sign dedication
Frank Perry, president of Friends of the Cowell Lime Works Historic District, speaks at Friday's ceremony.  (Photo by John Barnes)

Friends of the Cowell Lime Works Historic District celebrated installation of six new interpretive signs Friday (April 12) and phase one of the restoration of one of the remaining lime workers cabins.

The signs, supported by a gift from Redtree Properties of Santa Cruz, document stops along a self-guided walking tour of the historic district at the base of campus. Since its founding in 2008, the Friends have raised $80,000 and put in thousands of hours documenting and restoring the area where first the Davis and Cowell and later Henry Cowell companies mined limestone and used wood-burning kilns to convert it into lime in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Lime was a key ingredient in plaster and mortar building materials in the decades after the Gold Rush.

"If not for limestone, lime, and Henry Cowell, there wouldn’t be a University of California, Santa Cruz, noted Friends president Frank Perry in remarks at Friday's ceremony. The S.H. Cowell Foundation donated the Cowell Ranch to the University of California for a new campus.

Restoration of the exterior of Cabin B across Coolidge Drive from the Cook House is now complete. Cowell's workers–many from Italy and the Azores, and later Portugal– lived in the 12x14 foot cabins, eating at the Cook House. The cabins had two or three beds and a small stove for heat.

Next will come a door, window, and interior finishes. Funding has been provided by the Cabrillo Civic Clubs of California including the Santa Cruz chapter. Alameda Roofing and Western Roofing Supply donated a new shingle roof. Some of the exterior is recycled barn wood, a gift from Jean Dempsey. UCSC also supplied wood from trees felled to make room for building construction on campus.

Six workers cabins remain, dating back to the late 1800s. Two remain standing; four have collapsed but are in the plans for restoration.

The historic district is a "symbol of the rich and diverse fabric of the community," said Sarah Latham, UCSC vice chancellor of business services, who also spoke at Friday's event. The restoration of the historic area "symbolizes stewardship and preservation of resources," she said.

Perry said a next step is a study on how to rehabilitate or restore the cooperage built in 1869 to construct barrels to hold the lime. It is now stabilized, supported on a steel and timber frame.

Also, Perry said, a joint exhibit on the natural history of lime in Santa Cruz is being planned for the fall by the San Lorenzo Valley Museum in Boulder Creek and the Santa Cruz Natural History Museum.