Weekend: Abandoned Cement Plant in Lime, Oregon

September 29, 2009

There are many, many ways to get dead here. The most obvious are gravity-assisted: sudden pits, false floors, collapsing beams. But there are also many serrated edges, rusty pointed pipes that reek of lockjaw and gangrene; ragged glass and naked edges of sheet metal. It is no wonder Baker County has stenciled DANGER PELIGRO on most surfaces visible from the road: the abandoned cement plant at Lime, Oregon, is a death trap. Don’t go there, don’t bring you children there. Don’t even bring your dog there. Unless you’re like us, and will drive 340 miles in one day just to take photos of it. It happens to be irresistible to us weirdos.

Abandoned cement plant, Lime, Oregon, off of I-84

Lime, Oregon

Lime, Oregon

First a town, later a factory: Eponymous Lime was incorporated in 1899 ((Lewis A. McArthur, Oregon Geographic Names, Sixth ed. (Portland, Ore: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1992), 508. )), amidst natural limestone deposits along the Burnt River in eastern Oregon. The rugged yellow hills that hem its steep valley hide it from the Snake River, just a mile or two to the east. You could probably, if feeling hale, stomp to the top of the slopes behind the abandoned ghost-plant and stare down at Idaho, yonder.

The plant itself was built by Sun Portland Cement Co. in the 1920s to provide concrete for the construction of the Owyhee Dam ((McArthur, 508.)). After it had fulfilled that role, it changed hands a couple of additional times, first to the Oregon Portland Cement Co. (The company has an old building in Portland, near where I work–I’ve noticed it before and though it would be great if the name of the company were the Portland Portland Cement Co.), which was ultimately assimilated into Kansas-based Ash Grove Cement ((McArthur, 508.))¬† ((“Targeted Brownfield Assessment Former Lime Cement Plant”, Oregon DEQ, 2001 (http://yosemite.epa.gov/R10/CLEANUP.NSF/9f3c21896330b4898825687b007a0f33/ba9d81129edc14b58825669c0077097a/$FILE/lime.PDF) )) .

When the limestone finally gave out in the 1970s ((McArthur, 508.)), Ash Grove closed the whole thing down and moved the show to Durkee, Ore., where the current cement plant employs about 116 folks and also happens to be the nation’s largest single source of airborne mercury pollution ((Matt Preusch, “DEQ won’t back Durkee cement plant on mercury exemption”, OregonLive.com, Sept. 4, 2009 ( http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2009/09/oregon_regulators_take_no_posi.html) )) . In fact, new federal limits on mercury emissions threaten to shut down the Durkee plant entirely ((OregonLive.com, Sept. 4, 2009.)).

After poor Lime’s resources were depleted, it was left to return to, or at least pollute, the earth (granted, the DEQ’s 2002 assessment failed to find absolutely terrifying levels of heavy metals ((http://yosemite.epa.gov/R10/CLEANUP.NSF/9f3c21896330b4898825687b007a0f33/ba9d81129edc14b58825669c0077097a/$FILE/lime.PDF )) ). The Lime Plant is as of now a rather dazzling collection of several dozen major structures, with grandiose wheels and cogs and corrugated metal, discarded motorcycle frames and ovens, shattered platter-sized ceramic insulators, exposed wires, bricks and ladders, a pile of what must have been asbestos, all furry and pale.

We happened upon one of the offices–or, as I like to call it, the “library.” Here, in a doorless, windowless room (and by this I mean, it should have both, but they have gone missing), thousands of papers have been flung (I can only think it was that, flinging, by a human) across the floor in drifts a foot¬† deep. Here, invoices from the 1960s, expense reports from the 1950s, tax forms from the 1970s, beautiful and curling blueprints from the 1920s, scatter plots and lab paperwork, legal filings, and technical manuals have been left to die. Fortunately, it’s dry here; as we stood in the library, the high desert warmth breathed through the frames of long-gone windows. The paper is all dying, but slowly.

Lime, Oregon

In 1999, Baker County foreclosed on much of the property (( http://yosemite.epa.gov/R10/CLEANUP.NSF/9f3c21896330b4898825687b007a0f33/ba9d81129edc14b58825669c0077097a/$FILE/lime.PDF )). Since then there have been rumors of its imminent demolition. The waitress in the nearby town of Huntington (saloon, post office, tackle/beer/grocery, cafe) seems to have heard the question of its fate before from visitors. She sounds like she sees us peculiar sightseers often enough.

Lime, Oregon

The complex even includes several abandoned homes.

There is a sense of the eerie here that piques the attention of ghost town and paranormal aficionados. Chatter on online forums posits about odd histories and hauntings; the monumental, vacant, human-inhuman landscape gives ghost hunters frissons of inspiration and sparks conversations about “energies” and “presences.” It’s hard not to get absorbed. During our visit, a corrugated tin door to nothing near the roofline of what might have been a machine shop scream-slammed on its own accord about once every two minutes, prefaced by a short but utterly convincing series of tones that imitated childish singing.

Lime, Oregon

The absence of people in such a clearly human, technological compound is alarming to something lodged in my own primal nature. Footsteps flush pigeons from dark places and the sound of their wings slapping and chortling, scared coos scares the listener, too. At one point I spent a minute or two chucking pebbles into the hot underbrush because the disruption caused a hidden rattlesnake to rattle. Any sound seems better than the nothing, tinged with a bit of wafted traffic sounds from I-84, you’re otherwise left with. Even potentially poisonous sounds.

Lime, Oregon

Most of the graffiti on the site is charming, benevolent. Some even intriguing, aesthetic. This falls into the charming camp.

What strange country! The hills here are folded pyramids that would be called mountains in flatter lands. The Burnt River is a clear, wet streak through dust. The hills are the easternmost sighs of the mysterious Blue Mountains, those ancient hills that buck Oregon’s trend of basalt and instead give us exotic island arc remnants, including Oregon’s oldest rocks. In Lime’s case, the already odd prevalence of limestone (odd to a basalt girl like myself) is punctuated by deformed and brutally folded partially-metamorphosed rock called phyllite, signs of a weird, late-blooming series of volcanoes along a shifting subduction zone ((Ellen Morris Bishop, In Search of Ancient Oregon: A Geological and Natural History, (Portland, Ore.: Timber Press, 2003), 50-51.)). A pressurized landscape. Perhaps it still groans, lonelier now.

Lime, Oregon

My Erin Brokovitch wheels are spinning at full tilt wondering what happened, wondering about intrigue. Why did Ash Grove Cement, which from all appearances seems to be a thriving company, get away with walking away from the Lime site? Who will end up footing the bill for its cleanup? Is this how the world works? Google results for Ash Grove seem almost sterile.

Is an abandoned, aching town- and plant-site and a mercury-breathing factory odd exceptions for an otherwise friendly company? I yearn to know the whole story. I already know that the mercury levels at the Durkee plant are caused primarily by naturally occurring mercury levels in the limestone there ((OregonLive.com, Sept. 4, 2009)) and don’t necessarily point to corporate environmental negligence.

Perhaps one day I’ll have the full scoop.

Lime, Oregon

Inside the immense storage silos, which now feel like catacombs, crypts.

Lime, Oregon

Lime, Oregon

Lime, Oregon

Lime, Oregon

Lime, Oregon

See all of the photos on Flickr >>

22 Comments

  1. Very cool writeup and photos. I haven’t ever explored the cement plant but have used it in the background of a
    photo

  2. Todd says:

    Did you find any good pieces of paper suitable for framing? Regardless, glad you had a good time and remained safe.

    Also, hooray for In Search of Ancient Oregon!

  3. Lyza Gardner says:

    @Todd As I cited that book in the footnotes I was all “Todd’s gonna have a field day!”

    @Aaron The link in your comment went a bit wonky; I fixed it; I don’t think I’ve ever edited a comment before so I felt like I should mention it :).

  4. Rick Turoczy says:

    There isn’t a single time that I haven’t wondered about that place as I went speeding by it–and while commuting between my hometown and college I passed it many, many times.

    Thanks so much for capturing this glimpse of what lies inside.

    Now, if you could only get into the old Hot Lake resort. ;)

  5. michael says:

    Hey man just thought id let you know that I too have been here. Over the last few years I have gone to Nampa to visit my cousin, and on the way down 84 i always end up stopping there. I never did go in that little building at the top of the hill on the other side of the highway but i think im going to this next summer. I just hope the county doesn’t tear it down, it really deserves to be a historical building. write back to me if you have any current status on the place. with that road crew near by im real nervous that there next project is the plant. Man i hope im wrong, i loved walking in the cement churn. I actually snagged a few of those maps down in the office under the substation. You sound like your in to this stuff as much as me so I figured i’d leave a comment. please reply back, Thanks

  6. Jean says:

    Driven by LIme a number of times (I'm from BC) — fascinating historic old place, but how they've gotten away with leaving this place in such a dangerous condition is baffling iin this day and age– thought there were standards in place for outfits re: reclamation, etc.

  7. Tom says:

    PAINTBALLING HERE!!!! would be bomb!!!

  8. Karen says:

    I too have whirled by this place a couple of times before stopping. On my way to Silver City, I noticed the plant again. On my way home I saw the sign for Lime and headed in….what a creepy, intriging site. It turned out as interesting as Silver City but with a different kind of ghost town feel! This place has such an isolated, loney appeal yet it is right off 84. I suppose it will eventually be further torn down and the site cleaned up as written…but it will be an expensive venture for Baker Co….Make lots of noise if you do visit to warn the rattlers or other critters of your arrival…this place belongs to them now.

  9. Karl says:

    Yeah! That’s a fantastic spot! I visited and explored there about four years ago. Fascinating, huge, and scary.

  10. Tim says:

    Thank you for the history lesson on this place. I have been by it several times and have stopped the last two with ideas of exploring with my camera, but the no trespass signs deter me. I knew it was old from the form system they had used in it’s concrete construction, but just didnt know how old. I think the place is facinating and i feel like Kevin Costner (The Postman) will ride up on a horse. I’m a ghost town hunter and this place falls into my interest. Thank you for your research. I hope to have the nerve to someday ignore the “no trespass” signs and (carefully) explore this site.

  11. Steve says:

    I used to drive by this plant as a kid with my parents. In the 50′s and 60′s. It used to be an old 2 lane hwy. It was really something at night with all of the lights lighting up the hillsides and the fog of dust surounding the sight. Looking back it must have been a lung desease mecca. I was suprised when one day I drove by and it was all closed down. Foot note: My Grandfather came from Oklahoma in the depression and worked on the Owyhee Dam – I never knew of the Lime/Oyhee Dam connection – great site thanks

  12. Chuck Guerri says:

    Very well written. I lived in Lime Or from 1993 til 2004. I have many stories and confrontations related to my times there, and i enjoyed every minute. Contact me if youre courious. Chuck Guerri

    • Loraine says:

      Hi Chuck, I read your comment on the lime cement plant and I am very interested in finding out who owns it now.
      Thanks Loraine 208-713-1677

      • Chuck Guerri says:

        When the Lime Cement plant was phased out in the late 70′s and early 80′s, Ash Grove Cement Co. retained ownership until it’s sale to Bill Hobson in the mid 80′s. Apparently Ash Grove didn’t receive payment(s) on the property as if was advertised as being in foreclosure but never actually was foreclosed on. Baker County now owns the property due to delinquent taxes. Ash Grove didn’t have to clean up the property because they didn’t choose to take it back. With all due respect, if it were up to the people at the Durkee Cement plant, the old plant would not exist, but those decisions are made via Ash Grove Cement Co, Kansas City. Bill Hobson started his tire chipping and salvaging business but after a few years he was gone and left a huge mess. Ash Grove Durkee and Baker County Road Dist. did a lot of cleanup at the site…kudos to them! I asked around to the whereabouts of Bill Hobson in about 1999 and was told that he was in the Veterans Hospital is Prescott, Az. That is the last I heard. Squatters lived in the offices below the plant for several years,selling off bits and pieces. A new mess was accumulating on the site. Cans were being dumped daily and trash piles abound. Old transformers were tossed off of silos and exploded on the soil. Ash grove assured me that there were no P.C.B.S on site. Hope so! When Baker County took possession, tenants were evicted and again Baker County Road crews cleaned the area. A crew came in and stabilized the tailing and removed additional debris. These tailing rest on about 14 acres that still belongs to Ash Grove and cannot be sold for some time. Ash Grove employees take water samples from Marble Creek seasonally as required.
        As for the community of Lime, no real town existed. The home I owned was in an area west of the old Lime School known as Diamondville. There were about 8-10 homes there that were built as rentals by John Diamond. All but one has met their demise. There were several homes along the river and across where the Interstate now runs. Most of the cement plants employees came from Huntington, 5 miles East on Highway 30.
        I hope this answers some questions and some curiosity. There is interest in the site and it’s approx.1000 acres but it looks like wind generation may be best suited for the area. Only time will tell.

  13. Jack paxton says:

    Seattle synthpop band “Dyed Emotions” released a CD back in 2007 or ’08 with images from this plant in the sleeve and on the cover artwork for a song called “Radio Static”. I’ve seen it driving through, but now I’d love to stop and investigate!

  14. Bard Hanson says:

    I am just jumping in to this conversation because I to have an interest to find out what happened to my friend. His name is Bill Hobson and he called me in 1991 to come to Lime from Seattle where I had met and known him for apx. a year. It was an odd experience but I di stay for a while and he told me he had bought the lime plant and was doing recycling on tires into TDF (tire defriede fuel. I did stay for a time and even went to a Ashgrove cement TDF polution meeting in Baker Ore. We also spent some time in Ontario, Ore setting up a retail operation accross from Les Schab. Before I got there he had already opened a metal salvage yard there. I have always wondered what had happened to my friend. His name again is Bill Hopson with a business name of Circle B. My email address is bardw@msn.com Thank you and I hope I hear from someone.

  15. Bard Hanson says:

    I made a mistake. His name is Bill Hobson

  16. Mokihana says:

    Thank you so much for being brave enough to get all these photos. We drove by Lime and we snapped some photos from the highway, but seeing all your photos just added to my knowledge of the plant. I’m doing a road trip blog and we just got to the cement plant, so I’m going to link to your blog so that my three readers can see it.

    Thanks!

  17. [...] Wonderful blog entry about da abandoned cement factory. [...]

  18. Rick Cate says:

    I just spent an entire day in Lime, Oregon Shooting the Ghostly Abandoned Factory- Enjoy these High Dynamic Range Images- shot on February 12th-2011.

    • Rick Cate says:

      I recently changed my web address to this.

  19. Cheryl says:

    We just got home (to Boise) from a day at Lime. My husband is a photographer, and this is the second time he has worked with a model at this site. He was shooting some post-apocalyptic/steampunk-themed photos. He loves the crumbling war-zone look of the place. We finally got around to looking up the history and found this blog. Extremely well-written and gorgeous photos!

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