Whitehall-Coplay Press

Monday, December 10, 2018
PRESS FILE PHOTOThe restoration of the Saylor Kilns in Coplay needs funding to continue. PRESS FILE PHOTOThe restoration of the Saylor Kilns in Coplay needs funding to continue.

Funding for kilns work still a concern

Wednesday, November 28, 2018 by AL RECKER Special to The Press in Local News

County official continues to seek federal assistance, community donations

Support for the need to preserve the historic Saylor Kilns continues to be strong, as members of the borough community and Lehigh County admire these monuments to the pioneering cement industry of the 1800s. However, funding to further the restoration work is becoming more of a concern.

Interior steel work and brick restoration were done in 2016. One of the kilns was also capped at that time. The project, which carried a $430,000 price tag, was paid for with funding with Lehigh County escrow money.

Before 2016, a citizens group partnered with Lehigh County and capped four of the kilns. However, condensation developed and the moisture inside the kilns became a problem.

The 2016 restoration of the one kiln was intended to serve as a model in order to secure funding for similar work on the remaining eight kilns. The extensive project was estimated at that time to cost in excess of a million dollars.

Lehigh County Director of General Services Rick Molchany said there seems to be no appetite from various private or government sectors to advance the kilns restoration at this time.

“The federal government is more interested in funding the national parks,” Molchany said.

This comment was in reference to reports made on the condition of national parks, which require large subsidies.

Molchany said steel fencing has been installed and a cleanup of the area has improved the site at the kilns, located along the Ironton Rail Trail and Coplay Parkway.

A strong advocate for the restoration of the kilns, which served as the birthplace of the Portland cement industry in the United States, Molchany is also a realist. He recognizes that much must come together for the restoration to move forward. And he has not given up on seeking federal grants, foundations or philanthropic organizations to secure funding.

Molchany mentioned the restoration of the one kiln could be showcased with a kiosk or another permanent stand detailing the history of the kilns. He also suggested illuminating the kilns at nightfall. Several years ago, the kilns were basked in light when special events were held.

Coplay Cement Company manufactured the first Portland cement in America in 1871. In 1893, the company constructed eleven 93-foot-tall Schoefer vertical kilns. They were originally protected from the weather by an outer building, which was demolished in the 1920s. The vertical kilns were in use from 1893 to 1904 and were eventually replaced by the rotary kiln. The mill was demolished for scrap in 1950. In the 1920s, the upper 30 feet of the brick kilns were removed for safety reasons. Only nine of the kilns remain.

Coplay Cement Company turned the kilns over to Lehigh County, and the space once housed an industrial museum.