What Were the Godey Lime Kilns?

Have you driven up Rock Creek Parkway (when did it become one-way?) from the Watergate (check out this amazing aerial photo) and wondered what those bizarre stone structures were on the right as you pass Whitehurst Freeway? We also wondered, so we did a little digging and came up with the answer … and some old photos.

Below is the structure to which we are referring. Recognize it?

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Godey Lime Kilns
Godey Lime Kilns

The structure is the remains of the Godey Lime Kilns, also known as the Washington Lime Kilns. They were built in 1864, during the Civil War, by William H. Godey to make lime and plaster for the city of Washington. Godey was initially in partnership with John A. Rheim but then operated by himself until his death in 1873. The family maintained the kilns until 1897 when the business was taken over by John Dodson. The business closed in 1908 and the site was thankfully added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Initially there were four kilns, but two were removed to make way for highway ramps leading to Whitehurst Freeway. The ground was raised five feet during this process, covering the fire doors for the two remaining ovens.

Below is an image of all four kilns taken in 1938.

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Historic American Buildings Survey Photographer unknown, c. 1938 EXTERIOR FROM SOUTH Copied from print in files of National Capital Region, National Park Service, Washington, D. C. - Godey Lime Kilns (Ruins), Junction of Rock Creek & Potomac Parkway, Washington, District of Columbia, DC
Historic American Buildings Survey Photographer unknown, c. 1938 EXTERIOR FROM SOUTH Copied from print in files of National Capital Region, National Park Service, Washington, D. C. – Godey Lime Kilns (Ruins), Junction of Rock Creek & Potomac Parkway, Washington, District of Columbia, DC

Source: Library of Congress

Below is a fascinating image of the site from across the canal, taken in 1907.

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Historic American Buildings Survey Photographer Unknown, post 1907. EXTERIOR FROM WEST Copied from print in files of National Capital Region, National Park Service, Washington, D. C. - Godey Lime Kilns (Ruins), Junction of Rock Creek & Potomac Parkway, Washington, District of Columbia, DC
Historic American Buildings Survey Photographer Unknown, post 1907. EXTERIOR FROM WEST Copied from print in files of National Capital Region, National Park Service, Washington, D. C. – Godey Lime Kilns (Ruins), Junction of Rock Creek & Potomac Parkway, Washington, District of Columbia, DC

Source: Library of Congress

Here’s one from 1965 showing the ruins of the Godey Lime Kilns.

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1965 photo of Godey Lime Kilns
1965 photo of Godey Lime Kilns

Source: Library of Congress

Here’s another cool image from the Library of Congress.

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HABS DC,WASH,168- (sheet 1 of 3) - Godey Lime Kilns (Ruins), Junction of Rock Creek & Potomac Parkway, Washington, District of Columbia, DC
HABS DC,WASH,168- (sheet 1 of 3) – Godey Lime Kilns (Ruins), Junction of Rock Creek & Potomac Parkway, Washington, District of Columbia, DC

Source: Library of Congress

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.
  • Jeffrey Duke Southmayd

    I am a Godey descendant, 6th generation born in DC. They were a prominent family that once owned most of what is today Rock Creek Park. Here’s a story on my great-great aunt.

  • Jeffrey Duke Southmayd

    William Godey was born in Montgomery County June 18, 1788 and at 16 was apprenticed to a taylor in Georgetown by his mother. When he died he was one of the wealthiest men in DC. Here is his apprentice contract in 1804. He was my 3rd great grandfather.