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These beehive-shaped kilns were built in the mid-1870's to produce charcoal for the silver mills of Pioche and Bullionville, Nevada. Skilled stonemasons quarried rhyolitic tuff from nearby outcrops. The blocks were carefully dressed, then joined with mid and lime mortar. A third kiln was originally located to the west the two remaining structures. The Panaca Summit kilns were used until the late 1890's, when the mills at Bullionville closed.

Local silver ore processing required large quantities of fuel. Since charcoal burned twice as hot as cordwood and was more economical to transport, it became the preferred fuel for smelting. Swiss and Italian woodcutters, known as "the Carbonari", had perfected the charcoal-making process in Europe. They brought these skills to the mining regions of Nevada in the mid-19th century. "Billets" or Five-foot lengths of wood were cut from the trunks and branches of pinyon pine, juniper or mountain mahogany. These were hauled to the kiln site and stacked in two vertical tiers within the ovens. Dry grasses and kindling were stuffed into the central "chimney" of the wood stack and ignited with live coals. Openings around the base of the kiln regulated the air flow, creating a steady fire; the vent at the top of the kiln was plugged to slow and control the burning rate. The carbonari would carefully oversee the combustion of the stack, which required up to 30 days to complete. The charcoal was allowed to cool for a week, then the kiln carefully opened on a calm day. Spontaneous fires during the opening could quickly destroy the contents of the kiln. Each kiln held over 50 cords of wood and would produce an average of 30 bushels of charcoal per cord, enough to smelt one ton of silver ore. The carbonari received very modest payment for their labors, with most of the profits pocketed by the teamsters and middlemen who delivered the charcoal to the mills.

Panaca Summit Charcoal Kilns-1

Panaca Summit Charcoal Kilns-2

Panaca Summit Charcoal Kilns-3

Panaca Summit Charcoal Kilns-4

Panaca Summit Charcoal Kilns-5

Panaca Summit Charcoal Kilns-6

Panaca Summit Charcoal Kilns-8

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