Austin White Lime Company was founded in 1888 as Martin and Walker, with A.F. Martin serving as president and proprietor. Around 1891, the company become officially known as Austin White Lime Company. The company quickly gained a reputation for manufacturing quality products and was recognized in prominent publications for that time.
The Industrial Advantages of Austin, Texas, published in 1894, described Austin White Lime as “manufacturers of lime and dealers in cements, plaster hair, sewer pipe, fire brick, stone, etc.” The publication noted that the lime products made there with “all modern and improved equipment” resulted in products which had no superior. Three years later, in 1897, the University of Texas School of Chemistry conducted an analysis that showed the samples from Austin White Lime to be “fat lime of unequaled quality and remarkable purity. These limes compared with those that are regarded among the best in the world are seen to possess a purity equaled by none of them.”
Those statements might well be made today as Austin White Lime has carried that reputation, which originated in the nineteenth century, well into the twenty-first. For over 130 years, employees of Austin White Lime Company, located near the Travis County community of McNeil, have used hand tools and heavy equipment to extract large chunks of limestone, which are turned into commodities for consumer use. Those products fall into three categories: Quicklime, Hydrated lime, and Lime Slurry, all of which may be used in a variety of industries, such as soil stabilization, building construction, drinking and wastewater treatment, steel manufacturing, flue gas treatment, alumina production, oilfield applications and masonry work.
One of the reasons Austin White Lime Company enjoyed success early on and continues to do so today is because of its family ownership. Al Robinson Sr. joined the company as secretary in 1909, eventually leading to the Robinson Family, Al Robinson Jr., George Robinson, and Flora Robinson, purchasing the company in the early 1940s. Operational control and management was passed down to future generations of Robinsons when Spike Robinson and Oscar Robinson, sons of Al and George, became the company’s general partners responsible for daily operations. Descendants of Al Robinson Jr. and George Robinson are still involved in the daily operations, Oscar, along with Spike’s son Brad Robinson, are the managing directors . Additionally, Lila Robinson Weirich is director of sales for the company and John Tyler Jr. is responsible for the ranching operation.
When Austin White Lime was established as Martin and Walker, it consisted of a 16 x 18-foot central depot used as a lime house and a 30 x 50-foot area for general storage. Between thirty and fifty personnel were employed at the company location in McNeil, while the directors had offices in downtown Austin. In the early days, employees used hand tools to chisel the limestone from the Balcones Escarpment, then loaded the limestone into mule-drawn wagons for transport to the kilns. Laborers cut the approximately eight cords of cedar per day that was required to keep the kilns burning hot. This process continued until the early 1900’s when coal replaced wood as the fuel for the kilns. The limestone was calcined in three stone kilns with the capacity to produce approximately 300 barrels per day. The finished products were sold as coopered or barreled lime and bulk lump lime and were shipped by rail cars or trucks to all parts of Texas, Louisiana, and the Indian Territory. The calcined lime was sold in two barrel sizes, weighing approximately 280 pounds and 180 pounds each. Daily production was roughly 35 tons. Most of the employees and their families lived in frame houses provided by the company and they shopped at the company’s general merchandise store, the only source for daily necessities for miles around.
In the 1900’s people began to speculate on the increasing importance of lime in the future. The primary use of lime at that time was for plaster and building processes. Lime saw a steady growth as it was used in the manufacture of steel and iron products, paper, glass, leather, and bricks. It also was used in water treatment and in the manufacture of sugar and insecticides. One of the oldest and most important uses of lime was for the replenishment of unproductive soils.
In 1909, a new plant was built for the purpose of hydrating lime, a significant step toward meeting future needs. The new plant consisted of four shaft kilns, hydrating machinery, warehouses and a cooper shop, for building the barrels required to store and ship the lime product. The kilns were about fifty feet high, constructed of heavy iron steel and lined with firebrick. Production increased from approximately 300 barrels (35 tons) per day to about 750 barrels (85 tons) per day. Lump lime, or quicklime, is highly reactive when exposed to moisture. Hydrated lime is quicklime that has had its affinity for water satisfied, making it easier to store and giving it a longer shelf life.
In 1959, when lime needs were at an all-time high, Austin White Lime was operating six shaft kilns but demand called for expansion. The first rotary kiln was installed and nearly doubled the productive capacity of Austin White Lime, bringing production to 440 tons per day. Designed by Kennedy Van Saun (KVS), the natural gas fired rotary kiln and its related equipment were part of an extensive improvement and expansion program, due largely to innovations in road stabilization applications.
Continued growth and further increases in demand dictated further expansion in 1964. Production was increased to approximately 640 tons per day with the addition of a second rotary kiln, and storage capacity was expanded to 2,500 tons. A Raymond Pulverizing Mill and a new hydrating unit also were added.
Austin White Lime added the third and largest rotary kiln in 1981. This kiln increased production by 500 tons per day up to 1,000 tons per day, eliminating the need of the six shaft kilns. The hydrating production capacity was simultaneously doubled with the installation of a second KVS Hydrator. Once again, advancements in all markets and breakthroughs in stabilization applications created the need for production expansion.
In 2006, Austin White Lime built a new limestone crushing facility[LRW1] , which came online in 2008. Today, explosives are the primary method of quarrying and fracturing the limestone. Large haul units with a 50-ton capacity carry the mined limestone from the quarries to the crushing plant for processing. The company transports the quarried kiln stone from the 4T Quarry, located about 35 miles north of the original site to the lime producing facility still located in McNeil. The manufacture of quicklime consists of a series of chemical reactions, with heat applied to limestone, which releases carbon dioxide producing the chemical calcium oxide also referred to as quicklime. The kilns are fueled with either coal, natural gas, or a combination of both. Chemical grade limes are “one of the most versatile and widely used reagents in the world.”
In 2018, Austin White Lime added its second mobile lime slaking unit to support the growth and expansion in the soil stabilization market. The company also added a number of new tractors and trailers to support the delivery of its various products. The lime slurry market has grown by leaps and bounds with the unprecedented growth in the Central Texas area. This new equipment will expand the reach of Austin White Lime, particularly in the lime slurry market, to serve customers outside of the Austin Metro area.
The vast portion of lime shipments are still made by rail and truck to all parts of Texas and Louisiana. Lime has found multiple uses over the years and will find more in the future, including remediation applications in the environmental field. In spite of the growth and change at Austin White Lime in its long history, many things remain the same. Over 130 years later, the Robinson family and Austin White Lime's employees have the same commitment to improving their ability to meet and exceed customer expectations.
In 1990, the Austin Business Journal listed Austin White Lime as one of the twelve oldest businesses based in the Austin area. Since its founding, Austin White Lime has enjoyed tremendous success. Nevertheless, the owners and employees haven’t forgotten that with success comes responsibility. The company places the safety of its employees as its top priority, and consistently meets its environmental responsibilities. As a proud community member, the company has been a supporter of the Dell Children's Hospital, Ronald McDonald House, and the Play for All Abilities Park in Round Rock. The company has been recognized annually by the El Amistad Club for its long-standing financial sponsorships providing scholarships for graduating seniors from area high schools. Each Christmas season, Austin White Lime and its employees donate to charities such as the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Capitol Food Bank, Bikes for Kids, Rainbow Room, Make a Wish Foundation, Williamson County Advocacy Center, Ride On Center for Kids, Wounded Warrior Project, Snowball Express, the Comfort Crew for Military Kids, and many others. Austin White Lime is a member of the Round Rock Chamber of Commerce and supports the economic development in the local communities.
Today, Austin White Lime’s employees and owners have the same commitment to excellence as they had when the company was founded. Austin White Lime was recognized in the Top 5 of manufacturing companies in the Austin area for 2019. Ownership and management are focused on sustaining and growing the business for future generations. The company continues to invest in its equipment, employees, and processes to produce the highest quality products available in the market. As a result of the family atmosphere created by the past and current generations of Robinsons, customer service and employee satisfaction are guiding ideals that will help sustain this business for years to come.
For over a century, Austin White Lime Company has supplied high quality lime products to industries and customers throughout the southern United States. The company prides itself on being a local Texas company that provides quality products and customer support second to none. Austin White Lime Company plans to continue this tradition created by Al Robinson Jr., George Robinson, and Flora Robinson for many years to come.