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What's in a Name? Tar Kiln Dingle Brook

Pitch Pine Credit Wikipedia User Famartin

Recently, a former resident of Franklin Road inquired about the origin of the name of the brook and dingle that ran behind his childhood home; Tar Kiln Dingle Brook. 

Map Showing Tar Kiln Dingle Brook (Credit Town of Longmeadow)

So what is a tar kiln? Why would it have been in that location? Who owned and operated it and why? 

A tar kiln is a device used to produce pine tar by melting it out of dead pine trees. To create a tar kiln, first a large pit was dug in the ground. Next a trench was dug out one side of the pit down hill. Then both the pit and the trench were lined with clay. After that, the pine wood was piled in the pit with pine rich heart wood or stumps on the bottom and light wood at the top. Then the wood was covered in dirt that had been dug out from the pit leaving a small portion of the light wood uncovered. Finally, the light wood would be lit on fire. 

Tar Kiln Diagram: Credit George Wilkinson

The fire and dirt would create an oven that would cause the pine tar to melt out of the heartwood or stumps. The clay at the bottom of the pit would prevent the tar from seeping into the sandy soil and the trench would allow the tar to flow into a barrel. 

The brook and dingle made for an ideal place for a tar kiln. The brook supplied the clay to line the kiln and the dingle provided the necessary slope for the trench to allow the tar to flow into the waiting barrel. 

A Bottle of Pine Tar Credit Wikipedia

So what was it used for? Pine tar had many uses including wood preservation (especially for boats and ships), rope preservation,  a sealant for roofs and as an ingredient of products like printing press ink and turpentine. 

So who owned it? Unfortunately, I was unable to find an answer. The earliest mention of the place by name comes from a 1911 address given on the occasion of the commemoration of the 275 anniversary of the settlement of Springfield and it does not list much about its origins. 

Credit Connecticut Valley Historical Society 

While we do not know who owned the tar kiln, we can infer much about its use based on its location and the economic activity that was happening in town during the colonial period and the early years of our country. 

1831 Map Longmeadow Historical Society Archives

The brook existed right near the town’s saw mill. The saw mill would have provided wood for the kiln as well as customers that were seeking a wood preservation agent. In particular, this must have been of use to the flat boat men like Captain John Cooley and William Hixon who would have needed pine tar to both seal the wood on their hulls and the rope they used on their boats. 

Finished products that contained pine tar, such as turpentine and printing ink, were produced locally as well. The below ads placed in local papers document a once vibrant cottage industry that both produced products for local markets, but for international markets like the West Indies too. 

Ad for Pine Tar and Derived Products: Credit Springfield Republican April 20, 1825

Ad by Longmeadow Resident Nathaniel Ely for Printing Ink Derived from Pine Tar: 

Federal Spy September 10, 1793

Like many other products, the Industrial Revolution allowed pine tar to be produced cheaply leading to the decline of cottage industries like the tar kiln at Tar Kiln Dingle Brook. In the end, all we are left with is the name that reminds us of a once thriving industry in our region. 

Special thanks to Stephen Bearce for submitting this inquiry and to Al McKee, Lenny Shaker, and Dave Marinelli for their assistance with researching this topic. 


Barrows, Charles H. An historical address delivered before the citizens of Springfield in Massachusetts at the public celebration, of the two hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary of the settlement; with five appendices, viz: Meaning of Indian local names, The cartography of Springfield, Old place names in Springfield, Unrecorded deed of Nippumsuit, Unrecorded deed of Paupsunnuck. Springfield, Mass., Connecticut Valley historical society, 1916. Pdf.

Gluck, Emily. “Yankee Tarheels: Remembering the Pitch Pine Industry of Colonial America.” Northern Woodlands, June 2015. 

Kaye, Theodore P. “Pine Tar; History and Uses.” San Francisco National Maritime Park Association , July 7, 1997.

Secretary of State, and Thomas Jefferson, Report of the Secretary of State, on the Privileges and Restrictions on the Commerce of the United States in Foreign Countries § (1793). 

Storrs, Richard Salter. Proceedings at the Centennial Celebration of the Incorporation of the Town of Longmeadow, October 17th, 1883. Google Books. Longmeadow, Massachusetts: Secretary of the Centennial Committee, under authority of the town, 1884.

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