Lime is made by heating limerock (limestone or marble) in kilns. Most of the lime made here was used in building construction. It was mixed with sand and water to make mortar and plaster. In the 1800s masonry structures such as foundations, fireplaces, chimneys, walls, and brick and stone buildings relied on lime mortar. Lime was essential to the development of the Golden State during the second half of the nineteenth century.
The firm of Davis and Jordan began making lime here in 1853. Within a few years they became the largest lime manufacturer in California and were a major supplier of lime to San Francisco after the Gold Rush. Davis and Jordan's holdings grew to 5,000 acres and included a ranch with livestock to feed the workers, a sawmill, quarries, and redwood forests to use as fuel for the kilns. They had their own wagons and teams of oxen to haul barrels of lime to the company wharf at the foot of Bay Street (then Lime Kiln Road) where the barrels were loaded onto company ships.
In 1865 Henry Cowell bought Jordan's share of the business, and in 1889 acquired Davis's interest. From 1865 to 1879 Cowell lived with his wife, Harriet, and five children in what is now the Cardiff House. The lime kilns ceased operation in the 1920s, but the Cowell family remained the owners of the ranch until 1955 when the last surviving member of the family, Samuel Henry (Harry) Cowell died. The property passed into the hands of the Cowell Foundation and, in the early 1960s, was acquired by the University of California.