Elliott Stone

America’s Building Stone

THREE HUNDRED MILLION YEARS IN THE MAKING

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Over 300 million years ago, during the Missisippian Period, what we know today as Indiana existed beneath a shallow sea. In fact, most of what is now the Midwestern United States was submerged beneath these shallow, topical waters.

As the waves moved back and forth, limestone slowly began to form. Waves washed the skeletal fossils of marine organisms across the sea floor in the form of carbonate sand. Settling at the bottom of the shallow seabed, these oolite fossils formed the basis of Indiana limestone. The end product was a stratigraphic rock with well-sorted grains consisting of small fossils and fossil fragments.

Indiana eventually emerged from the sea, and subsequently limestone emerged from the quarries. Limestone in Indiana is found in the Salem formation, which runs primarily through Monroe and Lawrence Counties. With this formation originates the name “Salem Limestone.”

In 1827, Indiana witnessed the opening of its first quarry. The Richard Gilbert Quarry, operating near Stinesville, laid the foundation for other quarries to open along the formation between the cities of Bloomington and Bedford. These quarries originally operated for local use in residential buildings and churches.

However, with the expansion of railroads and railways in the 1850s, the Indiana limestone industry boomed. With the railways came bridges, tunnels and terminals. These required a strong, durable building stone. By 1900, Indiana limestone represented 1/3 of the total U.S. dimension limestone industry, and increased to 80% by 1920. Indiana limestone proved to be an ideal building stone— it is soft and easy to cut and quarry, but becomes case-hardened, meaning the rock becomes harder and more resistant to weathering. This quality provides a substantial exterior to buildings, especially large ones. Indiana limestone can be cut into large dimension blocks because it is a freestone, which means it has no preferential direction of splitting.

The Indiana limestone industry began to expand to other ends of the nation as it garnered more popularity as a building stone. The Cotton Exchange Building in New Orleans was the first major project in which limestone was shipped from Indiana. These large architectural structures can also hold fine detail in their masonry, as Indiana limestone can bear meticulous carvings.

More durable than typical limestone, Indiana limestone has proved to be resistant to weather. Standing the test of time, Indiana limestone has been used in older buildings such as the Bitmore Estate (1895) in North Carolina and the National Cathedral (1907) in Washington, D.C. It has also provided the warm and charming structure found on many college campuses, including Indiana University in Bloomington.

Chicago and Boston both suffered extensive fires in 1871 and 1872, respectively. Their need for new, fire-resistant building materials found their answer within Indiana limestone, as it exhibited the least fire damage of all mason materials.

With the introduction of the skyscraper era, Indiana limestone experienced an influx of shipping, finding new homes in Washington, New York and Chicago. The Department of Commerce, the Empire State Building, The Tribune Tower, GE Building and Rockefeller center all showcase the durability of Indiana limestone. Despite a brief halt in production during World War II in order to conserve resources, the Indiana limestone industry has experienced a long, successful run as the premier building block of the world.