History of Indiana Limestone

Limestone Slabs

Even prior to Indiana’s admission to the Union in 1816, a light-colored, fine-grained native stone had been used by pioneer settlers for cabin foundations, door sills, milling burrs, and memorials. The stone was quarried with use of long star drills and wedges to separate blocks from the main deposit. The first organized quarrying effort of record was established in 1827 in Southern Indiana near Stinesville.

Concurrent with the arrival of both North-South and East-West railroads into Southern Indiana in the mid 19th century, the market for Indiana Limestone responded to architectural demand for stone of a light-neutral color to complement the various Revival styles of the era. The railroads themselves required stone for bridge piers and for the increasingly grandiose terminals in the growing cities.

Limestone Quarriers 1865

During this period, gang saws were introduced to replace the two-man crosscut saws previously used to saw block stone into slabs; the introduction of the channeling machine to the quarrying operation enabled the infant industry to double and triple production in succeeding years.

Increasing Demand

The Biltmore, built with cut stone

Extensive fires in the cities of Chicago (1871) and Boston (1872) added to the demand for Indiana Limestone. It was apparent that of all the commonly used materials, masonry showed the least fire damage, and limestone least of all.

Indiana stonework won awards of merit for quality at both the Philadelphia and New Orleans Centennial Expositions of 1876. Contracts for Indiana Limestone in two major public buildings in that decade, the Indiana Statehouse and the Chicago City Hall, established its reputation for superior weather resistance, ease of shaping, consistent quality, boundless supply and good public and architectural acceptance.

In the final decades of the 19th century, Indiana Limestone was chosen for an increasing number of public buildings. To meet the demand, the number of quarries doubled between the years of 1889 and 1895: as did stone fabrication shops. Banking houses, retail stores, hospitals, private residences, churches and office buildings, many built in the eclectic styles of the day, all demanded increasing amounts of the fine-grained, light-colored stone. The Cotton Exchange Building in New Orleans was the first major project in which limestone was shipped from Indiana, cut ready to set. In the mid-1890s, George W. Vanderbilt set up a complete cut stone mill to fabricate Indiana Limestone for the Biltmore, his summer retreat in Asheville, North Carolina. The quarry in which the blocks were produced is still operating.

Technical Advances

Empire State Building, cut stone

Limestone use continued to increase through the 1920s, and even into the depression of 1929-39. During this period, great technical advances were made in quarrying and fabrication techniques enabling Indiana Limestone to hold its competitive edge over the newer man-made products which were appearing on the market. During this era, the age of the “skyscraper,” knowledge about large buildings and their reaction to wind, thermal expansion and settlement brought about new construction techniques. Although these methods opened new markets for competitive materials, Indiana Limestone continued to be the stone of choice.

During this time, the Empire State Building, the Department of Commerce, and The Tribune Tower as well as many other major buildings were constructed of Indiana Limestone. Private owners, developers and government at all levels used limestone; their architects designed the material to fit the changing styles of the Art Deco period, and limestone producers developed machines which provided the new surface textures required. World War II effectively halted all construction not required for the war effort. In 1945, limestone production resumed with much of its previous vigor.

Limestone Today

Post Modern, Architectural stone

The Indiana Limestone industry was able to weather the changes in its sales patterns forced by the international styles of architecture during the period between 1950 and the oil embargo of 1973, in which building products demanding huge amounts of energy to produce and use were extensively used. The world realized that fossil fuels are limited, and the value of Indiana Limestone as an efficient, low energy demand product was perceived by architects and their clients alike.

Although the energy crunch of the late 1970s lost its crisis proportions during succeeding decades, the International Style of architecture had received a death blow. Eclectic new styles, known in general as Post-Modern, governed the design of buildings, and interest in stone and stone looks increased. Post-Modernism welcomed stone and its qualities of durability, beauty and designability. Plus good thermal performance, when properly used, made Indiana Limestone once again the material of choice. Indiana Limestone quarriers and fabricators developed new machines and methods to increase productivity; sales increased in dollars and in cubic feet, and the industry enters the 21st century with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.