From Ground to Skyline: Limestone’s Storied Legacy

A 300 million year old material has made its way from the quarries of south central Indiana to the nation’s most significant landmarks.

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, strong, durable, fine-grained stone made its way from the quarries of south central Indiana to the nation’s most significant landmarks.

This year, a consortium of interests in Monroe and Lawrence Counties is raising awareness about Indiana’s limestone heritage. A series of events, including lectures, quarry tours and exhibitions is being promoted in a coordinated way as Indiana Limestone Month.

One of the month’s major events is the annual Indiana Limestone Symposium, now in its 13th year. Held every June on the grounds of the Bybee Stone Company in Ellettsville, the symposium attracts everyone from weekend enthusiasts to professional carvers, from all around the nation.

The symposium was the brainchild of Amy Brier, a carver who had worked as a traditional limestone carver at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, and was pursuing an MFA at Indiana University. Brier suggested the idea to carver Frank Young, then executive director of the Bloomington Area Arts Council , who in turn tapped a contact at the Bybee Stone Company in Ellettsville. Bybee provided a site, and, in 1997, the symposium was born. “Five people out here in mud up to our ankles,” as Brier described the inaugural event.

These days there are there are many more participants, who enjoy the exchange of ideas and techniques the symposium provides. Regardless of their skill level, all of the carvers seem to be in the thrall of the medium, and its cultural legacy.

Extending about 30 miles from Stinesville to Bedford, the rich vein of what’s known as Bedford, Salem, or Oolitic limestone was formed 300 million years when the area was covered with a warm inland sea, by the calcified bodies of tiny marine organisms.

Quarrying efforts began in Indiana in 1827, and accelerated with the mechanization of the removal and transport of limestone. The mid-nineteenth-century railroad boom transformed not only the limestone industry, but the skylines of New York, Chicago and Washington.

Limestone provided a strong, durable, and homogeneous building material that lent itself well to the neo-classical architecture being constructed to represent the grandeur of the nation in its second century. The nation’s most lauded monuments, federal buildings, state capitols, museums, skyscrapers and private residences are made of Indiana limestone.

A complete listing of the programs that are part of this year’s inaugural celebration of Limestone Month is available online at limestonemonth.com

Yaël Ksander

WFIU's Arts Desk Editor, Yaël seeks out and shepherds the stories of artists, musicians, writers, and other creative people. In addition, Yaël co-hosts A Moment of Science, writes essays for A Moment of Indiana History, produces Speak Your Mind (WFIU's guest editorial segment), hosts music and news hours throughout the week, and lends her voice to everything from accounting courses to nature documentaries. Yaël holds a MFA in painting from Indiana University, an MA in art history from Columbia University, and a BA from the University of Virginia, where she studied languages and literature.

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