“By far the most beautiful and valuable stone for architectural purposes is the Oolitic Limestone. The supply is simply inexhaustible.” Thus claimed the Bedford Stone Quarries Company in the early 1890s, at that time the world’s largest producers of Oolitic limestone.
The stone for which Indiana became renowned exists mainly in a swath varying in width from one to ten miles and stretching 30 miles long, from Stinesville to Bedford. The stone belt was formed about 300 million years ago, from the calcium carbonate deposits of decomposing marine animals at the bottom of the inland sea covering the area.
The stone is exceedingly pure, and lends itself to being removed in massive blocks. It is ideal for finely detailed carving, but dense enough to withstand the greatest structural demands.
Richard Gilbert opened the earliest limestone quarry near Stinesville in 1827. In Lawrence County , commercial quarrying began around 1860. Limestone’s peak years proved to be 1928 to 1932, with 12 million cubic feet of Indiana stone quarried in 1929.
Limestone has been the material of choice for the country’s most celebrated edifices, including the Empire State Building , the Biltmore Mansion and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial and Museum. The Pentagon was constructed of Indiana Limestone in 1940, and repaired with the same after the attacks of 2001.
These days, nine quarries extract nearly 2.7 million cubic feet of Indiana Limestone each year, generating about $26 million annually in revenue.
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