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From Ground to Skyline: Celebrating Limestone's Storied Legacy

Limestone's National Journey

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

A consortium of interests in Monroe and Lawrence Counties is dedicated to celebrating Indiana's limestone heritage, while also raising its profile. A series of events taking place this month – from lectures and quarry tours to carving workshops and exhibitions – celebrate the second annual Indiana Limestone Month.

A Chain In Stone

One of the month's major events is the annual Indiana Limestone Symposium, now in its 14th year. Held every June on the grounds of the Bybee Stone Company in Ellettsville, the symposium attracts attendees from all around the nation, from weekend enthusiasts to professional carvers.

The symposium was the brainchild of Amy Brier, 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, who was then the executive director of the Bloomington Area Arts Council. He, in turn, tapped a contact at Bybee. When Bybee provided a site, in 1997, the symposium was born.

The inaugural event it was a small operation, says Brier: "Five people out here in mud up to our ankles." These days, there are there are many more participants who come to 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.

Rich Material, Rich History

The rich vein of what's known as Bedford, Salem, or Oolitic limestone extends about 30 miles, from Stinesville to Bedford. Made up of the calcified bodies of tiny marine organisms, it was formed 300 million years ago, when the area was covered by a warm inland sea.

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 was a strong, durable, and homogeneous building material. It lent itself well to the neo-classical architecture that was under construction at the time, well representing the grandeur of the nation in its second century. The United States' most lauded monuments, federal buildings, state capitols, museums, skyscrapers, and private residences are made of Indiana limestone.

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