Ever wonder what the Empire State Building, The Biltmore and 35 current state Capitals including Indiana’s have in common? All were constructed from the highest quality limestone in the United States found in Bedford, Indiana, known as the “Limestone Capital of the World”.
Bedford limestone is a geological formation primarily quarried in south central Indiana between the cities of Bloomington and Bedford. It is rock that was formed from calcium carbonate deposited over millions of years as marine fossils decomposed at the bottom of a shallow inland sea which covered most of the present-day Midwestern United States during the Mississippian Period (335-340 million years ago).
Discovered by the Native Americans, Indiana limestone became a popular building block with the opening of the Richard Gilbert Quarry in 1827. For most of the century the limestone quarries were the primary industry of south-central Indiana. By 1900 Indiana limestone represented 1/3 of the total U.S. limestone industry which increased to 80% by 1920. During this time as demand for limestone increased, stone carvers from Ireland, France, Germany, Scotland and Italy settled in the Bedford area where there were once nearly 40 stone mills that produced 12 million cubic feet of Indiana limestone.
As the trend went from limestone to other building materials such as brick, granite and concrete, the industry faded. Today there are 9 active quarries that produce 76,000 cubic meters of Indiana limestone each year. Bedford limestone was officially designated as the state stone of Indiana by the Indiana General Assembly in 1971.
What makes Indiana limestone so special?
The limestone is soft and easily worked and can be removed in massive blocks. Once quarried, the rock dries and the surface becomes harder and more resistant to weathering. Limestone is considered a “freestone” which means that it has no preferential direction of splitting. Indiana limestone is known for the tight grain, beauty and durability. It is ideal for finely detailed carving.
Next time you stroll by the statues and buildings of Washington D.C., take a little pride in knowing that Indiana limestone created the foundations of some of the United States’ most amazing monuments.
Current and former staff members have contributed to our newsletter over the years. Now the articles are available to view here on our blog