The quarrying of Limestone has been one of the major industries of south-central Indiana since the arrival of the railroads made transportation of the heavy rock economically feasible. It has a very uniform texture and grade and is a freestone, a stone that does not tend to cut or split along any specific line. This makes it very easy to cut and carve.
The stone tends to be gray or buff in color, or patterns of both. Primarily formed of calcium carbonate, it was 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.
An outcrop of Salem Limestone runs from Stinesville through Bloomington and on down to Bedford, where the outcrop is nearly ten miles wide.
Although the first quarry was opened in 1827, the stone was generally used only for foundation stone, bridge pilings, and gravestones until 1853, when construction began on the New Albany and Salem railroad line. This created immediate demand for many additional bridge pilings, and the ability to transport the stone to Indianapolis and points beyond brought many to the area. By 1868, fifteen quarries were operating in Richland Township and Bean Blossom Township alone.
The Chicago Fire occurred in 1871, and Chicago's demand for limestone to replace the buildings that were destroyed was insatiable, possibly also driving the rise of limestone in fashionable architecture. From 1896 through 1918, almost 40 new quarries and 25 stone mills were opened, and the Illinois Central railroad brought their line through in 1906.
The limestone demand flagged during the Great Depression, and many mills and quarries shut down, laying off many stoneworkers. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal provided money for construction of a number of local buildings out of limestone, which kept many families out of poverty. But the demand for stone continued to die away, and there are only about six remaining stone companies and eight active quarries in Monroe County. The remaining demand is for expensive, ornamental stone used on exterior of homes and commercial buildings.
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indiana_limestone 2. http://igs.indiana.edu/geology/minRes/indianaLimestone/index.cfm 3. Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory, Monroe County Interim Report